Lessons learnt from my interfaith relationships
Before anyone cries “Internalised racism!”, I just wanna clarify that I am PROUD of being Melayu. I love being Malay so much that I:
- purposely took Higher Malay in secondary school (and aced it)
- became one of the heads of the Malay-Muslim FOC in university
- watched Mat Kilau three times in theatres
So, yes. It is highly ironic that, despite such an esteemed portfolio, the only single girls around me have been Chinese.
But the main point I’m trying to get at is that dating outside my race and religion has come with its own unique set of challenges. And I’m not just talking about the disapproving looks we’d get whenever we’re together in a train.
For most of my relationships, our main disagreements have always been about food. Sometimes, these disagreements can even escalate to full-on shouting matches at a Bukit Merah parking lot. Call it trial and error but four relationships later, here’s what I’ve learnt about respecting food preferences and restrictions.
Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t.
Let’s address the elephant in the room.
Some of you might be going, “Eh if you’ve only dated Chinese girls, means you eat babi ah?” Well, I’m proud to announce that although I’m not the most perfect Muslim, I have never consumed pork and alcohol.
That being said, due to the appetites of some of my exes, not all of our dating spots have been halal or Muslim-owned. For instance, there was a day when my partner was craving for butadon and sushi. Clearly, halal Japanese options like Hei Sushi and Tokyo Shokudo were out. So where did we go? SENSHI Sushi & Grill where she got her buta fix, and I simply just ate sashimi which probably didn’t come into contact with alcohol and non-halal stuff.
I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, religion-wise. I’m just saying it is what it is.
I would never forcefully impose my beliefs onto someone else, and I would certainly expect the same from them.
Which brings us to K, my second ex. The thing about K is that she loves pork. I once asked her, “If we ever got married, what do you want at the wedding?” Without missing a beat, sis replied “Oh, I want a pork chop live station and glazed bacon.”
Nevertheless, I just ate seafood whenever I was out with her. I didn’t 100% enjoy it. But I enjoyed being with her more. So eating out wasn’t that much of a problem. Until the Bukit Merah incident.
Flashback to 2017. I was still a broke uni kid, and K had gotten her first paycheck. She called me and said, “Let’s celebrate! I’ll treat you to this place I wanted to try.”
Mistake #1: not asking what “this place I wanted to try” was.
So there I was, blissfully unaware, following my girlfriend to Bukit Merah as she led me to one of the most haram mookata places I had ever seen. We’re talking mookata topped with the lardiest of lard and the porkiest of pork, surrounded by 1.5 litre-beer towers that would make Homer Simpson blush.
Mistake #2: not getting the f**k out once I saw where I was.
I wasn’t looking to secure a spot in hell any time soon by eating all that pork. At the same time, I didn’t wanna disappoint my girlfriend who was clearly craving mookata so desperately. My solution: compromise.
Thankfully, the mookata place was located in a food court which also housed a halal chicken rice stall.
“It’s okay, babe. You just eat the mookata. I’ll buy that chicken rice and eat it next to you.”
So problem solved, right?
“Never mind lah. You can just eat the non-pork stuff. Got beef and chicken what.”
At this point, I’d like to take the time to educate you, my dear readers, on a few things.
Firstly, halal is more than just “no pork, no lard”. It also includes a whole system where animals have to be slaughtered in accordance with Islamic laws, and preparing the meat in a way where it doesn’t come in contact with haram components. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Secondly, for those of you who’ve never had mookata, it involves melting pork fat and letting it drip all over your grill and into the broth. So even if you bought the most halal beef from the most Islamic region on Earth, the moment that beef touches the mookata grill, it’s no longer halal.
With these factors in mind, you can imagine my face when K told me to “just eat the non-pork stuff”.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll eat the chicken rice ‘cause the mookata is filled with lard.”
“WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SO DIFFICULT?!”
Suddenly, flashbacks to all those days where I had to eat bland seafood while K ate her precious pork flooded my head, and I just snapped.
“WHY CAN’T YOU GO ONE F**KING DAY WITHOUT EATING F**KING PORK?!”
And thus began the legendary Bukit Merah parking lot match. I’ll spare you the details of what happened during that 30-minute fight, but I did learn a lot about my relationship in that half-hour.
One of the best things about eating out is sharing your love, or disdain, for whatever food you ate together.
But K couldn’t experience that.
Sitting in front of the boy who had to eat bland seafood, was a girl who didn’t have a boyfriend who could relate to her whenever she said “Wow, this belly is damn oily” or “This char siew is the best I’ve had.”
But I wasn’t going to start eating pork for her. And she wasn’t gonna stop eating pork for me. And that’s just how it was.
Good food is objective, preferred food is subjective
This might shock my Savour365 colleagues and thousands of local foodies, but not everyone has a refined palate. And that’s perfectly fine. There are people out there who somehow enjoy Saizeriya and, you know what, more power to you.
Because at the end of the day, you should eat whatever makes you happy. Not what some anonymous reviewer tells you is good.
Of course, this was a lesson that I learnt too late with my third ex, Y.
You see, Y is what we’d call “someone with low expectations”—which is probably why we were together. She can survive with pretty much the worst food possible as long as it fuels her. We’re talking Saizeriya, cold ramen, stale carrot cake and more. Simply put, she only eats to live.
That was a problem because at this point, I was making good money and, thanks to my career, had developed a penchant for good but pricey food. Naturally, I wanted to pamper my girlfriend by bringing her to nice places.
Unfortunately, “nice places” in Y’s world meant the coffee shop opposite her block, the noodle stall at Changi General Hospital, and various random stalls near her neighbourhood.
Before anyone jumps at me for being “elitist”, I have nothing against hawker food. What I am against is bad food. And guys, Y literally had the worst possible taste in food.
As someone who grew up eating CGH food for dinner, being told that the soggy, bland wanton mee at the noodle stall is “the best food in Simei” triggers the f**k out me till today.
Still, we loved each other so we had an agreement where we’d alternate between the food she liked and the food I liked for dates. For love, I was willing to eat food that was rated three stars and below on Google.
Of course, this didn’t last long.
Our big fight happened on her birthday. Basically, Y specifically wanted the pasta at Swensen’s as her birthday dinner. Me, being the dumb boyfriend, failed to understand that simple request and brought her to try the pasta at Tipo.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the f**k out of Swensen’s. I will fight anyone who dares to slander it. But dude, it’s her birthday. She deserved to eat a high-quality meal. And although their standards have dropped tremendously, at that point in time, Tipo had the best halal pasta in Singapore.
Of course, Y wasn’t happy that I tried to “think for her again” and we fought. The line that struck me during our fight was “You like eating expensive food. I like eating with you.”
It made me ask myself, “Was I doing all of this just to satisfy my own ego?” Turns out, the answer was “yes”.
And the thing that pissed her off the most: Swensen’s was where we had our first date. She just wanted to celebrate her special day there.
So yeah, I messed up. Big time. But it did teach me a valuable lesson.
Always respect your partner’s wishes, even if you don’t agree with them. Because when it comes to food, you’ll eventually forget its taste but you’ll never forget the memories.
What I’ve learnt from my relationships
To all my exes, thank you for helping me grow into the person I am today. I’ll always treasure our memories even though we’re not together anymore.