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Saturday April 27, 2013
By MAJORIE CHIEW firstname.lastname@example.org
With election fever getting hotter, the going gets tough for campaign workers. We look at the food that fuels their political devotion.
ORIGINAL Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar, an A-list nasi kandar restaurant in SS2, Petaling Jaya, was in the thick of action during the two previous general elections. The popular restaurant had then catered for political parties and armed forces personnel.
One big contract was for 2,000 people on the day of the last elections.
“Political party members were busy campaigning and had no time to cook or buy food. They came to us,” says Burhan Mohamed, managing director of Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar Sdn Bhd.
“We sent packets of food to one central location and they distributed them to campaign workers in different venues. They ordered nasi kandar with chicken or fish for convenience. Beef was not ordered as some workers did not eat beef for religious reasons.”
The restaurant prepares plastic containers of food and despatches them soonest possible so that the food stays fresh. Previously, the restaurant charged RM6 for a packet of nasi kandar; these days, with rising food costs, it is RM6.80.
Founded by Penangites, Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar began as a stall in Chow Yang coffeeshop in SS2, in 1974. It has since become one of the most popular mamak (Indian Muslim) restaurants with six outlets in the Klang Valley and Penang.
Burhan says for polling day on May 5, Kayu has received a catering job for 10,000 meals for police personnel on duty. He is cool about coping with bulk orders.
“If there are many orders at the same time, the restaurant’s different outlets can pitch in to help. We have six to seven kitchens and each kitchen can prepare food for 1,000 orders, for example,” he says.
Burhan insists that he never practises price undercutting to win contracts.
“I believe that if the business is mine, it is mine.”
Caterer Joe Lee, 35, of Batu 9 Cheras, Selangor, has been catering for four years. She entered the business to help her mother who has some 20 years’ experience in food catering.
“I was not involved in food catering in the last elections. However, with the economic slowdown and competition, business these days has somewhat been affected,” she says.
“We have catered for events, including those by political parties. At a recent Chinese New Year open house gathering, we did a buffet for 250 people,” says Lee. The spread comprised rice, noodles and Hakka dishes.
Whilst the elections seem to be a time for some caterers to make good profits, there are a few unlucky ones who lose money. According to sources, one caterer apparently lost RM1mil in the previous elections when the party which hired the company lost and failed to pay up. The caterer sued but the client filed for bankruptcy and the money could not be recovered.
The caterer is now much wiser. He has ventured into a different business: manufacturing.
MIC national youth chief T. Mohan estimates that the food bill to feed supporters during elections can come up to “RM10,000 for a state seat and thrice the amount for a parliamentary seat”.
“It all depends on the number of supporters,” he says, adding that a friend “fully sponsored the food”.
When he was running for the Batu Caves state seat in 2008, some 800 supporters and volunteers had to be fed a day. He reckons there would be “2,000 mouths” to feed when campaigning for a parliamentary seat.
Supporters rarely begrudge others or complain about food. In such hectic times of campaigning, “they are understanding,” Mohan says.
Sometimes, when there is not enough food, other party volunteers may pack stuff from nearby oulets for those who have not eaten yet. Or, he says, they can eat at a nearby restaurant.
Vice-chairman of the Taman Maju Jaya MCA branch, Raymond Chiew, 66, says: “Party workers who are so immersed in helping out during the elections more often than not forget the taste of the food. They take whatever is provided to quell their hunger and thirst. In fact, bottled water is consumed in large quantities during their campaign trail.”
A budgeted amount of RM5,000, he says, is set aside for food during the election period and this amount varies according to the number of workers involved and the size of the District Voting Centre (Pusat Daerah Menggundi or PDM, previously known as bilik gerakan in Bahasa Malaysia).
“Normally, a caterer is engaged to provide simple meals for campaign workers who return to the centre for lunch. Sometimes, women workers would sponsor delicious home-cooked food like assam laksa, curry chicken, fried noodles and even tong sui (Chinese sweet dessert-like green bean soup). At times, they would even bake cakes and the various types of kuih for the workers,” he says.
In fact, the atmosphere at the centre is like a big family gathering, and camaraderie is evident. With the elections around the corner, the PDMs are now in full swing as the party workers go from door to door and to morning and night markets as well as numerous coffeeshops or warung to campaign for their respective parties and candidates.
Cheras DAP branch liaison committee publicity secretary Lee Chun Hur, 40, says: “We ask our supporters for sponsorship of food, souvenirs and prizes such as hampers. Sponsors are willing to bring food. If they drop by and see that we are out of certain items, they will bring what we need the next time. Market traders will even give us chickens. And sometimes, volunteer cooks just turn up,” he says.
“At a recent Chinese New Year dinner gathering for 300 people, we spent about RM5,000 for food, souvenirs and lucky draw prizes. Sponsors chipped in to help.
“At the last elections, the party’s service centre had three cooks in charge of three meals. To kick-start the day, there were breakfast items which include nasi lemak, porridge, yaw char koay (Chinese crullers) and coffee and tea. Our cooks also prepared cooling herbal teas such as sugar cane, chrysanthemum and pak chee cho (a herbal tea).
“Lunch and dinner was chap fan (economy mixed rice) with four to five dishes. Sometimes, there is even soup.”
Excitement builds up around elections, and party members and supporters often take leave to help for a whole day or drop by after work.
“Some businessmen even close for business for three weeks to be involved in the elections,” he says.
When it comes to food, Lee says volunteers just eat and don’t bother much about whether the food is great or not.
“They channel their energy to help the party instead of focusing on the food and benefits. We work wholeheartedly for the party. All are happy volunteers.”
William K.C. Lim, a special assistant to Hulu Langat MP Dr Che Rosli Che Mat from PAS, says: “Being an Opposition party, we have no budget allocation for catered food during the election period. Food and beverage is provided by members much in the spirit of gotong-royong. Of course, food has to be halal.”
Some members would bring food cooked by their wives such as beef rendang or chicken curry and rice. Other members may sponsor drinks or bottled water. Teatime snacks are curry puffs, fried mee hoon and hot beverages such as teh O and coffee.”
According to PAS supporter Ramli Nawi, 56, a retired technician, there is not much expectation of a feast but workers are happy if there are food and drinks on the table.
A businesswoman observes: “Some political parties could not afford catering services for members. Then, there were party members who bought packed food from roadside vendors. One political party was sponsored by a temple which arranged for food for the service centre.”
A journalist, who declined to be named, related that during the previous elections, one politician showed some generosity towards his rival.
The journalist, who covered the elections, was with a politician and his party of 30 supporters having a meal at a restaurant.
“Along came a rival politician and his supporters. This politician not only paid for the meals of his supporters but also for his rival.”
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