You Can Now “Wear” Hup Seng and Gardenia Bags!

Remember last year’s Indomie-inspired shoes by Indonesian designer Jonathan Gustana? If not, here’s a refresher:

Indomie is probably Indonesia’s most popular instant noodle, renowned across the world. The 20 pairs of customised Nike Air Jordans went for 3.3 million rupiah (RM 988) each, and they were sold out within two days.

Taking a leaf out of the food-into-fashion trend, Batu Pahat-based designer Wan’s Handmade has turned two beloved Malaysian staples – Hup Seng Cream Crackers and Gardenia Bread – into wearable fashion! The project, part of Wan’s Plastic Reborn Project utilises packaging from these brands to create adorable and nostalgic bags, giving them a new lease of life.

Of course, people are going crazy for the bags – who doesn’t love Hup Seng ? Founded in the 1950s in Batu Pahat by four brothers, the brand is an iconic part of every Malaysian’s childhood – there’s nothing more satisfying than dunking these crackers into Milo for breakfast, or as a tea time snack.

Gardenia, of course, is another staple of Malaysian life. It was so sought after during the quarantine, the company actually had to step up production to meet demands – so it’s only fitting that you can show your love for the brand by wearing it as a fanny pack or crossbody bag lol.

The Plastic Reborn Project bags are priced from RM79. Orders can be made via Wan’s Facebook page or Instagram.

 

*Photos courtesy of Wan’s Handmade’s Facebook page. 

Fast Food Chains That Are No Longer In Malaysia

Hey guys! It’s Day 20 of the Enhanced Movement Control Order in Malaysia, with about eight more days to go. There’ll be an announcement on April10th to see if it’ll be extended again. I hope not because my cravings are so bad, I actually dreamt of eating fried chicken – but this is a critical time and we might have no choice but to weather the storm.

Speaking of fried chicken, I’ve been watching videos of Keith from The Try Guys, where he eats everything on the menu of a fast food chain, like Wendy’s. We no longer have Wendy’s in Malaysia, so it was nostalgic to see some of the items they serve. It got me thinking about some of the other fast food chains that were here before, but are now long gone.

So without further ado:

White Castle

White Castle was founded in Wichita in 1928, wayyy before KFC or McDonalds. It is known for its small, square burgers – called ‘sliders – which has been listed by Time as one of the world’s most influential burgers. I don’t remember it, but apparently my parents brought me here once when I was very little. They didn’t last very long in Malaysia, so by the time I was old enough to remember eating fast food, they were already gone.

Long John Silver’s 

Back when I was younger, fast food was a luxury. My family was not well off, and my parents weren’t big fans of what they call ‘junk’ (they still aren’t, but now I can afford to grab a burger every now and then, lol). Perhaps it’s because these moments are so few and far between that I recall eating at Long John Silver’s so vividly. This American seafood chain was named after the pirate character from Treasure Island. Their fish and chips might just be the reason why I’m still a big fan of the dish today.

Shakey’s Pizza 

Shakey’s made its debut in the late 90s to early 2000s – I remember there was an outlet at my neighbourhood mall In Puchong, and we dined there a couple of times. Unfortunately the brand was unable to compete with more popular chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut (both are still going strong today), and eventually shuttered. The last time I had Shakey’s was in Manila – not the pizza, but their potato mojos.

Papa John’s 

Another one that people my age might remember quite well is Papa John’s, an American pizza chain. Again, it did not survive too long and officially exited the Malaysian market in 2016. I was actually sad to see it go, as I really liked their cheese pizza, which was just plain pizza with different types of cheese. The crust was not as thick as Pizza Hut’s, but not as thin as Dominos.

Popeye’s 

Popeye’s was one of my favourite places for fried chicken – whenever my friends and I hit up Sunway Pyramid (that was the outlet closest to my place), we would stop by Popeye’s for their crispy, juicy Louisiana-style fried chicken. Of course, you can’t miss the honey butter biscuits and mashed potato.

Wendy’s 

Wendy’s was quite a recent exit, as Berjaya group did not renew their franchise last year. People laud them for their square-patty beef burgers, but personally, I prefer their fried chicken (no surprise!) . They had a shrimp burger on the menu once, which was excellent as well.

 

What are some of the nostalgic fast food chains in your country that have exited the market?

 

 

 

Review: Durham @ FMS Ipoh – Breathing New Life To The Oldest Bar In Malaysia

Old-timers might recall FMS, possibly the oldest bar in Malaysia, with an air of nostalgia. Short for the Federal Malay States, it was first opened at Market Street in 1906 by a Hainanese immigrant, before taking up residence in a corner unit along a row of pre-war shoplots in 1923. The bar has served patrons for over a century, and was a popular haunt for British and European officers, miners and planters during the colonial era. Over the years, the bar fell into disrepair, and shuttered its doors 11 years ago. Until it was refurbished and reopened again earlier this year, as the Durbar @ FMS. 

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A passion project by the new owner who is an architect, Durbar @ FMS has tried its best to retain the old-world charm of its historic predecessor. Stepping into its interiors is like taking a step back into colonial Ipoh, and its almost easy to ignore the sounds of modern traffic when you’re within the restaurant’s walls. Timber furniture and counters, sleek marble tabletops, and elegant lighting are paired with whitewashed walls, adorned with old newspaper clippings and even a large portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II.

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The large bar cabinet at the back is made from chengal and balau timber wood.

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The old FMS was known for its signature dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Chop, Baked Stuffed Crab, Classic Chicken Mornay, Classic Oxtail Soup and Enche Kabin –  which Durbar has kept. The food is, in fact, prepared by two experienced Hainanese chefs. The Hainanese were renowned for their excellent food, and many served as chefs for the British during the days of British Malaya. The result is a unique fusion of Chinese-style cooking tweaked to Western taste buds.

Had the Classic Oxtail Soup, and it did not disappoint. Could have been better with an additional piece of garlic bread, but otherwise the soup was hearty, warm and full of delicious meaty flavour, with generous chunks of oxtail to nibble on swimming within.

 

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The Crab fried rice had a simple presentation but surprised everyone with its astonishing depth of flavour and wok hei (breath of the wok) – something that can only be achieved by cooking the ingredients over high heat, sealing in all the flavours. It boasted just the right amount of seasoning – not too bland nor salty – and the sambal chilli sauce gave it a spicy kick.

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Pops had the Mee Hailam, which was one of the more affordably priced items on the menu. It was tasty but since wet noodles aren’t my thing, it was not my favourite.

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DURBAR @ FMS 

2, Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, 30000 Ipoh, Negeri Perak

Business hours: 11AM – 10PM (Closed Wednesdays)

facebook.com/DurbarAtFMS

 

Visiting REX KL – The Iconic Cinema Turned Creative Space In Kuala Lumpur

What do you do with a once iconic cinema that eventually turned into an abandoned eyesore in the middle of Kuala Lumpur? You give it a new lease of life – by turning it into a creative space for events and entrepreneurs.

Back in the 1970s, Rex Theatre, located close to KL’s Chinatown, was THE place to be. It operated for years before shutting down in the early 2000s, as people flocked to newer cinemas in glitzy malls, and ‘classic’ theatres, which did not have the facilities and technology to match, lost their appeal. The Rex Theatre was used as a backpacker’s hostel, low-cost housing and even an entertainment outlet, but the crumbling building was not well maintained, attracting drug users and unsavoury characters into its disused halls.

The old Rex Theatre. Image via Says.com and https://forum.lowyat.net/topic/3313616/all

It would have been easy to just bulldoze it down and build something new. After all, the old theatre was sitting on prime land that would be perfect for a shiny office building, another mall or whatnot. Instead, a project to revive the theatre, spearheaded by a group of architects, was put into motion, and REXKL opened its doors earlier this year as a space where entrepreneurs, small businesses and artists could meet, share and thrive.

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Went to check out the place over the long Malaysia Day weekend. Vestiges of its days as a cinema remain, such as the old fashioned tiled floors and signages, giving the space an air of nostalgia, while neon lights added to the retro vibe. On the ground floor, which sported an open layout, was a chic bar called Modern Madness Beer, an old-school barbershop and a cafe.

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Malaysia Day bazaar, with trendy outfits and flea market-esque clothing on sale.

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Hand made pottery

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Store selling various knick-knacks and curios, from camp equipment to traditional games

 

 

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We also bought a bottle of sugarcane tuak, a traditional fermented rice wine drink commonly enjoyed by the people of Sarawak. Although no sugar was added, the concoction was naturally sweet, with an alcohol level of about 10 percent.

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Moving on to the first floor, there were shops selling beautiful arts and crafts, such as bowls, handwoven items, bags, jewellery and souvenirs.

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A store selling items many of us growing up in the 1990s and before would recognise – tiffin carriers for food, vinyls, casettes, snow globes (do people still buy them these days?), paper weights, pen holders, and more.

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Spot Mr Pricklepants!

 

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Up on the second floor, we met Mr Lam Ching Fu, author of the book My Journey By Bus, in which he documents his journeys by bus around several states in Northern Peninsular Malaysia. The book is a fascinating insight into the characters he meets and his observations of the towns and places he visited, many of which are off the beaten path. The book is available in Chinese and English.

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A collection of Lam’s beautiful photos, mostly depicting scenes in small towns

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The bus tickets Lam accumulated on his journey

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Also on the second floor was the main theatre which has now been converted into an events/concert space. The hall was intentionally left looking unfinished, with a massive brick wall, age-darkened concrete and exposed skylights to give it that industrial, ‘abandoned’ vibe. REX KL regularly hosts bloc parties and music shows in this space, so visitors can keep updated via their Facebook Page. 

REX KL 

Jalan Sultan, 55000 Kuala Lumpur

Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10 AM – late

Review: Local Food @ Lim Ko Pi, Ipoh

Most of the popular eateries in Ipoh like Sin Yoon Loong and Nam Heong were packed to the brim during Chinese New Year, so we sought out a quieter place for lunch, away from the bustling Jalan Bijih Timah area.

Enter Lim Ko Pi, located along Jalan Sultan Iskandar (old timers still call it Hugh Low Street, which was what it was known as during British colonial times). The bright red facade is hard to miss. You can either park behind the building and walk over, or across the road at a garage.

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Modeled after old school kopitiams (coffee shops) but upgraded with modern comforts such as air conditioning, Lim Ko Pi is deliberately designed to evoke a sense of nostalgia, from the polished wooden furniture and booths to the beautiful tiles lining one side of the wall – commonly seen in old Chinese houses. Red lanterns were also hung up for the Chinese New Year.

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Love the tiles! You don’t see them much anymore these days.

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There are two open air courtyards at the back of the shop where patrons can chill at, with potted plants giving the space a nice dash of greenery.

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We settled in comfortably to the nostalgic surroundings – and food was served. Bro had the daily special (nasi lemak), but unlike the Malay version, this one had stir fried green beans and vegetables. The side of Chicken rendang was sizable, and it also came with a piece of fried poppadom (lentil cracker). Tastewise, decent but lacking the strong, hearty flavours of Malay-style nasi lemak.

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A popular dish in Ipoh is the mushroom sauce chee cheong fun (rice rolls). The version at Lim Ko Pi came with a side of bean curd stuffed with fish paste and deep fried. They gave a lot of minced meat but there wasn’t enough sauce so the result was pretty dry.

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Pops and I had curry noodles. Flavours were okay but it was wayyyy too thick and starchy that it got cloying after a few bites.

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Mini cheese tart to end the meal.

Service is fast and friendly at Lim Ko Pi, and the ambience is nostalgic but the food was just so-so. Still, a decent alternative if you want to avoid the tourist crowds at popular establishments.

LIM KO PI 

10, Jalan Sultan Iskandar, 30000 Ipoh, Negeri Perak

Opening hours: 830AM – 530PM (closed Mondays)

Review: The Cafe that was a Brothel – Merchant’s Lane, Petaling Street Kuala Lumpur

I admit it. Despite this being a (mostly) food blog, I’m not the most up-to-date when it comes to food trends or new cafe openings – there always seems to be new ones mushrooming up somewhere or other, and not enough days to try them out (not to mention… not kind on the wallet. lol). 😀

So even though I’ve heard many good things about Merchant’s Lane in Petaling Street, it wasn’t until last week that I got to visit the place with N. It was an awesome experience – not just because of its nostalgic, atmospheric vibe, but also coz of the food and service.

There are no visible signboards proclaiming their location. Instead, we had to hunt for the cafe entrance, which was shielded by a bamboo shade in front of Kiat Leong Stationery and Trading. There we found green doors, and a narrow stairway leading up to the second floor.

The stairway was bathed in a sleazy red light – perhaps a throwback to the days when the place used to be a brothel. Walls were intentionally left chipped and flaking, with posters plastered over for events, open-mic nights and other artsy happenings galore. We got there around 1-ish and there was a short line, but we got a table for two fairly quickly.

Old school/vintage paraphernalia decorated the shelves, along with artsy items that would satisfy any hipster’s wet dream.

The main dining area was spacious and airy, with a high sloping ceiling and plenty of natural light filtering from above. Rattan chairs, paired with stainless steel tables and the blotchy concrete walls created a nice blend of modern and nostalgic, of industrial meets old-school charm.

Restaurant is popular with the urban crowd; mostly young, but also families.

Orders are made at the counter, where they have shelves lined with teas and coffees. Loved the fluorescent lights within the caged counter top design.

While waiting for our food to arrive, I did some snooping around. 😀 Haven’t seen these calendars in a long time.

Like most pre-war buildings, the space is longer than it seems, belying its external appearance. Beyond the main dining area is an outdoor patio (smoking) with several more tables and lots of shrubbery. Bunches of dried herbs and bulbs hang from the wooden beams, while a faded wall that would have looked ugly on its own is spruced up with vintage posters and flower garlands.

At the very back is a cosy nook, with incense coils acting as ceiling decorations, and large tapestries featuring vivid and colourful flower paintings. Old school wall-mounted fans spun around lazily as guests engaged in intimate conversation, snuggled on low rattan chairs. It was less crowded and noisy in this space: I can imagine spending a whole afternoon here having a cuppa with friends or the s/0.

   

Merchant’s Lane definitely scores points for ambience, but it would be poor fare if the food didn’t live up to expectations.

Thankfully, the few items we tried were satisfactory, with some clear winners. My hot Rose Honey Milk (RM12) looked too pretty for consumption : the bed of flower petals scattered over the froth was like an exquisite work of art. Finally took a sip and was pleased; milky with just a hint of honey sweetness, complemented by the subtle fragrance of flowers.

N tried their signature Hongkie Beef Stew (RM22), which is slow cooked Cantonese beef with mash and gravy. This was well done: the beef was tender and flaked apart easily, while the mash on the bottom was smooth and creamy. The sauce on first try tasted good, but after a bit it got too sweet for my liking. Could have done with a bit more texture, but overall, still a decent dish.

The Italian Chow Mein (RM21)  was a fusion of east and west: stir fried pasta with chicken Rendang. I liked the al-dente texture of the noodles, and the slightly spicy Rendang sauce with tomato (not spicy enough imo!). Again, first few bites were good but it tasted increasingly sweet towards the end for some reason. Wouldn’t say it’s the best pasta I’ve ever had, but I’d still give it a 7.5/10.

To round off the meal, we ordered the cheekily-named Better than Sex (RM18) – four thick rolls of Pandan flavoured roti jala with melted cheese, served with signature kaya toast ice cream and drizzled over with gula melaka sauce, a handful of almonds and slices of strawberry.

THIS.

The roti jala was soft and fluffy, perfect to go with the sweetish-salty ice cream and the gooey cheese. Almonds added a much needed crunch, and the thick, caramel-ly gula melaka brought everything together in perfect harmony. A good dessert to say the least!

Is Merchant’s Lane worth visiting? 

Yes, especially if you love cosy little hole-in-the-wall nooks and too-good-to-eat-looking dishes.

Food: 7.5/10 (9/10 for the dessert!)

Service: 8/10 (fast and friendly)

Ambience: 9/10 (-1 point because a bit crowded/noisy on weekends)

 

MERCHANT’S LANE 

First Floor, 150, Jalan Petaling, Off Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur.
Opening hours: (daily) 12PM – 8PM