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To All The Restaurants I’ve Loved Before

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.

My regular order of beef udon with egg.

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

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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.

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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.)

COLISEUM CAFE

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.

Photo: Coliseum Cafe

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.

30-Day Writing Challenge – Day 11: An Adventure In The Kitchen

11. An Adventure In The Kitchen

First things first: I am not much of a cook.

When I was younger, my mother ruled the kitchen with an iron-fist, and would often shoo me out because I wasn’t cutting something right or wasn’t quick enough to take the pan off the heat, etc. Over the years, my interest waned, and while she did eventually try to get me to cook, I was completely disinterested by then. There’s also a complicated food dynamic in my household; they don’t eat what I eat, and I can’t feel bothered to cook something that I don’t like (because why the effort, then?). Living alone in the UK, I had more freedom to experiment, but my cooking was still basic – edible (occasionally tasty) but not exactly 5-star fare.

A couple of years ago when my ex came to visit me from the States, he thought of impressing my folks with what I couldn’t do – cook a nice meal. My ex is not a bad cook, and I was touched that he was expending such effort. On the menu was pork adobo, spaghetti and fruit salad. I was to assist.

Shopping for ingredients was an adventure in itself, because many of the items he was used to were not available in Malaysia, or were called by a different name so it was difficult to look for them. We couldn’t find bayleaf, so we had to leave that out of the adobo (although he insisted that it wasn’t true adobo if there wasn’t bayleaf), and for the spaghetti he requested ‘tomato sauce’.

Now this was the funniest part. To Malaysians (myself included), tomato sauce = ketchup and not the canned tomato sauce type Westerners use for pasta. Mistaking this (and me not realising), we ended up putting ketchup in our spaghetti! Of course it was super sweet and almost inedible, but all else considering, having 2/3 dishes right was not too bad.

While we might not have broken up on good terms, this kitchen adventure has stuck with me because they were some of the good moments in our relationship. Every relationship has its ups and downs, and if you aren’t able to look past the bitterness after a breakup, I think you’d carry a lot of resentment and hate in your heart. Which is why despite going our separate ways, I look back on this fondly.

10 Snacks from A Malaysian’s Childhood

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Technically, it’s 10 snacks from a Malaysian kid who grew up in the 90s/2000s, but that was too long to fit into the title, so…

Hello! I haven’t blogged for a couple of days because I’ve been super busy with work. As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. Assignments never come in ones, but threes or fours. I stayed til 11pm yesterday to finish a video for my article, which took longer than expected *newfound respect to our video editing team!*

I was shopping for groceries today when I walked past the snack aisle… ever since I started my health regime, I’ve stayed clear of unhealthy snacks and stuff – but it really brought back memories of growing up as a primary school student and munching on all these well-known and well-loved brands. Here are a few that I’m sure many Malaysians growing up in the 1990s would be familiar with.:)

1) Mamee Monster 

In Malaysia, we have roti sellers – peddlers who go around the neighbourhoods with a large container hooked to the back of their bikes. These would often have goodies like bread and snacks on the inside. Everyday around 6pm, the horn goes ‘dudut,dudut‘ and all the kids would run out of their houses with RM1 (which was a lot for kids at that time!), to have their pick of candy, snacks and of course, Mamee Monster.

The packaging’s shade of bright yellow and the snack’s fuzzy blue mascot is so well-known that you don’t even have to read the label to know it is Mamee Monster. It used to be only 20sen per packet, and they come in flavours such as BBQ and chicken.

As a child, I’d beg my parents to let me have my Mamee quota of the week (they weren’t very keen on the MSG and stuff in it), then clap my hands happily when they finally said yes. Then I wait for the roti auntie to come by. For a six-year-old, that seemed to take forever! When I finally opened the packaging, unearthing the crunchy ramen-shaped block, I’d sprinkle lots of seasoning and then listen to the crunchiness through mouthfuls of the noodle snack.

These days, Mamee is 50sen per pack, but is still a well-loved snack among Malaysian children (and some adults!)

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Image source : songmart.my

2) Choki-Choki 

My motto for Choki-Choki back in high school was ‘one is never enough’. Our school koperasi (shop run by students) did brisk business selling these chocolate-paste snacks in tubes, which we sucked out from an opening at the top. All the school kids had them during recess and sometimes even snuck a few into class, hidden behind text books propped up over our faces (okay, maybe that was just me). At only 20sen per stick, my classmates and I would usually get 10, tear away the top, then eat all of them in one go. After I foolishly brought back a few and ate them at home, my mum forbade me to have any more because she said the colouring from the packaging seemed to be coming off as we bit on the tube to get the last vestiges of chocolate and cashewnut paste from the packaging…. so after that, I always,always made sure that I finished all my Choki-Choki at school. Ha

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Image source: says.com

3) Kopiko 

The beginnings of my coffee addiction started off with an addiction to coffee-flavoured sweets – namely, Kopiko. This Indonesian candy is well-known in most South East Asian countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, The Philippines and Thailand. It is so popular that it  ships to 45 countries around the globe. Ingredients include coffee beans, chocolate, caramel, cream and pop rice. Although simple, one can easily finish a whole packet as they sit in front of the TV while sucking on these sweet little square-shaped candies. These days they even have several varieties, like cappucino and ones with ‘less sugar’.

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Image source: gerio.com

4) Super Ring 

The amount of colouring in Super Ring is probably enough to knock out a horse, but as a teenager, this was one of my favourite snacks. Nevermind that it often turned my fingers a bright cheesy orange for several hours. Just like it’s less orangey-counterpart Cheezels, Super Ring is the cheaper, more affordable range of snack for your average high-schooler. The taste isn’t exactly cheese cheese as opposed to savoury-sweet-artificial flavoured cheese, but yeah. You get the picture. At only 30sen per mini-pack (this was in the 2000s…not sure how much they cost now), eating this would also result in a lot of smeared orange stains over textbooks, tables and whatnot.

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Image source: asiangrocerysnacks.blogspot.com

5) Bika chicken crackers

Bika is a local brand with a few snacks under its range, but the most popular one would probably be its Chicken-flavoured crackers. The crackers are lightly salted with a taste similar to fried flour more than chicken, but still…. as a teenage-me would say, any junk food is good food. What I really liked about Bika is their generous amount of servings. Most snack packets are half-full of air, but Bika’s is at least 75% filled all the time. Which makes it an excellent choice for cheapo people at parties.

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Image source: keanann.com.sg

6) Durian-flavoured popcorn 

How funky can you get? I guess if you’re not Malaysian, this snack would seem very odd – but you read it right. Popcorn perisa (flavoured) durian is, well, a corn snack with durian flavouring. It’s not even real pop corn, just… corn snacks. I can’t even describe it. Doesn’t matter – as long as it tastes good. The Durian flavoured popcorn is quite addictive, from the porous texture that has small air holes in them that melts in your mouth, to that slight crunch when you bite into the airy snack. This is truly one of the old-school Malaysian snacks, so I think it is quite hard to find in the market these days.

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Image source: 4s4wonders.blogspot.com

7) Snekku (Mi Mi and Tam Tam)

While Mi Mi and Tam Tam might sound like names someone would give their cats and dogs, this range of snacks by Snekku is very popular among school kids because of a) loads of flavouring and b) cheap. Now I have learnt that there is always a catch when you see snacks, like ‘durian-flavoured’…. implying that there isn’t much durian used in the process in the first place. For Mi Mi and Tam Tam, I doubt a lot of seafood was put into their production either, but who cares right? It’s junk food, it’s unhealthy, and it tastes awesome.

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Image source: flickr.com

The key word here is ‘flavoured’

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Image source: hyh.com.sg

 8) Twiggies 

So in order to Malaysian-ise it and avoid lawsuits, they changed the name from Twinkies to Twiggies. (I see what you did there, Gardenia!) But yeah, Twiggies are the Malaysian version of the American Twinkies. These hold a special place in my heart because I used to have them for recess every day, and never got tired of them. Sometimes I’d switch it up a little from vanilla to chocolate, but I could give Tallahassee from Zombieland a run for his money (or twinkies).

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Image source: fc02.deviantart.net Come to think of it, the character designs seem to be culturally inappropriate(?) for some places. Yeah.

9) Apollo 

Before all the Cadburys, the Hersheys and whatnot even existed in Malaysia, there was Apollo.

A very old and established company, Apollo was one of the biggest players in the local cake/confectionery scene with their range of layer cakes, wafers, biscuits, etc. Every Malaysian child would have been privy to some Apollo commercials during their Saturday morning cartoons – they laid it on quite thick on advertising. There was the soft pandan-flavoured cakes, the red-wrapped chocolate layer bars (which was a must for every kindie and primary school party) and the chocolate layer cake with its coating of sweet chocolate and sponge cake on the inside with just a hint of cream. For a kid back then, these were real treats.

These days I see kids nomming fancy desserts up at posh, high-end cafes with their parents and I kind of die a little inside, lol

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Image source: youbeli.com

10) Tora/DingDong

Another advertising heavy company in the 90s and early 2000s, Tora and DingDong chocolates had an edge over other brands, thanks to their mini toys. Thinking back, it was kind of a cheap gimmick, but hey – we were kids. They always came up with cool little gadgets like propellors that flew into the air when you pulled a ring, or soap bubble blowers, and everything from stationery to collectibles. DingDong’s packaging character was basically a modified Doraemon (Doraemon in Cantonese is pronounced as DingDong!). Although, Tora and DingDong were slightly more expensive than your average 20, 30sen snack – at Rm1-2 each. Kids would normally save up and buy them just so they can show off the toys. But hey, the chocolate biscuit balls were pretty good too.😀

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Image source: johnathanliew.com

 

I know this isn’t a comprehensive list, but these are ten that I can think off the top of my head at the moment. How about you? Know of any Malaysian snacks from your childhood that you think should be listed here? What are some of your favourite snacks from your regions? Comment below!