Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesdays With Bapak

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.....


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm sedap tu mee hailam. dulu2 kalau di jb the best place to have mee hailam and oldies chicken chop is at Wah Moi restaurant near Jalan Dhoby. But now they dont cook the same as dulu2, tapi kalau teringin sangat boleh lah ke sana ataupun EatRoo restaurant near Jalan Dhoby also.
Sis, do you remember eating air batu kepal and alor smitai (mamak cotton caddy)...hmmm sedap tu and murah ( cost around 5 sen or 10 sen..)
Wishing that we still have all of those makan thingy..


zaitgha said...

I got my share of good hailam mee from Cozy corner Ampang Park long time ago, but now the taste is so so but much better than what you get at other joints....

roasted chicken frm PJ Sect 14 used to be our favorite too those days....

Have a good Tuesday mam.....

Anonymous said...

Ya ampun Ena, mee hailam Gazebo! I can still taste it. Smell it. Maaan, how you bring back the years... [sob]

To me that's the ultimate fried mee in the whole wide world, the benchmark of fried mee. Till today, my palate says there's no tandingan... not even in China, as far as I'm concerned.

Tukang goreng tu orang panggil sapa dah? Kalau tak silap, Spider kan? Sebab jari dia semua bengkok2. Only sekarang ni baru I realize that they were probably bent like that from arthritis.

I hope Bapak gets to taste Loy's mee hailam.

Anonymous said...

Aina, 52 oledi ah !? thought u r only 25 lah, sweetie !
i a cinaman (63) dari ipoh where 'better than hailam mee' is ever available : opposite perak stadium/bomba, ' jacky chan /seng loong' fried mee/mehun/koay teo with EGGS alone can make u come again2 lah ! be my GUEST if you do consider, ok !?

Anonymous said...

When i was little i look foward to our family stays in the rest house. My mum still remembers the old tanjong malim rest house. I tasted the best chinesse fried rice in a rest house in kuantan. (33 yrs ago & i still remember). Thanks for unlocking those memories.

Pak Tuo said...

Salam Kak,

hmmmm....A&W diPJ?lama tu.The building daripada kayu Pine if I am not mistaken serve dalam bakul.
Anak Lord aje yang makan.
Ayah gaji kerani aje $150 from RISDA.Cant afford it but am lucky in a way each time sch.hols my Mak Teh driver will pick me at home and stay with her till schools is over.That was the time I was introduce to all the world comic too Bunty,June,Judy,Tarzan.Archie,
Comamando etc.
Ayam Golek at the old Sct.14, meliur air leleh kak?
Not to mention the nasi Padang at the old State Medan Selera which is no longer in existence.Teh tarik is serve in a massive big glass.
Habis sch.hols,piles of comics pack for me and it is still in my attic,being read and reread my my cucu next.
That is go piece down the merory lane.Hows is Apak?May allah protect him.

GobloKing said...

OH yes! Loy does a really great hailam noodle!

Yea. I agree. I don't think these days with globalization, foreign cuisine is such a treat or a thrill anymore for our kids, as they were for us.

I was taken aback some years ago to learn that it is not uncommon for kids to be taken regularly to Europe or at least, Bangkok to savor the real fare

I don't know who has it better. Us or them.

Who's happier?

Those of us who went to Port Dickson for our hols or the kids who goes to London?

From 1 who eats 2 plates of Loy's hailam noodles at a time.

Anonymous said...

I am so so lucky as I can still have my mee edgecumbe (edgecombe) without much difficulties. As long as I don’t mind having to drive for two hours to the famous promenade in Penang to get my regular fix. The mee edgecumbe stall is situated in one of the no-frills food centres along Gurney Drive. I usually have one plate of mee in safron-red kuah and one plate of mee goreng. And wash it down with amra juice (and asam boi plopped in).

Customers can choose the extra ingredients they want to go with their mee (at reasonably extra cost of course). Mine is invariably squid, potato and jemput-jemput kunyit.

In our family, I am the only one who is addicted to mee edgecumbe. Azura prefers pasembur (at the same hawker centre), while the kids relish their McD porridge and other McD classics, which we tapau from the nearby Gurney Plaza.

We used to get a decent view from the hawker centre and the promenade, but following the mammoth beach front real estate development project-cum-land reclamation, it is rather sad that we have to cast our gaze away from the Seri Tanjung Pinang site while enjoying our favourite food. Come and see the side effects of land reclamation work ..

While the lucky few (mostly foreigners, I bet) get the best view, the Malaysian hoi polloi have to endure the unpleasant sight. This is inimical to CSR.


Anonymous said...

mmmmmmmm, your post of food here really make me want to have some mee hailam, some good old keropok lekor after the hailam mee.............

the good old days...

Anonymous said...

Hi Nuraina, I live in Europe and still must have my sambal and rice and yes, I do scour Chinatown for spices! Oh, the mention of mee hailam, lontong etc. I must make my sister whip some up for me soon. She's a damn good cook man. Thanks for the yummy post and please do remember to pack some great mee hailam for your Bapak. I hope he'll like it. I'd kill for a pack!

Kerp (Ph.D) said...

Wow, this really brings us way back…the A&W especially. Why bother to dine in when one can simply dine…inside the car! Still survive till today although I must say their burgers are nothing much to shout about nowadays. I swear Its buns were as dry as a desert the last time I had one.

Anonymous said...

You're very lucky your Bapak is still arround, do take good care of him. Memang those days dapat makan kat luar tu kira Big Event la siap pakai lawa lawa lagi sebab bukan selalu dapat outing. Seronok baca kisah2 camtu dari cerita2 politik yang memualkan.Please take good care of your Bapak. salam tu him and semoga ALLAH SWT berkati hidupnya.

wham said...

Salam Kak Na;

When Jajan mentioned about Wah Moi restaurant in Jln Dhoby Johor Bahru, I can still remember clearly that they "tapau"(pack) the mee hailam using the upeh pinang. Cannot forget the smell of mee hailam when mom opened the upeh pack. Yeah the crunchy alor semitai pack with a small piece of old news paper. What a wonderful old days. At least shift my focus from this crazy world of Malaysian politics.


jajanjohorbahru: aah...to just have one day of those good old days...

zai:i know cozy corner, zai...

mekyam: alamak....your memory lagi dahsyat...

i'm so droooling now..

anon@2:30PM: maybe i consider..

rzln: you're welcomed...once in a while, it's good to relive hose memories..

pak tuo: gitu-lah kisah lama...Bapak pun dah tua..Inshallah dapat sambut Ramadhaan dan Syawal..


gobloking: so, when are you coming back for Loy's...?

aMiR: wow..what an account. And the kids' McD ..., you said? see...even the porridge is McD's. I know.,..my kids used to love it too.

aaah...the rape of the land...Penang has arrived.

what colour: yes...indeed. the good old days..

hungry ghost: thanks for reminding me that malaysians still need chinatown..
and yes...hopeful that I can pack some of Loy's mee hailam for Bapak.

kerp: i remember A&W used to have the BEST burgers...so moist and the bun was sprinkled generously with sesame seed.

then, i don;t what happened...even the chilli con carne was gone from the menu.

i stopped buying A&W burgers since. I'd go for Jackson's burger and hotdog anytime.

but i remain faithful to A&W ROOTBEER! still my all-time favourite.


anon@10:39AM: thank you very much for the best wishes..

wham: aah...such fond memories..thank you for visiting...