An Italian’s love affair with Malaysian cuisine – thanks to his wife

An Italian’s love affair with Malaysian cuisine – thanks to his wife

KUALA LUMPUR: The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating. And so it proved for Italian Francesco De Leonardis as the first taste of nasi campur (mixed rice) at a buffet on his akad nikah (solemnisation) ceremony in London 14 years ago kicked started his love for traditional Malaysian cuisine.

The 40-year-old, who now goes by the name Daniyal Yaqeen and lives in South East England, has credited his Malaysian wife, Eita Salehoddin, also 40, for his gastronomic discovery.

“First time (eating Malaysian food) was after our nikah in London. We went down to the MSD (Malaysian Student Department) where there is a (Malaysia Hall) canteen. There was a nice buffet, which had nasi campur.

“Some dishes were too spicy but, eventually, I began to like them more and more. That was when I started to explore (Malaysian food) and now here I am, having already tried lots of different dishes,” he told Bernama recently via Zoom.

Daniyal, who has so far sampled laksa Johorlaksa Penang as well as various other Malaysian rice dishes, simply can’t get enough of tauhu bergedil (stuffed tofu) and any type of curry dish, “provided they are not too spicy”.

Eita, who hails from Muar, Johor, said she felt truly touched to see her husband adapting so well to Malaysian food and culture.

“I really appreciate it as a Malaysian. I know that some people here aren’t very open in terms of accepting a new culture and new cuisine.

“I am actually proud of him in that sense, and we can now relate with each other more,” she said.

To further encourage her husband’s love for Malaysian food, she also features him in her YouTube cooking channel, called “Cooking with Eita”, where she usually cooks up a storm by preparing traditional Malay dishes like ‘daging masak hitam cara orang Perak’ and ‘Beriyani Komak’ from scratch.

To show how much he has embraced our local culture, Daniyal can also be seen on the videos wearing the kain pelikat (sarong for men) and speaking in Malay while helping his wife cook.

Asked how he developed the habit of wearing the sarong, he said he got it as a hantaran (wedding gift) during his akad nikah and started wearing to follow in the footsteps of his father-in-law.

“Eita’s father wears it and I thought it was quite nice. Coming home from work, wearing it feels sort of more formal in the house and, of course, it’s very useful for praying.

“Also, it (wearing sarong) feels like having a little more freedom,” he said, referring to the unbridled freedom of aeration movement.

The couple, who currently resides in the town of Reading, Berkshire, used to visit Malaysia quite often. However, the travel restrictions put in place following the global COVID-19 pandemic mean they have not been able to travel here in the last few months, leaving them missing the country — and the chance to sample more of its glorious and sumptuous cuisine.