Rest House Blues - August 12, 2008
When Loy first got the contract to operate the National Press Club's food and beverages a couple of years ago, I had no opinion of him or his capabilities. That was until I found out that he's a "damn good cook" who could whip up "a damn good" mee hailam.
"You mean like the mee hailam in those rest houses?", I asked.
"Yeah, yeah....like the mee hailam served at the old Coliseum Restaurant on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman...", someone said.
"Yeah...also like the mee hailam at the Gazebo near the EPF in PJ-lah," another offered.
Oooh. I was bowled over. So Loy cooks mee hailam, the old "original" style. Brilliant, I thought, because the truth is, good mee hailam is hard to find.
In those days, you could get good mee hailam even in the office canteen. I remember as a child whenever Bapak brought us along to the old Straits Times office at Jalan Pudu, I would look forward to going to the canteen upstairs.
I'd not share my dish of mee hailam with anyone else because I could finish it off by myself, thank you very much.
I don't remember Bapak ever taking us out for "makan". If he did, those occasions were few and far between.
Unlike me today. I take my kids out for "makan" a lot. Eating out is part of our daily life, don't you think?
You name it, I'd probably have taken my kids or my nephews and nieces, there.
And we are so international these days, you'd think that pizza, pasta and tomyam are all Malaysian dishes.
I tell my kids that I got introduced to burgers when I was 12 years old. That was in 1968 when the first A&W came to town (Petaling Jaya). I knew of burgers from Archie comics and Popeye comic strips but I never knew what they really were until my first foray into the world of American cuisine. :)
My first experience with hot dog (at A&W, of course) was dismal. I didn't understand what it was. It looked strange and totally alien to me. I remember looking very perplexed and wondering aloud about "macam mana orang boleh makan ni?". I could not bring myself to take a bite of it. I didn't like the look of it, nor the texture. I think I took a very long time to get used to it.
I laugh every time I think about that. These days, kids take to hot dogs like nothing because they start their fast food foray even before they learn to crawl.
Hotdogs are served as kids' menu and are a must at their birthday parties.
I first ate pizza, I think, at a restaurant in one of the five or six-star hotels in KL. And I think it was in the mid 70s and it was served during an Italian food promotion. It was a real treat. Extravagant, I thought. Those days, you didn't see Italian restaurants around. These days, they're everywhere. And we're not even talking about Pizza Hut and Shakey's.
Remember those days when we thought our kids would not survive their study stints overseas because "tak ada nasi" and "tak ada sambal"?
Well, you and I know that those days are gone. Our kids can probably live overseas without a problem. And no, they won't be scouring Chinatown for spices.
Take my six year-old nephew, Haikal and my eight year-old grandnephew, Adam. They can live without rice and sambal. Their diet is Italian/American. Talk about colonization of our diet!
Bapak hardly ever took us out for "makan" simply because he himself hardly ever went out to eat except for the occasional "official" luncheons and dinners.
He'd try to be home for lunch and for dinner. And when he was home Sunday mornings, he'd cook us breakfast and lunch.
If Mak was not cooking dinner, Bapak would buy mee hailam at Gazebo, or satay, lontong, curry mee, assam laksa, or/and roast chicken at Medan Selera (in Section 14, PJ).
So, we mostly ate in.
One of the things I always looked forward to during our trips to Singapore was our stop-over at the Batu Pahat rest house.
I still remember the old white building with leafy branches covering the roof of the porch. I remember the Chinese waiters in their crisp white uniform.
In my young eyes, the place looked huge. Nothing opulent or fancy about it, though. Rest houses don't conjure fancy images.
The food was something else. I mean, this is 2008, more than three decades on and I can never forget the mee hailam. And to go with my mee hailam, I'd have a nice bottle of Green Spot.
In our modern life, I suppose we have no need for rest houses. Or gentle old waiters in crisp white uniforms. Or good mee hailam, it seems.
The Batu Pahat is no more, I've been told.
In our trips down south these days, we look out for those rest areas along the North-South expressway. They don't serve good food but they're okay.
When Bapak was a little less frail some months ago, I asked him whether he'd like a good dish of mee hailam. I told him I could pack some at the Press Club for him.
His eyes lit up. He asked whether Loy's mee hailam was any good. I told him "macam rest house punya."
He smiled. The closest to a good mee hailam for him was my step-mum's hokkien mee.
"Lain kali-lah," he said.
Looks like I'd better pack some for him real soon!
And I also wish Loy a long life.....