By preparing dishes from available ingredients and adapting to the climate in which you live, you get a real mix of two completely different cuisines
Mr Khairul Tazril Tarmizi, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Malaysia in Belgrade played host to the Diplomacy&Commerce magazine team at his residence and thus allowed us to taste and smell Malaysia in the middle of Belgrade. The reason for this is the anniversary of his stay in Belgrade. During our visit, he shared his impressions of Serbia and the way he combines the tastes of the cuisines of these two distant countries.
What are the main features of Malaysian cuisine?
The variety of spices is what distinguishes Malaysian cuisine from others. However, let me first clarify that our meals consist of two dishes – the main meal and the dessert. The main dish is usually based on rice, in combination with meat or fish, vegetables and sauces. Most dishes are prepared with coconut milk. The dessert I decided to present to you today also contains coconut milk. It is very easy to prepare and you only need a few ingredients that can be found in Serbia, so I believe that everyone can make it.
In Malaysia, the family traditionally gathers for dinner. The time after sunset is when most of the family members are at home, after completing their daily errands. After sunset, sitting down to eat is also an occasion for socializing. Family trips are also part of the tradition. We spend time together and make up for the time apart, while we were at work or school.
What do you miss most about your country? Can you find all the necessary ingredients for the Malaysian dishes in Serbia?
When you decide to work in foreign service, you, by nature of things, also agree to leave the country, so I was ready for a different climate. Regardless of how much I like it here, I still miss Malaysian food. So whenever I can, I bring some food like rice, coconut milk and spices with me to Belgrade. Here, you can find some basic ingredients needed to prepare Malaysian dishes, but there are many spices that we don’t have here or the ones that we have here are not the same as the ones from Malaysia.
“Ćevapi and kajmak are some of my favourite dishes. These were the first things I tried when I arrived in Belgrade”
Still, it is a challenge for me to try different ingredients, to find something similar and to mix the Malaysian and Serbian cuisines in that way. Food is diplomacy! It’s a medium that requires tolerance and adaptation. By preparing dishes from available ingredients and adapting to the climate in which you live, you get a real mix of two completely different cuisines. So, for instance, I like to make uštipci (fritters or cekodok in malay) with spices from Malaysia and add hot ajvar instead of chilli.
Do you like Serbian cuisine and what is your favourite Serbian dish? Is there a Serbian dish that is hot enough for you?
Ćevapi and kajmak are some of my favourite dishes. These were the first things I tried when I arrived in Belgrade. I adore ajvar and I always have it in my fridge. I love prebranac and sarma, and tulumbe are my favourite sweets. Freshwater fish has a very interesting taste and I like it. And no, there aren’t Serbian dishes that are too hot for me. Nothing is so spicy as the toppings we have in Malaysia. Although everyone associates the spices of Asian cuisine with chilli, it is not the only hot spice we use.
How do you like life in Belgrade? Did you manage to visit some other places in Serbia and what would you recommend to your friends?
I travelled a lot, but even though I wanted to visit the Balkans, somehow I had been always putting it off. Then, on February 1 last year, I assume the office in Belgrade. I really like it here. I love the Serbian people and they are very similar to the Malays. They are very friendly and kind, especially towards strangers. I feel at home here because of that hospitality. Also, family is very important to Serbs and Malays, and I like that.
My favourite places in the city are by the river, like rafts. Ada Ciganlija is amazing – having such a beach and the promenade in the city is great. The Sava and the Danube make Belgrade special. I also visited Novi Sad. It is a beautiful city, multiethnic, the food is imbued with different cultures and the architecture is impressive. I also visited Kragujevac, Novi Pazar, Vrnjačka Banja and Srebrno Jezero. Orthodox churches and monasteries are beautiful and I am fascinated by 500-year-old frescoes. The next places I want to visit are Uvac and the mountains of Western Serbia like the Tara, Zlatibor. I would recommend my friends to visit every corner of Serbia and I sincerely hope that my family will have the opportunity to see everything I’ve been telling them about. One day, when my job takes me far from here, I’m sure I’ll stay in touch with the many friends I’ve made here.
(Bananas in Sweetened Coconut Cream)
600 g bananas
500 ml coconut milk
150 g brown sugar
- Bananas are peeled and cut into slanting slices (or any preferred shape).
- Dissolve the brown sugar in the coconut milk over medium-high heat and continue stirring until it is about to boil.
- Put the bananas and let them simmer over medium-low heat for about 6-7 minutes (or to the preferred texture).
- Serve as dessert.