Food Facts

I always take for granted that all the halal signs used in Malaysia are legal until the Islamic authorities highlighted this issue on TV. Only then, we really take our time to read the signs so that we won’t be cheated by fake halal signs.

So it seems that we have to be really careful in choosing what to eat even in Malaysia and never take things for granted. Remember the raid on a mee hoon and laksa (mee hoon [or bihun] and laksa are two types of Malaysian noodles) factory that was shown on TV? I never thought that mee hoon and laksa (that was made mainly from rice flour) can be non halal; but I was wrong. We do not only take into account of the ingredients to make sure whether the food is halal and toyyibah but also at the surrounding area and how the food is processed.

Mum showed me a type of vinegar that was commonly used in Kuala Terengganu at one time (in fact not only in Terengganu but also in other states in Malaysia) that actually contains rice wine. And the vinegar is still widely sold in KL stores in their vinegar section. And so are certain sauce, ketchup, chocolate, candy, cake and others that contains alcohol, or flavoured with liquor.

It is nice to see that Carrefour has taken the step to label foods containing alchohol but that is not the end of the problem. We still have to be sure of the halal status for food containing animal extract and of animal products such as capsule, ice-creams, cheese, marshmallows, chocolates, candy and a lot more. And as highlighted in TV about the cases of smuggled chicken and meat from other countries, we have to be more careful as we have no idea of where those smuggled items were sent to.

Then comes the issue of toyyibah – hygiene in storing and preparing food, the issue of over using pesticides, preservatives, colourings and other chemicals that makes food not safe to be consumed. There was a study showing that some fruits and vegetables were contaminated by over using the pesticides and other chemicals. And so are the uses of dangerous artificial food colouring and flavouring to make food looks good and appetising.

Next, we have to avoid too much salt, sugar and trans fat in our food. Since a lot of food in our market contains trans fat, grocery shopping is becoming more and more complicated. When I read that California is going to ban the use of trans fat in food shortly; I wish Malaysia can do the same for I’m tired of reading the food labels written in letters that were much too small for reading.

So, what can be done to ensure healthy eating when even fresh fruits and vegetables are not that safe to be eaten? We should turn to organic farming and since the organic vegetables are very expensive, we should plant our own vegetables. And that was what we did since last year. We may not be able to plant all the vegetables that we need but at least most of the green lefty vegetables (and some ulam/local salad) come fresh from our own garden.

[The potted bayam (spinach) and also kangkung (back)]

[The overcrowded sawi]

‘We buy more tube vegetables and beans; and as best as we could, we avoid buying agricultural products from China. The problem is, in most supermarkets and markets, traders do not label the country of origin for fruits and vegetables except for some like carrots and celery that come in their original packaging or certain fruits like apples, pears and oranges that have trademark stickers on them.

My grandma said that in the old days things were simpler when one just had to go out of their house to pick most of their vegetables and salads. Especially in Terengganu when we are blessed with lots of fresh fish; a meal of ikang singgang, ikang panggang, budu and lots of fresh organic ulang (Terengganu salad) is low in fat, nutritious and free of trans fat, preservatives, artificial colourings and pesticides. And so is our khepok leko ( a fish based food from Terengganu) especially khepok leko rebuh (the boiled version). Even the fried khepok only contains oil but no trans fat; so we have to go back to our traditional home cooked food for healthier eating. But since the Terengganu kue (traditional cakes) are sweet, please remember to cut down the amount of sugar in them.