I love going to the supermarket abroad, in search of different items they sell. Some things unusual to me but normal to everyone else wandering the aisles.
I’ve never lived in an Islamic country before, I spent a very short holiday in Dubai once but we didn’t leave the resort never mind consider visiting the local supermarkets. This is my first experience of living in a place where Islam is the state religion. On first look (that’s two weeks of being here so bare with) Malaysia seems quite liberal and appears (to my very new eyes) to embrace most (you can still drink alcohol, eat pork and dress as you would in the UK etc.). Just yesterday I took a trip into the city and Christmas seems to have exploded in every mall you step foot in. The Christmas tree outside the Petronas Towers is absolutely massive. Walking down the street there is a huge mix of people too, I love it, perfect for people watching.
Peninsular Malaysia was Buddhist and Hindu for a thousand years before local rulers adopted Islam. Today Islam is the state religion of Malaysia, and freedom of religion is guaranteed by the nation’s constitution. The various Chinese religions are also strongly entrenched. Christianity has a presence, but it’s never been strong in Peninsular Malaysia. About the only major religion you won’t come across is Judaism. – Lonely Planet, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Penang page 199.
Anyway back to the supermarket. As Malaysia is an Islamic country the supermarkets have non-halal sections. I’ve done a tiny bit of research (translation scanned Wikipedia) and I can conclude that non-halal mainly refers to food and drink (could also be cosmetics) which Islamic Law does not allow. For animal produce to be halal it must be slaughtered in a way acceptable by Islamic Law. (Side note – I’ve followed the Muslim Council for Britain on Twitter for some time, possibly since their great Visit My Local Mosque initiative and their website has some interesting articles about Halal produce here).
I guessed that alcohol would live in the non-halal section but I’d not even clicked that pork products would be in there too. I know that sounds really stupid, I’m fully aware that pork is definitely non-halal, I just hadn’t joined the dots. I also didn’t realise you could get so many tinned pork products, the shelves were full of them! Malaysia is really opening my eyes (haha). As we wandered the large non-halal section in our local Giant I mentioned to Tom that it might not be fair for a Muslim cashier to have to handle all these non-halal products. It was then that Tom pointed out the separate till which was in the non-halal section so they don’t have to.
It’s cultural differences like this that make travelling fascinating, really, I know this is just a supermarket but these differences are eye opening and in my opinion important to experience.
As with most supermarkets in Asia there is a large dried food section, oh how they love their dried food! Unfortunately for my nose they particularly like dried seafood which you can smell for miles. In particular, dried anchovies ikan bilis seem to be in every food shop.
These tins of sardines really caught my eye too, great colour and design, have not purchased yet.
I’ll mark this day as my most educational day in Malaysia so far. I’m now off in search of some Understanding Islam must-reads.