Food memories are powerful. They’re often associated with feelings of warmth and comfort, which is why we tend to miss the flavours we grew up with: not always because of the dishes per se, but the emotions that we associate with them. For some, it can be the memory of waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread; for others, it might be the happiness they feel over a Christmas dinner, surrounded by family and friends.
In Malaysia, where food is an inherent part of our DNA, the pandemic has changed the landscape forever. Gone are the days where we could go catch a football game at the local mamak stall, guzzling cups of teh tarik kurang manis while cheering in unison with the crowd whenever a team scored a goal. No longer can we swing by the Burger Ramly stall at 2AM for a pick-me-up after a night of clubbing. Dimsum mornings with the family — where you excitedly pick from a pushcart of towering baskets stacked with goodies — are a thing of the past. Now it’s takeaways delivered to your doorstep: and while the food might still taste the same, it feels like someone has taken all the ‘flavour’ out of it.
Things have been extremely challenging for small and medium businesses these past two years. I’m talking about the hawkers at the kopitiams and small neighbourhood restos, who rely on customers to come physically to the store, and whose meagre profits aren’t enough to cover the added cost of middlemen delivery services. Even some bigger establishments have had to shut down, and it’s honestly heartbreaking, because all of these places have created beautiful food memories for me, at different points of my life. There will be more casualties before this pandemic blows over, but in the meantime, I’d like to pay ‘tribute’ to all the wonderful memories, and delicious dishes.
MARUFUKU UDON, JAYA ONE, PJ
This was one of my favourite haunts for lunch breaks and sometimes a relaxing dinner, back when I still worked in PJ. Whenever I felt stressed out at work and needed a pick-me-up, I’d hit up their tasty and affordable udon bowls, paired with a side of ice green tea and juicy deep fried chicken karaage.
The server knew me so well he could anticipate my order (I almost always ordered the same thing lol, so sometimes he’d ask “usual?”) but he’d wait for me to write it down anyway because there would be occasions where I’d try something new.
YOSHINOYA/HANAMARU UDON, MID VALLEY KL
If it’s not already clear, I’m a big fan of udon, and while I don’t go to Mid Valley often (parking is a nightmare), I make a point to drop by Hanamaru Udon (they share the space with beef bowl chain Yoshinoya) whenever I’m at the mall. I even introduced it to my good friend/ex-colleague, coz we used to have events at the Mid Valley Convention Centre, and Hanamaru Udon was located just across from it. It was also one of the ‘cheaper’ options for dining. It has been a long time since I’ve been to KL at all due to travel restrictions (even though KL is only about 30 minutes from where I live!), so it’s sad that I never got to eat this one last time.
The place was no-frills, more canteen-like than high-end Japanese resto, so you could casually pop in for a quick meal. I also liked the seamless process — you ordered your udon bowl at one end of the counter, selected the fried goodies to pair with your meal, then paid at the cashier. Green tea was free flow.
I usually got the ontama bukakke (ps: bukakke means ‘to pour/splash’ so get your mind out of the gutter), which came with a slice of lemon, grated radish and spring onions, with a little dashi broth. The chicken karaage was sold by skewer, and sometimes I’d get some fried ebi (shrimp) as well.
Capitol Satay is an iconic part of the Melaka food scene, having been around for over 30 years. Check any travel itinerary and chances are the resto would be on the list, thanks to their unique version of satay celup (satay cooked in boiling peanut sauce), which you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. But due to the nature of the dishes they serve (like steamboat, requires on-the-spot cooking) I would imagine it has been difficult for them to sustain the business.
I came here for the first time with the Hubs in early 2020, when we did a story on Melaka for the magazine I worked at. It’s a shame it was also our last visit.
RASA FOOD ARENA KLCC
Food in the city centre can be expensive, which is why Rasa Food Arena (along with Signatures) was the go-to place for my college-student self, whenever I wanted to hangout in KLCC but couldn’t afford pricey restos and cafes. Here you would find Malaysian hawker fare, such as chicken rice, claypot noodles, char kuey teow and the like served in a more upscale setting.
To be candid, there wasn’t a particular dish here that I’d designate as ‘wow!’, but I still have fond memories of hanging out here with my college friends over some drinks and snacks. There were also times I’d sit here to people watch while waiting for my ex-boyfriend to finish his classes (my ex and I went to the same college but were in different courses; we’d wait for each other so we could ride the train/bus back to our city together. Ah, young love.)
With over 100 years of history, Coliseum Cafe along Jalan TAR in Kuala Lumpur has seen it all — World War II, colonial rule, Malayan independence, the formation of Malaysia. Unfortunately, a pandemic was too much for it to weather, and the outlet shuttered its doors in June.
I remember coming here as a child with my parents — they still hired old timers back then instead of foreign workers — and I was fascinated by the restaurant’s old decor and vibe. It was like stepping into a time capsule, and you could almost imagine how the British officers would come by for Fish and Chips, Sizzling Lamb Chops and a beer or two.
There are probably more restaurants and eateries that I haven’t been back to that have shut down due to the pandemic, and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to support them one last time.
Perhaps one day, if they reopen or start up new F&B businesses, I’ll be able to taste their dishes again — and create new memories.