Every year, hundreds of Malaysians in the UK gather at the Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre in Hertford to celebrate Merdeka Day (Malaysia’s Independence Day) When I say celebrate…I really mean eating. Ain’t no one better at eating than the Malaysians!
Bleary eyed and with rumbling stomachs, we caught a train from Finsbury Park directly to Hertford North where we caught a free shuttle service to the research centre. This little band of third culture kids promptly headed straight to the roti stall!
Roti is a fried Indian flatbread. Part of the fun is watching them cook it- they take a pillowy lump of oily dough, spread it thin and flip it around, like a pizza, then stick it onto a hot, flat griddle to fry it. They give it a big smack before serving so all the crispy bits stick out, and then serve it up with chicken curry. It’s a cheap street food in Malaysia (and Singapore and Brunei) and something my friends and I practically lived on, with a glass of ice cold Milo.
Throughout the day, singers and dancers entertain the crowd. There’s almost always a Lion Dance- which I missed this year, gutted!- and a raffle to win return tickets to KL. Stepping into the Carnival is like some sort of teleporting magic. As soon as you arrive, toilets are signed Tandas, ladies in Baju Kurongs man their food stalls, someone is crooning a tune in Malay and everything being sold makes your stomach wail in delight.
The trick is to make the rounds at the food stalls, divide and conquer! We bought Nasi Lemak (which was scarfed down before photos could be taken!), beef rendang, a few precious banana leaf wrapped Puluts (sticky rice with shrimpy filling) and lots of Teh Tarik to ward off the chill (the sweetest, milkiest tea you will ever need)
My family come every year and every year pitch up a tent. Yes, this is weird. But EVERYONE here does it! They’re not actually camping, but I guess it’s a good bolt hole to escape the ever threatening British wind and rain. Those raffle tickets I’m fanning myself with..not actually mine but mostly my mum’s. She won, of course, some vouchers to Wing Yip, one of the biggest South East Asian food supplier stores. So, all the soya sauce is on my mum folks! When they called out her name, I had to run onto the stage in front of everyone and proudly shake the Malaysian High Commissioner’s hand…in my red wellies and a jumper so baggy I could fit both my nephews in there with me. Embarrassing…
Apart from eating delicious food all day, we also walked around the site, speaking to the lovely war veterans who used to be posted in Malaysia, watched the shows and giggled at possibly the world’s bossiest MC. I see the same familiar faces every year from Frankie the husky dog walking his owners, to the Puji Puji stall that cooks the best satay I’ve ever had in this country!
The performers were SO nice, they came out to let people take photos of them in various traditional outfits despite being a chilly day. Nina dares to run away with this warrior’s hat. The nicest warrior ever to be honest.
Malaysian or not, this is such a fab day out for everyone. It’s SO easy to get to, only 30 minutes from Finsbury Park or Kings Cross and you get a free ride there and back! Even the parking is free. The grounds of the centre are stunning. For your little ones, there’s face painting, a Punch & Judy show and mini tea cup rides to keep them happy.
Here we are, popping a squat south east asian style waiting for the free shuttle service back to the train station. I dare you to try the same for longer than 15 minutes.
SELAMAT JALAN! (thats goodbye!)