Celebrating Hari Malaysia. A feast for the senses at the iconic Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji

We were warmly welcomed by Malaysian born head chef, Arnold Odilo Alphonosus and chef, Mohamad Afiq Jallaludin at the Takali Asian kitchen. Picture: SUPPLIED

HARI Malaysia, more commonly known as Malaysia Day is commemorated on September 16 every year to mark the establishment of Malaysia. This iconic date is synonymous with uniting Malaysians across the globe.

With the theme of “Determination in Unity, Fulfilling Hope” for the 66th National Day and 60th Hari Malaysia this year, let us venture into a unique culinary experience blending the traditions from South East-Asia and the Pacific at the iconic Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji.

To celebrate Hari Malaysia, Chargé d’Affaires Ad Interim (CDA) of the High Commission of Malaysia in Suva, Johnny Ong Tze Shen invited me to experience a curated feast for the senses at the Takali Asian kitchen located at the renowned Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji.

We donned Batik shirts to get into the full swing of the celebration.

We were warmly welcomed by Malaysian born head chef, Arnold Odilo Alphonosus and chef, Mohamad Afiq Jallaludin at the Takali Asian kitchen.

The panoramic view of the reef was soul energising after the drive down from Suva. It was great to engage in conversation with chef Arnold who has been in Fiji for almost
10 years and considers it his home away from his birthplace in Sabah, Malaysia.

Executive sous chef Arnold moved to Shangri-la Yanuca Island in 2014 after his respective stints at Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa in Singapore and Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

Chef Arnold had specifically curated a treat for us to celebrate Hari Malaysia. Before the meal, all he revealed was that we were in store for the best of South East Asian cuisine with fish head curry and asam pedas fish dishes being the highlights.

Mohamad Afiq Jallaludin, hailing from Alor Setar, Kedah in Malaysia together with the local Fijian staff, served us with a special welcome drink – Sirap Bandung.

This special drink was prepared with evaporated milk or condensed milk laced with rose syrup topped with ice cubes. The rich flavours, aroma and refreshing feel instantly left a lasting impression.

A feast for the senses. Enjoying the various meals that were on offer. Picture: SUPPLIED

As the team surprised us with a wide array of specially curated dishes, I was simply in awe and mesmerised with the convergence of varied flavours and colours.

I engaged in further conversations with Arnold and Afiq to ascertain the thought process behind the various traditional cooking styles. Chef Arnold confided that food is deeply rooted in culture and tradition.

He then elaborated that the similarities between South East Asia and Fiji in terms of readily available fresh ingredients as well as spices, has led to experimentation in fusing the flavours to churn out the best of culinary experience at the Takali Asian kitchen.

Chef Arnold visited various Fijian villages and sought inspiration from local cooking styles. He stated that sourcing local ingredients and supporting the
local community was at the heart of Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji.

Apart from indulging in the famous Malaysian fish dishes – the Malaysian fish head curry and the asam pedas fish – we savoured the likes of lamb and chicken satay with peanut sauce, prawn sambal, baked roti curry buns, somtam: spicy mango salad, Thai green curry chicken, pineapple fried rice, kung pao chicken, chicken spring rolls, Singaporean chilli crab with buns, “kam heong clams”: golden fragrant clams, wok fried vegetables and wok fried octopus.

The serving of culinary delights with authentic tastes and flavours from the South East Asia region, including Vietnam, Thailand to Singapore all the way to Malaysia brought to mind the “Malaysia Truly Asia” slogan aimed at promoting the country as a place where all the flavours of Asia come together.

This harmonious fusion of cultures is also very similar to Fijian multiculturalism which celebrates unity in diversity through its culinary practices. This then sparked a conversation about tourism with CDA Ong.

He said that tourism activities in Malaysia provide large economic returns to his country which also holds true for Fiji. The CDA then expressed appreciation for engagements such as this which enables him to get the message out that Malaysia welcomes more tourists to visit his country and they would always feel at home there.

He hoped Fijian tourists keen on exploring Malaysia would be convinced to make the trip after savouring the authentic Malaysian food at the Takali Asian kitchen.

The Pisang Goreng dessert option left us all with sweet memories. The Malaysian banana fritters, served with coconut caramel sauce and ice cream was absolutely divine.

Food has the power to evoke emotions, transport us to different cultures and regions, as well as honour traditions and heritage. In both Malaysia and Fiji, the food that we love and share is what binds us together as a family.

Let us all celebrate Hari Malaysia 2023 and embrace the “Determination in Unity, Fulfilling Hope” theme as we strengthen the ties between Malaysia and Fiji through our mutual love for food, culture and traditions.

AVANEESH RAMAN is the content curator of blog The A Connection – https://theaconnection.blogspot.com/. The views expressed in this article are his and may not necessarily be shared by this newspaper. For more, log on to www. fijitimes.com.fj

More Stories