March 27, 2023
Special Features

Favourite Dishes of Malaysia’s Five Former Prime Ministers

As we celebrate our first Merdeka with our new Prime Minister, it’s apt to look back and see how far we have come. Well what else would we talk about but food and about 5 special dishes of our Prime Ministers past.


On 31st August 2009, Malaysia will celebrate its 52nd Independence Day. Since Malaysia has 5 former Prime Ministers who helmed the country since 1957, we couldn’t resist releasing this short article about the Favourite Dishes of Malaysia’s Five Former Prime Ministers. To all Malaysians around the world… MERDEKA! MERDEKA! MERDEKA! and have a great Merdeka weekend ahead.

31st August 1957 – 22nd September 1970

“The Tunku loved to take charge of the kitchen as much as he loved eating. He left Malaya at the age of 17 under a Kedah government scholarship to read law at St Catherine’s College in Cambridge and he first picked up culinary skills as a student.

The Roast Beef complete with Yorkshire Pudding was an all time favourite-and an absolute-must as a weekly home cooked meal. It was a dish he often served when he had family and friends over for gatherings. He was very meticoulous about preparation and would personally see to all the details including the ingredients of the marinade and the consistency of the Yorkhsire pudding batter. He always preferred it medium-rare. His cooking style was instinctive –he never used cookbooks and would instead, invent his own recipes.

As a home entertainer, his guests had an opportunity to witness his best traits- of generosity, of warmth and sincerity of wanting to share what he enjoyed with the people he loved. Tunku was also fond of setting different themes to his home meals- if he had a local lunch, then dinner would be western-and vice versa.“

[ YTM Tunku Datin Paduka Khadijah bt YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj (Tunku’s daughter)was often tasked to be Daddy’s kitchen helper to beat the Yorkshire pudding to perfect consistency ; and YTM Dato Hajah Tunku Mukminah bt YTM Tunku Mohd Jiwa (Tunku’s niece) often cooked for him his favourite dishes. They have both recently published “ Favourite Dishes From The Tunku’s Kitchen” together with the Federal Hotel of Kuala Lumpur and Marshal Cavendish which includes the Roast Beef recipe as Tunku prepared it ]

22nd September 1970 – 14th January 1976

“Despite assuming office as the Prime Minister, my father’s taste in his food remained simple. He had a preference for dishes that he used to enjoy when he was growing up as a boy in Pekan – and ikan patin, remains synonymous today with that area of Pahang. Gulai Ikan Patin is probably the best known preparation for this river fish. The dish is best enjoyed with hot steamed rice and sometimes with a side of tempoyak, which in itself makes for a complete meal.

One of his earliest portfolios which he undertook with much passion was as the Minister of Rural Development. Throughout his years as Prime Minister, he remained very much concerned with rural development and the eradication of poverty.

Although he was born to a Pahang territorial chief family, it is commonly known that he used to walk to school barefooted out of respect for his schoolmates who were mostly poor and could not afford to buy rubber shoes. He remained very close to the people’s struggle throughout and I guess it was symbolic that he continued to eat as they ate.”

[ Datuk Nazir Razak is the youngest son of Tun Abdul Razak. During his tenure, Tun Abdul Razak was instrumental in the establishment of a Government-backed bank to assist in the financing of development ventures for Bumiputeras. This led to the setting up of Bank Bumiputera Berhad which operations were acquired by CIMB Bank in 2005. Datuk Nazir was appointed its CEO in 2005.]

14th January 1976 – 16th July 1981

“My father had a distinctive sweet tooth and his all-time favourite dessert was Halwa Muscat. It is reminiscent of Turkish Delight in texture-it’s a family recipe that must have been passed through from my Turkish great grandmother. The Halwa requires a laborious cooking process not unlike the dodol and its smooth chewy texture is grazed by the occasional blade of almond. To add fragrance, it is tinged with a drop of rosewater. We used to enjoy the dish as a family during Raya but my father used to ask my mother for it even if was in-between Raya! Very few people know how to make it now and its probably little known outside the family. When his health deteriorated, sadly, under doctor’s orders, he had to give up all manner of sweets.

It’s the one dish always brings back nostalgic memories of him at his happiest- when his health was robust, savouring what he enjoyed most –amongst whom he loved best”

[Datin Hanis was initially apprehensive about being able to get a sampling of the (almost extinct) dessert to be photographed. The very day of the interview, she attended a family luncheon-and as if pre-destined, Halwa Muscat was served as a special dessert which she brought to be photographed ]

16th July 1981 – 31st October 2003

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad loves eating especially home-cooked food by his sisters. He has many favourites but the most favourite is DAGING BAKAR CECAH AIR ASAM (grilled meat with tamarind sauce). He has this to say why he loves it.

There are a lot of buffaloes in the Northern states of the Peninsula. Buffalo meat is sliced into medium sized chunks, marinated only with salted turmeric powder before grilled over a slow wood-fire. Tun loves his well done. The grilled meat is then cut into small slices and eaten dipped with the sauce (tamarind water with sliced chillies and onions). It is also taken with rice and curry at mealtimes. This dish is common for picnics as it is easy to prepare. That was how Tun first came to love it. His sisters will make daging bakar and air assam enough for him and his schoolmates.

People got to know this favourite dish of Tun’s. Fortunately or otherwise, this information spread throughout the country and we see it in menus and told that they specially prepared it for him. Tun appreciated their efforts and always made a point to taste it. Soon, daging bakar spread its wings overseas. Tun was very surprised when he saw his favourite dish at Malaysian Embassy luncheons and dinners. It was as delicious as back home especially if the host comes from his home state and knows just how to barbecue the meat, not buffalo meat but good Argentinean meat. Yum yum, it was delicious!

[Tun Dr Siti Hasmah bt Mohd Ali very graciously offered to contribute this piece, which stands not only as a food testimony but more than that, represents the couple’s intertwined history and shared lives. Tun Siti Hasmah was one the nation’s first woman doctors and the first woman government officer to be appointed in Tun Mahathir’s home state of Kedah.]

31st October 2003 – 3rd April 2009

Memories of favourite meals in childhood, always makes Pak Lah think of ‘Kacang Pol’. Prepared as often by his father as his mother, he recalls thoroughly enjoying a hot bowl of fragrant minced beef or lamb, cooked with peas or a variety of beans infused with spices carrying Middle Eastern flavours – a testament to Pak Lah’s own family influences. If that wasn’t enough, adding several spoons of ghee (a luxury he can rarely now indulge in), assured an aroma to make any mouth water.

The family ate this dish simply, with crusty toasted bread. In the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan, when kacang pol was prepared more often and the family spent more time together, it absolutely hit the spot, says Pak Lah. “There’s nothing in life quite like the combination of good food and good company”.

[This culinary walk down memory lane was narrated by Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to his daughter Nori, who like the rest of the family considers meals with loved ones – simple or elaborate – among the most basic yet special traditions of one’s life.]

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