A Malaysian Blog about Food, Family and Friends – by Lyrical Lemongrass
My maternal grandmother passed away half my lifetime ago. During my school holidays when I was in primary school, it was the norm for me to travel south from Penang to PJ where my grandma used to live. Grandma Yeoh was a cynical woman who had a fast-forward education on life at a young age when her husband, an architect and a painter, passed away, leaving her to tend to 5 growing children. She’d put on a gruff exterior, perhaps not knowing how to show her affection towards me, but her actions reflected her kindness. I’d faithfully follow her to the market everyday where she’d buy only the freshest ingredients for the day’s meal and chat with the various stall owners, from the vegetable seller to the man chopping up the pork. Sundays were spent in reverence as she attended the Lutheran church in PJ. Usually, after a hard day’s work of cooking and cleaning and sharing the latest gossip with the neighbour, she’d sit down on her rickety old chair in front of her black and white TV to catch the latest offering on RTM. I, on the other hand, would creep into the storeroom to hunt for treasures stored away in musty old boxes. It was in that barely-lit storeroom that I found my first inspiration to dabble in art; my late grandfather had a wealth of books on art that gave me my foundation in a lifelong love affair.Everyday, Grandma Yeoh would dress up in her crisp cotton kebaya top and her batik sarung held up by an intricate silver belt. She cooked, cleaned, shopped and rested in those outfits. Meals were always prepared on the charcoal stove at the back of her house. Food like tau yu bak, babi pongteh and other straits chinese food were commonly served in her household.
Eating nyonya food brings me back to the past and my friends will attest to the fact that I behave a little strangely in nyonya restaurants where in my imagination, I have travelled back in time.
All this reverie because of Old China Cafe.
Back to the present, Old China Cafe is an old guild hall of the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association. Walking through its wooden doors, I feel a sense of belonging in this dimly lit place, the same chinese music playing in the background. According to its website, “the two large mirrors that face each other are traditional feng shui mirrors that Chinese believe would perpetually reflect the good luck when the first rays of the morning sun light up the interior”.
This is the first of a 2-part series. Today, it’s all about the one-dish meal. This restaurant is located on the fringe of Petaling Street and like its sister, Precious Old China, it seems to appeal more to the expatriate and tourist crowd. As a result, the waiters normally confirm the degree of spiciness one can tolerate in a meal. I recommend going spicy all the way.
Bouncing Barbie was keen on eating rice, so she ordered the nyonya fried rice. Barbie and Pretty Pui both agreed that it was a little bland (perhaps due to the fact that Barbie didn’t want garlic in her meal) despite asking for an extra spicy version of this dish. The rice is fried with mixed vegetables and belacan and is served with a piece of chicken, grated cucumbers and papadum.
Pretty Pui was immediately attracted to the nasi lemak. Unlike normal nasi lemak, the rice in this dish is coloured with bunga telang (blue sweetpea flowers). This dish is served with chicken curry, crunchy fried ikan bilis (anchovies), kangkung (water convolvulus) and slices of cucumber.
I’ve always liked the curry laksa in Old China Cafe. The aroma of lemongrass is prevalent in this curry, rich with santan (coconut milk). This noodle dish has several prawns, taufu pok (fried tofu), sliced fish cakes, shredded cucumber and half an egg.
If you’re dining here, be prepared to spend some time drinking in the ambience and waiting for your food as service can be a little slow. Nevertheless, it is a nice place to spend a lazy afternoon with old friends, dead or alive.
Part 2 will cover several new dishes introduced in Old China Cafe. Stay tuned!
Old China Cafe
11, Jalan Balai Polis,50000 Kuala Lumpur.
Food, for me, is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Food, for me, represents the love of family, the fellowship of friends, and the community and communality it brings.