summertime and malaysian food


We’re sitting at a small plastic table next to a ‘restaurant’, which is actually a little too fancy a word for this tiny, glass enclosed square area with a counter out front, a small stove in the back and a huge picture of a shaykh on the wall, inside which a group of students somehow make delicious and ridiculously cheap Malaysian food.  It’s hidden away behind the women’s-only park a few steps down from Abu Nour, on the opposite, lesser-known side of some fast-food shwarma and fried chicken places. Its neighbors are a tire repair garage and another place that fixes engines. 


It’s a little before Maghrib time and there’s a sort of calmness that’s settling on the city as the sun cools down.  We’re sitting outside, the little restaurant behind us, facing a big generator and a fence that separates us from the park.  The table holds an antique looking silver pitcher sitting on a cylindrical container, which is an old fashioned means of washing your hands. We hear children playing.  A group of old men lounge on chairs a few steps down from us, their backs to the park, watching young men work on tire parts. 


An orange cat seats herself at a convenient location to watch us eat.  We drink water from plastic mugs, take in the green trees and a soft breeze and wait for our meal. The generator turns off and we hear quiet, the birds singing, and the murmur of the old men talking.


The food comes, beautifully displayed on simple blue dishes: rice with small pieces of chicken shaped into a perfect circle, with cucumber slices delicately placed on the side. Little potato filled samosas in another small plate, and another with squares of flaky, warm bread just made.  It’s homemade kind of food that instantly reminds me of my mom’s.  I look to the restaurant and see the Malaysian woman (‘auntie’) who’d cooked it, my mom’s age, wearing a long top and skirt printed with small flowers, a simple hijab with lacy edges… and her husband, a dignified older looking man, who could have been cast as a Malaysian shaykh, tidying things in the tiny kitchen.  Some younger brothers who study at Abu Nour also work there. I’ve seen them in the afternoons making bread sometimes, shaping the dough in what looked like an expert manner on a small marble counter, their Arabic books on the back shelf.


A cute Malaysian couple approaches from the same way we had come; he’s wearing one of those tall black caps and a goatee, and she has a big book bag on like she’d just come from school and is wearing a soft creamy colored hijab and niqab.  They’re holding hands.  They sit at another table, placed closer to the gate of the park and the generator, and drink some fresh juice.


I feel soothed by the calmness of this moment… relative quiet, baraka filled food, temperate weather, my husband giving the cat a wary eye as he eats.  It’s just a lovely summer day and the rush of the city, the worries and business of life and inner complexities seem somehow far removed.  Alhamdulillah for simple moments like these.


(Written June 2007)

Published in: on January 11, 2009 at 11:46 am  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That’s a beautiful post.

  2. Nice page,, will visit again

  3. This is a fascinating blog. I love Damascus and it’s been fun to read your picture of it.

    I was so enticed by the image of this Malaysian food place that I decided to go and hunt for it. But I couldn’t find it. I walked in a big circle around the women’s park and didn’t see it. But nor did I see a tire shop or an engine repair or any of the other landmarks you mentioned in your blog, which makes me wonder if there is more than one women’s park in Ruknedin? Or is it on another side road I didn’t think to check?

    Any chance you can remember back to think of more specific directions? Or do you think the place simply doesn’t exist anymore?

    Thank you…

  4. Again… I went back to Rukn El Din this evening and found it! Unfortunately they were out of food, but now I know where it is. What a treasure.

    • I’m glad that you found it! I was just about to write and give more specific directions. Enjoy the experience =)

  5. anyone willing to share insight on my intended plan to study Fushaa and other islamic subjects in Dimashq? Thanks, Fida

  6. Hi Shazia –

    What an interesting, full life you’re leading. Congratulations! I “met” you years ago on the radio, WRPI, and later did a story on Albany area Muslims and interviewed Faisal. Here he’s married with kids now – how time flies. How are you…and are you back in the states?


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