Vacationing in a rural area like Bagan Datoh means you are far from the entertainment and amenities of city life. One definite advantage lies in being closer to where your food comes from: fresh, wholesome food is just outside your door. When we ran out of chicken, I had simply to ease on down the road to get the freshest possible halal chicken available.

It’s amazing sometimes how obsessed Malays are with eating halal. I knew of Malaysian students in the US who would drive hours to stock up on halal meat every few weeks, others in a rural area that would gather funds from the student community to slaughter their own cow at a nearby farm and divvy up the meat. Compared to many of us American muslims who simply eat local beef and chicken as christian meat or buy Kosher, it is a tremendous amount of effort, may God reward them for it.

But now here we are in a muslim country with national halal certification, a huge thriving halal food industry, yet people will still go to great lengths to ensure their meat is halal, and rumors constantly swirl about non-halal products or butchers that have a halal sign but are really not. Caution in religious matters can be a form of piety, so I’m not condemning that, but sometimes I feel like people should just see the halal sign and say bismillah, put tawakkul in Allah and get on with it.

All such fears are allayed if you simply get your chicken right from the source, in this case, Wak Nab’s open air butcher shop. As I pulled over the rickety wooden bridge across the canal, Abang Nor, my wife’s half-brother’s wife’s older brother, took a break from his yard work, washed off and strolled over to take our order. He asked if I wanted to pick my birds, but I demurred: any two would do. From the cage to the killing floor to the boiler to the plucker to the cutting board, the whole process
took just a few minutes a bird. You can’t get chicken fresher than that, and you can’t get chicken any more halal than that unless you could see the islam inscribed on the man’s heart. It hit the lunch table an hour later as ayam masak kuning. Yum yum.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. I frequently return to this site for whatever reason. I marvel at how so far removed Malaysia is from where I am, yet you could be writing about the pluck shop just down the road! Its the same with the coconuts and the Masjid as well.

  2. Hard to find halal chickens here Br. Bin Gregory! Wish it could be simpler. Alhamdulillah when there’s a will there’s a way.. at least there’s 1 halal meats provider in the next town (not too far away!).

    kfc…. oh when can i taste kfc again..!

  3. That’s a real irony, isn’t it? Malaysians gobble up western fast food like KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut back home, where it is 100% halal, but have to puasa when they go abroad! I understand that national halal regulations and standards got its start in part due to KFC’s interest in penetrating the Malaysian market. They wanted to provide halal meat, but there was no way at the time to assure everyone they were doing so, so they pushed for national regs. I heard that second-hand so I don’t know how accurate it is, but if true is another irony: KFC jumpstarting halal food certification!

  4. Israd… I believe it’s ok to eat kosher food when u can’t find halal food around. Macvay told me KFC in Canada (maybe America too) is not as many as in Malaysia in ratio. Malaysians eat more chicken. Have u ever slaughtered one, BinGregory?

  5. Assalamualaikum to you and your growing family, masha Allah.
    On the topic of halal food- When I visited Florida, I could not get any vegetarian burger or even fish fillet at the fastfood chain at the airport unlike in the UK it was easy to find vege/fish/halal options and so I had to eat fries , fries and more fries and pretzels. I had a terrible upset stomach at Disney World then whilst dh really had fun dragging me around the theme park covering the rides. I am seriously considering eating alternatives(Christian meat) if ever I travel to USA again. I think it says we can eat food prepared by Ahli kitab’s in the Quran or if we’re in direstraits , we could eat what is not allowed initially. Some muslims in Malaysia have no idea what it is like to be the minority or travelling and finding decent food to eat at the same time, insisting on halal food, preferably food prepared by a Malay in a kitchen where strictly no pork is served. Where are we gonna find that criteria followed overseas I wonder? I was in Amsterdam once in a Indonesian restaurant . The cooks were Moroccans (presumably muslims) but they served babi rendang in their menu. They have to make a living I guess. Similarly, some Indonesians (muslims) maid have to work for non muslims families and prepare non-halal meat etc. No options there. Whilst halal food/meat is recommended, I think we should be a bit more practical while travelling in other countries.

  6. Honestly, turning vegan was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I was in Malaysia, coming from a middle class family, we ate meat, maybe twice a month. Other than that we enjoyed fish (ikan cencaru being my favorite) and tempé. Tons of vegetables. When I came to the states, I found myself eating chicken and meat almost EVERYDAY because everyone else was doing it. I turned vegan last September and I feel great. As a muslim,I can’t turn entirely vegan since meat is halal for me, so I make it a point to eat meat during Eid ul Adha and if someone invites me for aqeeqah. Other than that, I’m enjoying my tempés and tofus. Here in my locality, we still have farms where brothers would go and slaughter their own lamb, sheep or goat for those rare occasions. I don’t know whether I would enjoy meat or chicken if I ever get to visit Malaysia. I miss the yong tau foo…. 🙂

  7. Vegan, eh? I was raised more or less vegetarian but could never do without my milk and cheese. I suppose being Malaysian you wouldn’t miss the dairy so much. For me, the amount of animal protein in my diet went way up after marrying a Malaysian. I don’t see it as a problem though, since it is mostly seafood as you say. The unhealthy aspect of Malay cooking isn’t the meat and fish, it’s the oil and sugar.

  8. Umm-fil-ard,

    I did a little bit of travelling too, and had encountered similar problem myself. However, what you said about the UK is true in the cities and towns but not in the rural area. I have not been to the States but having been to Western countries of Europe I am pretty sure there are supermarket around in the States where you could easily stock up on several buns or loaves of bread, some tuna-in-the-can-with tomato-sauce, and vege. Uy a daysack and your problem should be solved.

    Btw, why should the Malay strictness over food becomes an issue when it is a non-issue? Would it be fair if I say that it is Western culture to always pick on others?

  9. Hah! I think it would be fair to say that, or to rephrase, that criticism is an important part of Western culture.

    But I wasn’t picking on anybody, I think, and if I was critical, it was meant to be constructive. I think there is an issue, namely that many US muslims take the position that chicken and beef of the Christians and Jews is permissible to those muslims in the West without a halal option. The interesting thing here is that “without a halal option” is construed very liberally by lots of western muslims, whereas plenty of Malays won’t accept the dispensation at all and would prefer to simply give up meat or greatly reduce their consumption. I’m not criticizing anyone here: I genuinely think it is an interesting difference in emphasis. It is an important issue for converts as well, because it affects the ease with which we maintain family ties with our non-muslim relatives.

    The second issue is about the rumors and scares that circulate about food (here in Malaysia, but elsewhere too): boycotting a business or product on the basis of hearsay can cross the line from piety to blameworthy suspicion. I boycotted a halal butcher near my house in Michigan on the basis of a rumor from a friend (Malaysian, though that’s not my point) that the source of his meat wasn’t halal, only to find out a year later that he was buying his meat from the same muslim wholesalers in Detroit as everybody else. Now, I hope I gain reward for my intention to avoid the haram, but clearly I hurt this brother’s business for over a year for no good reason. I think there’s an issue there. Shouldn’t we have husnul dhun, an inclination to assume the best?

  10. takumi,
    I love yong taufu and taufoofar but I found a thingy (made from soya), a vegetarian friend once gave me a bit bland and tasteless. She said she wasnt gonna be vegetarian and the next minute she was and attending antiwar/nuclear rallies.
    I was in US near the Gulf coast for almost a month and I did have the opportunity to go to supermarket and cook vege, fish etc. What I meant was travellers passing through town esp wnen they have no time to cook or go to supermarket or they lack funds and I know and every body knows airport food are so expensive. I did a far bit of travelling via rail in Europe when I was a student. We brought our own cans of tuna but forgot to bring an efficient can opener. We managed on bread and cheese and sometimes tuna when we could open the can. A poor homeless traveller in Prague gave us some tinned food after we finished solah once (It was like God answered our prayers for food? )but we werent sure what it was so we gave it back to him plus bread/sandwiches when he was sleeping at the station. It is not really a biggy but sometimes I wanna be able to sample some local food to enjoy my travels. Not bring my own instant food. Salads, seafood and soups are great but oily/ fried chips are too much sometimes.
    bingregory has a point. I get a lot of forward mail (some possibly rumors) concerning this and that restaurant not serving halal or dont have halal certification. What about cleanliness and hygiene ? Don’t we Malaysians care about hygiene ? I mean some people can just continue to eat while a big rat pass by in front of them. I think food preparation should be hygienic and would like the eateries in KL to get a clean hygienic certificate too and display it if possible.

  11. Bin, you’re absolutely right. The santan, gula melaka and all those tepung beras and tepung gandum will really make you grow: SIDEWAYS! LOL. My mom used to joke about my grandad (Allah’s mercy be on him) when he used to come and eat with us, “Your grandpa just received the PJK” Well, PJK is like a medal of honor that stands for Pingat Jasa Kebaktian (The Charity Medal) but in my grandpa’s case and any other Malaysian out there it was Perut Jauh Kehadapan (Stomach Way Out there!). 🙂

  12. hello

    thanks for dropping by my blog. i am from kuching so its nice to read the views from the other side of the fence. this may sound weird, but you have 6 or still 5 kids now?

  13. Hi, am in Russia, St Petersburg, I am originally from England and always eat halal, down to my dairy products and it’s so hard in Russia to eat halal.

    I eat halal meat at home, I found somewhere that sells it here, I buy in bulk (I have to travel quite far) but eating out is so difficult, I eat veg or just fish mostly. Life is so difficult here, I rarely see Muslim people but when I do, there is no communication.

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