I have just finished a dinner appointment at KLCC. Chinoz @ KLCC is a favourite rendezvous point. The food, the view, the choice of good coffee, the good wine , the convenience, the dessert made it a perfect location for business meetings.
Not that I do not patronize mamak restaurants or banana leaf joints or roadside koay teow or Ah Soh’s sotong kangkung. My taste buds are supersensitive to MSG. Only Rajoos, that Institution in PJ has made that declaration that all their curries and foodstuff are MSG free. Otherwise in most restaurant you have to make that special request NO AJINOMOTO please.
That is the subject of my posting today. As the car was entering Jalan Kuchai Lama from the KL Seremban highway, I saw that big neon sign AJINOMOTO. Wow, that factory must have been there for ages. It brought back the memory of my first ROMBONGAN to KL. A Rombongan is a community organized tour by kampongites or schools to visit places of interests.
I was nine or so, and the rombongan was organized by SEkolah Bagan, my kampong school.
How excited I was. I remember it was on a Friday. It was Jummat or Friday because the supposed highlight, of the rombongan was the Friday prayer at the newly completed Masjid Negara or National Mosque. It was like going on a pilgrimage. Being young johoreans it was indoctrinated that Friday prayers must be in complete Baju Melayu complete with Sampin. Emak and nenek have been busy preparing the baju and songket sampin as if it were Hari Raya.
I remember the early morning departure. It must be 3 am when we left Bagan,everyone was in our school uniform and the baju melayu was in the bag . The Lian Hoe school bus without the head rest, three to a seat at four ringit per pax, was the luxury of travel that we thoroughly enjoyed.. Everyone had our own tiffin of ketupat and boiled eggs.
The Ajinomoto factory was the first stop. It was all Greek to me, but I remember being briefed by the factory guide that ajinomoto was made from the humble tapioca. Ubi? it cannot be. It was a powerful message, it debunked one myth and it answered the kampong debate about the mystery ” the magic of the GOOD TASTE “. There was also the debate on the halal and haram. It must be the skeletons of pig opined some of the skeptics.
Advertising was new in the newly independent nation. The daily doses of advertisement consisted of ajinomoto, minyak geliga, tonik cap gajah, susu cap junjung. The new found consumerism was tapping the 10 sen a packet of ajinomoto, or 40 sen a can of susu cap junjung.
In Ajinomoto, the rural folks found a new ingredient to magical but artificial good taste. The only worthy opponents were banking on the halal and haram issue. Malay kampung cuisines suddenly become incomplete without the magic ingredient. It is never the same since then, it took a long time for the malay pellet to be able to descriminate between real and artificial taste.
It is amazing that the ajinomoto factory is still standing at the same location. It is no longer in the advertising list which send a worrying message that Malaysian cooking has totally embraced Ajinomoto without the need for advertising.
I have moved on, I am not on MSG. The country has moved on. The target kampung consumer are now looking at electrical appliances and mobile phones and prepaids, a far cry from the 15 sen a packet purchasing power.
As for the rest of the rombongan, I remember going to the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. We were dragging our tired legs after the friday prayers, the ketupat lunch at kebun bunga. I could not remember the rest of the itineraries.
I must have fallen asleep after Dewan Bahasa.