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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.

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Shop Till You Drop At Pop The Arcade @ Jaya One, PJ

Back when I was still working at my old office in PJ, I used to drop by at Pop@ Jaya One for some retail therapy over my lunch break, or sometimes after work. The artsy space, which was created to help local entrepreneurs showcase their products, was a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind items, from bargain clothing to handmade trinkets and souvenirs.

Since working from home, I haven’t had the chance to go to Jaya One – but when I heard that Pop was relaunching with a brand new shopping concept, I popped in for a visit!

pop the arcade logo

Now known as Pop The Arcade, the retail store has been reimagined as a shopping arcade, making it one of the first urban arcade retrofits in a shopping mall in Malaysia. Spanning 5,800 square feet, the concept draws inspiration from shopping arcades in the UK, Europe and Japan and has been designed for convenience, with specific zones within that make it easy for visitors to find what they need easily.

Plant zone
For the green-thumbed: there’s a section selling all sorts of house plants right at the entrance. Time to spruce up the home with some greens!

True to its mission to champion homegrown entrepreneurs, creative spirits, and unique businesses created out of passion, you’ll find over 40 vendors here – mostly local– covering everything from fashion, fine jewelry, beauty and accessories, to functional and lifestyle items, hobby and pet products, independent food retailers, plants, home appliances.

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You can get handcrafted leather wallets and journals, keychains, phone cases, pins and more from this store
fashion zone
The clothing section carries the latest fashion for women, and also includes a few stores selling yoga wear. The spacious and easy-to-navigate layout ensures minimal contact and adequate social distancing.
fashion bags
fashion shoes
bags

For the adventurous, Pop The Arcade has a Greenroom 136 store. The homegrown brand from Kajang is popular for its high quality and stylish urban bags, which includes their signature Metro Drifter series. Let it not be said that homegrown brands are inferior to international ones – the quality and designs on these are superb.

home appliances
When I say you can get literally everything under one roof, I meant everything: like these kitchen appliances from Bear. Many of the designs are super adorable and come in a cute, pastel colour scheme. Fancy a self-heating bento box, or a mini cooker that you can bring to the office? You can find it here!
beauty zone
For the ladies, beauty rollers, steamers and other mystifying (to me, at least) contraptions.
home living
Catch some ZZZs with a mattress from local brand Sonno. Just don’t do it at the store itself lol.
pet items
lifestyle goods
Look no further for your eco-friendly products, like handmade soaps, metal straws, biodegradable beeswax packaging, etc.
homemade food 2

Of course, not forgetting my favourite section: food. Pop The Arcade has a good selection of goods and products from small entrepreneurs, so you can get homemade sauces, healthy nut butters, keropok, condiments, nut mixes and more – all at very reasonable prices. You’ll also be doing a part in supporting homegrown brands and small business owners, especially in this current economy.

homemade food

While Pop was previously only available as a physical space, shoppers can now experience it online and shop for unique items without ever having to leave their homes, though the popshop.my online store. To celebrate its opening, shoppers can also enjoy RM 5 off with a minimum spending of RM 30 on the site, while stocks last.

For local brands looking to expand its business, Pop is open for discussion and collaboration. Interested SMEs can enquire at popstars@jayaone.com.my.

popshop.my

*Photos courtesy of Pop The Arcade.

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Loka Made: A Homegrown Creative Promoting Malaysia Through Art

It’s not easy to turn your passion into a business, whilst also spreading a positive message in the process. Meet the folks from homegrown creative Loka Made, as they highlight the beauty of Malaysia and its people, one inspiring artwork at a time.

When Chong Fei Giap and Audrey Chew first thought of  publishing an artbook back in 2015, they never intended to create a brand. At the time, they ran a studio called Running Snail, which did mostly corporate illustration projects for blue chip companies like Petronas, specializing in artwork with local elements.

Fei Giap had been working on a series of illustrations on the side since 2011, which were inspired by a visit to his father’s hometown in Kuala Pilah, a small town in Negeri Sembilan. The unique artwork combined a Japanese anime art style with scenes of rustic Malaysian landscapes, local architecture and fantasy elements – and it quickly caught the eye of local art enthusiasts and corporate brands. With the support of fans, the pair decided to expand on their passion project by publishing an artbook. 

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“Our initial idea was just to publish the artbook. We were young and crazy; we poured all our savings into it!” Audrey says, adding that they spent about RM40,000 on the project. Since they already had a lot of material and concepts in hand, it felt like a waste not to expand on them, so the duo decided to go the whole hog and create a few more products to sell. Their first merchandise was a series of quirky Malaysian-themed pop-up post cards. 

To launch the book and their new items, Audrey and Fei Giap had the support of Kinokuniya Bookstore. The retail giant was not only willing to put the artbook on their shelves, but also provided them with window display space and a place for them to do the book launch. The rest, as they say, is history.  

Today, Loka Made makes art books, pop-up postcards, notebooks, puzzles and other souvenirs inspired by everyday Malaysian life and culture. The designs are often whimsical and nostalgic, and feature everything from scenes of small-town sundry shops and heritage buildings, to iconic Malaysian landmarks and traditional dishes, sometimes interspersed with fantasy elements.

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The Loka Made team with Audrey (third from left) and Fei Giap (fourth from left). Photo courtesy of Loka Made.

In the brand’s early days, Audrey played a more hands-on role in helping with the illustrations, but has since moved on to a more managerial role. She oversees a team of four artists and one designer, and handles the sales and marketing side of things while Fei Giap spearheads the brand’s creative direction. Although Loka Made has a retail arm, a significant portion of their business involves creating artwork for corporate clients. 

Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day – and despite its current success, Loka Made was no different. Audrey shares that in the early days, it was very challenging, not only because they were a small indie studio, but also because there were no other companies that had a similar concept of making Malaysian-themed artwork and products for sale. Coming from art backgrounds, the pair had to adapt and learn things quickly on the job. For example, Audrey shares that they actually went door-to-door in order to introduce their products.

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Illo courtesy of Loka Made.

 “We’d go to tourist spots in Penang and Melaka, and pass out samples of our work to shops. Although there was some interest, not many businesses called us back,” Audrey recalls. (This was before the boom of the domestic travel in recent years, which has seen a heightened appreciation for local products and art.) She adds that this was partly the reason why they started Loka Made – to promote what the country has to offer, whether it’s amazing culture, food or scenery.

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The pair’s persistence seems to have paid off. Today, you can find LokaMade products in many local independent bookstores and art stores such as Stickeriffic and Salt X Paper, as well as bigger chains like Kinokuniya and Popular. Aside from their studio-cum-physical store in USJ9 Subang, they also have a shop in Central Market Kuala Lumpur. Items are also available online at lokamade.com. 

The products are affordably priced, with postcards going for as low as RM2 per piece, while the pop-up pieces range between RM10 to RM20. “If we’re going to educate the public as part of our vision, it has to be accessible to everyone.” Audrey says.

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Illustration courtesy of Loka Made.

Just a look at any one of their pieces and it’s easy to see why their designs have captured the hearts of many. They are all painstakingly detailed; and while the fantasy elements are the products of creativity and imagination, a lot of research is also poured into creating each artwork. “We have a catalogue of photos that is this thick,” Audrey spaces her hands apart to illustrate. “They’re sorted according to different themes, time periods.. so for example, if our artist needs to draw a scene from 1960s Malaysia, they’ll have to refer to that catalogue. It helps us to accurately portray the local architecture and subjects in our artwork,” she explains. The team also works with local historians and professors by conducting interviews, like with an upcoming project involving the different Malaysian Chinese clans.

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Tapir Man. Courtesy of Loka Made

To keep things fresh, Loka Made has their own in-house projects each year. Fans who have been following their releases might be familiar with the Tapir Man – a cute character based on the Malaysian tapir, which was conceptualised during Malaysia’s Movement Control Order back in March. There’s also the “Ride MY Wave” series which includes T-shirts, bags, notebooks and customisable Touch N Go cards. The illustration features fantasy elements. The Malayan tiger, our national animal, captains the ‘ship’ that everyone is sailing on and there are people of all races on the boat. You will also spot iconic landmarks such as the Stadthuys in Melaka, and Malaysian wildlife like the orangutan and hornbill. The theme was created in response to the current pandemic, serving as a reminder to fellow Malaysians to stay strong. 

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Cute cat-themed postcards. Courtesy of Loka Made.

“2020 has been full of ups and downs, and we’re hoping to weather this storm together. In the artwork, you will see lots of details which we think people will enjoy looking out for,” Audrey points out. 

Audrey is hopeful for the future, despite the uncertain economic outlook right now. “We had a lot of plans before the pandemic, but we’re still grateful for how the business is doing. But on the bright side, more people are travelling locally – which is what we’ve been promoting as a brand all along. Malaysia has so much to offer. It would be great if more people can see this,” she says.

Support your local business and order online from Loka Made at https://www.lokamade.com/

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My personal haul from their shop. 😛

Note: I did this story for the November issue of Fireflyz, the inflight magazine for Firefly Airlines. This article features a few tweaks and some additional info I wasn’t able to fit in to the story.

Note 2: A big thank you to Audrey for her time and patience in answering all my questions. I truly enjoyed doing the interview 🙂

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Review: RAGE Bangsar – Where Coffee, Tech and Communities Meet

Good news for coffee lovers!

There’s a new cafe in town, and it’s more than just your typical Instagrammable spot. Setting itself apart from the typical copy-and-paste coffee chains, RAGE Bangsar aims to reinvent the scene with a refreshing new cafe concept that combines technology, coffee and the local community.

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At the official launching at their outlet in Menara UOA Bangsar, which I was privileged to attend! 🙂

The community aspect of the cafe is reflected in the cafe’s interior, with communal long tables (there’s one that’s actually converted from a ping pong table) as well as a ‘RAGE room’ where you can let out some steam after a stressful day at work (complete with actual punching bag and boxing gloves!). Wood and ambient lighting create a cosy atmosphere, while the raw concrete and exposed ceiling lends it an industrial chic vibe.

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“Most relationships start over a drink and very often that happens to be a caffeinated beverage. It can be as easy as ‘Hey, let’s go and grab a cup of coffee’,” says co-founder, Jevin Singh. “We want everyone to walk into any RAGE outlet and feel the close-knit communal spirit that we aspire to create across all outlets. Even the interior is built with a focus on Relationships-First.”

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Meanwhile, the tech aspect comes into play via their mobile application called DrinkRage, which allows members or ‘RAGERs’ to pre-order their drinks and even get them delivered. Delivery areas are currently targeted at high density office areas such as KL Sentral and the Bangsar LRT station, so you can get your caffeine fix in just a few taps, without having to leave the office. Talk about convenience!

With our hectic lifestyles in the city, time is of the essence, and RAGE aspires to help make the experience of offering coffee a smooth and efficient one. Upon placing an order, RAGERs can expect their coffee to be ready for pickup when they arrive or delivered within 20 minutes by an assigned runner. Great for groggy mornings when you need a caffeine booster to get the day started!

Beyond just selling coffee, the app also aims to deliver inspiration on demand. Within the app, there is also a specific community tab which allows fellow RAGERs to sign up for events and build relationships with people who enjoy the same cup of coffee.

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Quirky names and descriptions. Also RM8 for a cup of coffee in KL is a very reasonable price !

Their specialties include items with localised ingredients, such as Milo-spresso Dino, Matcha My Asam and Matcha Gula Melaka. For vegans/vegetarians and the health conscious / lactose intolerant , choose from several milk options such as oat, coconut, soy or regular dairy.

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Tried their “Dirty Chai”, which was pretty strong. The frothiness of the milk helped to cut through the spice and slightly tart bitterness. 

RAGE Bangsar also offers food on their menu, including full breakfasts and substantial meals like sambal aglio olio, rice bowls and mala chilli pan mee.

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The brand is also heavily invested in curating workshops in hopes to support aspiring individuals and tie the working community closer together. From movie nights to personal branding and motivational talks, RAGE has curated a fascinating lineup of interactive activities in store for all its members.Just stay updated on the app and join in on the convo!

RAGE is a strong proponent of working with other local businesses. Collaborating with eco friendly beauty brand ‘The Mineraw’, RAGE’s coffee waste is the star and vital component in their body, face and lip scrub produced by these ethical connoisseurs. You can get these items in store too.

RAGE BANGSAR 

Menara Uoa Bangsar, Unit LGF-3A, No 5, Jalan Bangsar Utama 1, Bangsar, 59000 Kuala Lumpur

Business hours: 7.45AM – 8PM (Mons- Fris), 8AM – 2.45PM (Sat). Closed Sundays.

drinkrage.com

*Images not watermarked courtesy of RAGE/SuppagoodPR