Four Favorite Dishes Delight 31,600 Malaysian Pilgrims in Mecca

Four Favorite Dishes Delight 31,600 Malaysian Pilgrims in Mecca

MECCA: Four main dishes have become favorites, satisfying the tastes of 31,600 Malaysian Hajj pilgrims.

These dishes—masak lemak, masak kicap, fish curry, and beef curry—are rotated every four days, with biryani rice served on Fridays. These meals are prepared by Tabung Haji (TH) catering in Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj season.

Rashidi Razali@Ghazali, TH’s Catering Operations Director, stated that to prepare these favorite dishes, 10 tons of pre-mixed spices were shipped to Mecca by sea for the catering team to use in preparing meals for the Malaysian pilgrims.

“The spices were packed into 5-kilogram sachets and placed in special boxes before being shipped to the port in containers,” he said, noting that the spices had to be prepared well in advance due to the longer transit time and safety considerations involved in sea transportation.

According to Rashidi, all the spices used are in powder form.

“We have a special formula for preparing these dishes. The cooks just need to add the spices and raw ingredients because salt, sugar, and tamarind are already mixed in the pre-mixed sachets,” he told the media at the TH headquarters in Mecca.

Rashidi explained that one 5-kilogram sachet of pre-mixed spices is sufficient to prepare meals for 200 to 250 pilgrims.

He added that they do not use pastes because they are prone to leakage and spoilage compared to powders, which are lighter and easier to transport.

Regarding raw ingredients, Rashidi, who has 17 years of experience in food preparation, management, and safety, said that all vegetables, fish, meat, and chicken are sourced from local suppliers.

However, Rashidi mentioned that it is impossible to cater to the individual tastes of every pilgrim, given the diverse preferences across different Malaysian states.

“That’s why we prepare dishes that everyone knows and is familiar with, like masak lemak, curry, and masak kicap,” he said.

In addition, TH has opened kiosks or cafeterias in 11 Hajj accommodations, offering various snacks, pastries, bread, and hot or cold beverages for pilgrims who wish to change their palates or enjoy breakfast or afternoon tea.

These Hajj cafeterias operate from 4 AM after the dawn prayer until 11 PM.

Rashidi also highlighted the challenges of adhering to Saudi Arabia’s stricter regulations compared to Malaysia, which pose significant constraints for catering staff during the 1445H/2024 Hajj season.

According to Rashidi, any violation of regulations could result in the kitchen being shut down and fines being imposed.

“The stringent regulations include not being allowed to prepare food a day in advance, even though we need to cook for thousands of pilgrims at one time,” he said.

He added, “The challenge for catering is to comply with Saudi Arabian laws because the regulations here are stricter than in Malaysia. Sometimes, inspections are conducted to ensure that the food prepared is not spoiled and does not harm the pilgrims.”

He mentioned that if found guilty under Saudi law, the first consequence is a fine.

“If the violation is severe, we will be fined, and the kitchen will be closed, preventing us from operating,” he added, noting that no cases of food poisoning have been reported since the catering service began.

Rashidi also noted the challenges related to managing work hours, with cooks starting as early as 2 AM and often not getting enough rest.

“These cooks are brought from Malaysia, and each one manages a kitchen. Imagine if two cooks handled meals for thousands of pilgrims. Additionally, the biggest challenge is meeting the diverse tastes of the Hajj pilgrims,” he said.

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