Najib clarifies he eats rice too, not just pricey quinoa

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has clarified that he eats rice too, after being mocked by opposition politicians for saying he had switched to quinoa, a healthier and more expensive grain than the Asian staple.

The Prime Minister's Office in a Facebook post on Friday explained that Datuk Seri Najib ate the Andean grain as part of his healthy diet regime and on his doctor's advice. It said the Premier "attends many events every week and is served various types of food including rice at those functions".

Opposition leaders were quick to imply that Mr Najib was out of touch with the average Malaysian struggling with rising prices, after he talked about his preference for quinoa in a television interview aired on Thursday.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad tweeted on Friday: "I only eat local rice." His tweet was accompanied by a meme showing a beggar, and the words: "What he eats costs RM15 (S$5) for 250g, what the people eat, rice, costs RM2.70 for 1kg."

Opposition veteran Lim Kit Siang claimed he had never heard of quinoa until now.

He added, according to news site Malaysiakini, that "quinoa which Najib eats is about 23 times more expensive than rice, eaten by 30 million Malaysians".

Mr Najib had said he was introduced to the health food by his son. Netizens shared several Instagram posts from 2014 by his son Ashman Najib, including one that said: "So ecstatic that our brand of quinoa is finally on the shelves!!"

The Prime Minister's Office in a Facebook post on Friday explained that... the Premier (above) "attends many events every week and is served various types of food including rice at those functions".

The Premier said in the TV interview that he could not exercise as frequently as he wanted, so he watched his diet. "My problem is I love food. Like most Malaysians. But I have to control (my eating). For example, I don't eat rice, but quinoa. It is protein-based, so it has less carbohydrates and less sugar content, so it is better than rice."

In the programme, Mr Najib also told Malaysians to live within their means. "Of course, we want them to progress upwards, but live within your means. If you live within your means, God willing, you will be all right," he said.

According to Malaysiakini, Mr Lim, a leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, told a news conference on Friday: "The 14th general election will be quinoa versus rice, clean government versus kleptocracy, and Najib versus the people of Malaysia."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'Najib clarifies he eats rice too, not just pricey quinoa'. Print Edition | Subscribe