Red herrings and sour grapes at London's Malaysia Hall Canteen

Mariam Mokhtar


COMMENT | To eat nasi lemak, or kuih, in Malaysia Hall in London, one has to present one's passport.

Last October, visitors coming to eat at the Malaysia Hall Canteen (known as the Canteen), were made to show their passport or IC.

For those who are unaware, the Canteen in Queensborough Terrace, in the Bayswater area of London, is considered by many Malaysians to be a "home, away from home". It is located in the basement of the Malaysian Students Department (MSD), and is a place where one can satisfy one's cravings for authentic Malaysian food, at affordable prices.

The Canteen is not The Ritz, but Malaysian students who are homesick, and on a tight budget, eat there. So do Malaysian residents who work and live in England. They also bring their non-Malaysian friends, and hordes of Malaysian tourists, visit the Canteen to experience true Malaysian hospitality and comforting Malaysian food.

One could have nasi lemak or roti canai for breakfast, nasi campur for lunch and a selection of kuih for dessert, and still not break the bank. One could make oneself at home, and eat with one's fingers. Water and rose syrup are free.

The Canteen is also a hit with Singaporeans and Bruneians, and the surau is popular with Muslims, who join the Malaysian congregation for Friday prayers, then stay for lunch.

The easy-going atmosphere ended last October. The first Malaysians knew of the ruling was when a few of them who went to eat at the Canteen were turned away. They vented their fury on social media. The trickle grew into a torrent.

In the past, one could go through the metal grille, at the front of the building, down one flight of stairs and into the Canteen, in the basement.

Since the new directive, Malaysians who merely want to eat, have to use the main entrance, several metres away, and then make their way along a rabbit warren of staircases and narrow corridors, down to the basement Canteen. One could easily get lost...

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