May 2016 - Dining with dragons



Carol Selva Rajah is a woman with a myriad of accolades! Super chef, queen of Nyonya Cuisine, food writer, food historian, presenter of TV show Chita Rasa, author of 14 cook books, a migrant, a risk-taker, a woman of indomitable spirit. This is but a short introduction to Carol who presented her latest book "Dining with Dragons" co authored with her brother Dr. Abel Arumugum, to the MCG members and guests.

In "Dining with Dragons" Carol shares her life, past and present and tells the story of a people. The story of women. Women who were dragons. Women who were strong. Women who had the ability to survive. Women who could make things happen. Women who had the ability to carry on in spite of everything. Carol begins each chapter with the illustration of a vessel. And explains that the vessel symbolises a woman and is unlike a knife which is a tool of aggression! She ends each chapter with a recipe. (So you get a story book with a recipe book, all in one)!

The Dragons are the women who Carol grew up with. The women who inspired her. Her mother, an abandoned child in a Chinese orphanage, speaking only Hokkien and went on to marry a Jaffna Tamil! Her Amah, the greatest influence in her life, who sailed on a junk from China to Singapore, worked as an ayah in a hospital till she joined the household to look after the young Carol. As the years sped by, she brought up Carol's children and finally ended up caring for Carol's mother. It was Amah who imparted the important life lessons to Carol. It was Amah's "food memory" that fuelled Carol's passion.

Migration is an important theme Carol explores in this book. She talked about her beloved Cantonese Amah who left her homeland in China for distant shores. Her grandfather who sailed from Jaffna, Ceylon to Malaya, and worked in the business of road building with the British to facilitate the transportation of rubber to the ports. And then went on to become a pastor! Her own relocation to Australia with her three children after Malaya gained independence. The challenges she faced in a new society. The extra effort at every step to prove herself in the work sphere that transformed her into an "aggressive" woman. She touches upon the depression she suffered following the death of her husband and her psychiatrist's encouragement to write down her nightmares which eventually formed the genesis of "Dining with Dragons"

She also highlights Mr. Harrison, an Irishman, who was the General Manager of the Malayan Railways. His daughter, Clodagh Harrison was the very person who typed the Declaration of Independence. From her hands it went straight to Tunku Abdul Rahman. Just like Carol and her father, Clodagh and her father too were present at Merdeka Stadium watching the British flag being lowered and the Malaysian flag raised amidst shouts of ‘Merdeka” at the Independence Day ceremony. Not many people know about Clodagh’s part in this historic moment.

Carol told us that this manuscript was refused by eight publishers. And that it was by sheer accident that she came across Angela Yap from Akasaa Publishers who loved the story and helped her crowd fund the book.


Ultimately one can say that the essence of Carol's book is to dream the dreams and perpetuate the aromas and memories that seep out allowing for the absorption of the history of our forefathers, around food that is shared and savoured. 


Written by Reeta Chopra. Pictures by Suparna Kundu