'Saji Kanji' exhibition gathers shared regional food traditions, stories


A 'Saji Kanji' interview session with Vietnamese cooks Tien Nghi and Nam Dong at Kajang Viet Food and Cafe in Selangor. Photo: JinnD Productions

The making and sharing of food is the unifying love language between many South-East Asian cultures.

This year, JinnD Production, a dance and art platform, conducted ethnographic research for three months to explore the food culture of different communities found in Malaysia through interviews, observations and participatory activities.

Its research has culminated in Saji Kanji, an upcoming two-day exhibition featuring interview recordings, food ingredients and cultural items; a participatory food presentation; and two workshops on dance and mosaic art.

The exhibition will take place at independent arts space Papan Haus in Petaling Jaya from Dec 9-10.

The participatory performance, Alunan Makan Dan Mozek (Movement, Food And Mosaics), consists of cooking sessions steeped in the culinary traditions of six communities, demonstrated by cooks of Vietnamese, Myanmar Chin, Indian, Malay, Chinese and Indonesian background.

A bowl of ham cha, or Hakka salted tea soup, which you can learn how to make in the 'Alunan Makan Dan Mozek' participatory performance. Photo: JinnD ProductionsA bowl of ham cha, or Hakka salted tea soup, which you can learn how to make in the 'Alunan Makan Dan Mozek' participatory performance. Photo: JinnD Productions

“In our research, we learned that more often than not, what may seem as an ordinary dish on your family dining table may be a tribute to centuries-old gestures, passed down to nourish both your stomach and spirit,” shares Lau Beh Chin, producer, dancer and founder of JinnD Productions.

“This is why gastro-cultural archiving is so important, as it bears the heart of any given culture – however ordinary it may be at the given time – for societal preservation,” she adds.

Participants will get to learn the recipes, discover the stories behind the dishes and participate in preparing the dishes. This segment will also include movement by Sabahan choreographer Ethel Deidre Daniel and reflective mosaic art making by Lim Pei Fern.

Here's your chance to learn how to make your own jamu kunyit (Javanese turmeric juice), ham cha (Hakka salted tea soup), goi cuon (Vietnamese summer roll), kuih siput (shell-shaped biscuits), puliyodharai (South Indian tamarind rice) or fathau changreu (Chin red kidney bean fritters) by registering for a session. Do note there are slight variations between the sessions on Saturday and Sunday.

From lower left: Banh khot (Vietnamese savoury mini pancakes), leafy vegetables (used as wraps), banh mi (Vietnamese-style sandwich using a short baguette) and goi cuon (Vietnamese summer roll). Photo: JinnD ProductionsFrom lower left: Banh khot (Vietnamese savoury mini pancakes), leafy vegetables (used as wraps), banh mi (Vietnamese-style sandwich using a short baguette) and goi cuon (Vietnamese summer roll). Photo: JinnD Productions

Ethel will also conduct a separate dance workshop inspired by the exploration of utilising elements of Sarawak’s Ngajat dance to interpret the preparation of fathau changreu by the Chin people. In this session, participants will learn the foundational movements of the Ngajat dance, as well as the ongoing movement research and personal experiences of the process.

In another workshop led by mosaic artist Lim Pei Fern, participants will have the opportunity to design and craft mosaic artwork, choosing from a palette of colourful tiles to represent various culinary delights.

The cooks featured in the exhibition are Tien Nghi (Vietnam), Pith Har Nac (Myanmar), Hema Malini Rajah, Theresa Kok Thiam Oi, Jaayah Mior Muhamad, Mariani Mat Shariai and Rini Go.

“Beyond Malaysia’s homegrown communities, this project has highlighted that appreciating customs from our neighbouring countries is just as important in communally guarding our constantly evolving societal fabric. In between the act of hands serving food and receiving food, hearts are inevitably filled too,” says Lau.

The project was led by Lau, along with her team (artists, visual narrators and theatremakers) comprising Ridhwan Saidi, Nurul Aizam, Farahin Fadzlishah and Low Pey Sien. The event is supported by ArtsFAS by Yayasan Hasanah in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance.

Saji Kanji will be showing at Papan Haus, Petaling Jaya on Dec 9 and 10, 11am-6pm. Entry is free for the exhibition, while different fees apply for the various workshops. More info here.

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