Feature

Malaysia: Where kids can’t eat the national dish

Health authorities say nasi lemak is part of the reason why more than 13 percent of Malaysian schoolchildren are obese and many more are overweight, said Hazlin Hassan in the Straits Times.

Hazlin HassanStraits Times(Singapore)

Malaysians are incensed that the government is trying to deprive their children of their favorite food, said Hazlin Hassan. The Health Ministry says nasi lemak—rice cooked in coconut milk and topped with a fried egg, oily anchovies, and chile sauce—is making kids fat and should be served in school cafeterias just once or twice a week, rather than every day. Health authorities say the popular meal is part of the reason why more than 13 percent of Malaysian schoolchildren are obese and many more are overweight.

But ethnic Malays charge that singling out their signature dish is racist. Why not criticize other high-fat dishes, they ask, such as roti prata, the fried pancakes eaten by ethnic Indonesians and Tamils? Or fried mee, the yellow noodles beloved by ethnic Chinese? And why didn’t the Health Ministry ban packaged junk food from the cafeterias?

Malay parents “have come out in droves” to defend the dish. They say it’s not nasi lemak that’s packing pounds on their kids, but Western foods such as sodas, burgers, and french fries. Maybe so, but given that its name is Malay for “fatty rice,” there should be no doubt “what the dish does to you.”

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