Rice, or nasi, is pretty much the staple diet of south-east Asians. No matter how much scientific evidence has been put out with regards how bad too much nasi can be, we still would go for the extra mile that is nasi tambah. I have been told that I would be “buke anok jate” for not partaking in the additional bungkus of nasi tumpang. Nasi is also used in Malay idioms (simpulan bahasa) – to describe one’s source of income to make a living (periuk nasi), or to describe distance (setanak nasi).

I still love nasi, no matter how long I’ve lived abroad. My late aunt whom I had not met for more than 10 years finds it amusing that I still eat rice (and speak Malay to boot). The first time I had rice in England was the moment we landed in Malaysia Hall at Bryanston Square, with the only free kuah was the ubiquitous kuah asam (anything else kena bayar). Subsequently, any rice that we would have in our school meals would be the American brown rice variety which is healthier but not as tasty to our palates that are so used to the starchier variant we get at home.

On my first summer break after lower sixth form, I wanted a rice cooker to bring to school. For $91.00 (RM was not used then), ayah bought me a made in Malaysia National[1] rice cooker at Bukit Bintang Plaza[2] in KL. It could make 10 ‘pots’ (to this day I still have no idea the exact measurement a pot equates to). At home, we refer to a unit of beras (uncooked rice) as kepoi. A kepoi is the amount of beras in a measure that is made out of a coconut shell. If you learnt ilmu hisab in primary school in the 1970s, you’d heard of the measure cupak. Same thing. To this very day, I have a kepoi with me that I use to measure rice (equivalent to two pots). My late mom would teach me that the amount of water needed for that perfect nasi is at the level of the first crease from the tip of one’s index finger (that’s the distal interphalangeal joint to us medics). Of course, everyone’s length from the fingertip to the DIP joint is different but the effect on how well the nasi will be cooked will be so ridiculously miniscule.

This National rice cooker of mine started its journey abroad thereafter and was the main periuk for us Malaysians at Portora whenever we have our weekly Sunday lunch in the school kitchen and the buka puasa/sahur sessions. On certain occasions when I missed rice, I’d make the Batchelor’s seasoned rice packets that are sold at the nearby petrol station behind the school’s rugby grounds – tak sedap but hey, you eat what you can get I guess. The rice cooker then travelled with me to London after sixth form for the summer break, although I have no recollection whether it was used or not.

It was then used in my medical school days at Newcastle, being the cooker for the flats I rented in over the years. It was also used many a time for makan-makan functions organised by the Malaysian Soc to the point that I received it back in such a bad state that I’d never lend it to anyone ever again. After seven years in the North-East, it travelled with me to my new place down in Birmingham. It was during this period that it pretty much stayed in my room in the hospital accommodation. I even used it as a makeshift steamer when I discovered I could buy frozen pau kaya at the local Wing Yip cash ‘n’ carry.

From 1998 onwards, the trusty ol’ National moved with me to Sheffield. And it still works to this very day. I may have been less adventurous when cooking nasi in the National. I’d say the only varieties I’ve made are nasi ayam and and nasi lemak[3]. It looked beat up, and it was this morning that I gave it a little sprucing up making it look like new. It didn’t look like what it was when ayah bought it 23 years ago but I’d say if it was a vintage Fender Stratocaster, it’ll be the closet classic variety. This summer, ayah replaced the lid’s cracked plastic handle which came with a rubber ring gasket and the glass viewer which he bought for just RM5 at Tesco Mutiara Damansara. I don’t throw things out just because they are old or if there is something newer that comes by my way. I have to say I probably don’t take care of things as well as my paternal grandma or dad, but I am getting there. I hope. This ol’ National has made rice enjoyed by family and friends for all these years, and I hope it’ll go on working forever. And it stays, no matter how or what the kitchen looks like[4].

I think I heard the cooker going klukk! downstairs in the kitchen. Makan!!!


[1] National (ナショナル Nashonaru) was a brand by Panasonic, in the days when it was known as Matsushita. The company was started by Matsushita Konosuke (松下 幸之助) in the earlier part of the 20th century selling battery-powered electrical lamps. He had hoped that his product would be used in all the bicycles in Japan, hence the ‘National’ brand. National was phased out gradually (as late as 2004), replaced by the brand name Panasonic. Trivia: Malaysia awarded Matsushita-san the Panglima Mangku Negara, making him a Tan Sri!
[2] Thanks to the MRT development, BB Plaza will be no more soon.
[3] No woman has tried making nasi of the variety seen in U-Wei’s Perempuan, Isteri dan Jal... Nemind. Na’uzubillah. Hahaha.
[4] This being a veiled warning of some form? How preposterous. Tsk.