KUALA LUMPUR – It is 7.45 a.m. Over in Kampung Baru, one of the more popular old quarters of the bustling metropolis, many people can be seen making their way to the Medan Selera food court located at Jalan Raja Muda Musa.
Daily, as early as 6.30 a.m., the various stalls here open their shutters, tempting the public with Malaysian “staples” like local kuih, nasi lemak, roti canai, mee goreng, nasi kerabu, nasi dagang and even rice with an array of dishes to go with it. Yes, at this square, even lunch is ready at that time of the morning.
This writer could not help observing that one particular corner of the food court seemed to stand out from the rest. Not only was this corner crowded, it seemed to attract people of all races who sat together whilst indulging in their favourite breakfast meal.
No wonder a group of street musicians made a beeline for that busy corner when they arrived at the food court to perform.
Venturing closer to that particular section, this writer could see why it was so popular.
SATISFYING EVERYONE’S TASTEBUDS
Malay, Chinese and Indian delights – all three are available there. There is Kedai Makan Kasim, next to it is Gerai Ah Kow and then, there is Asam Pedas Pak Aji.
The first stall is famous for its ‘thosai’ and ‘vadai’; the second, for its fish ball mee soup, curry mee, kicap mee and Hainanese chicken rice; and the third, its nasi lemak and rice with all sorts of side dishes, as well as its must-have speciality asam pedas Melaka.
All three stalls have been operating there for decades, apparently.
”’Anneh’ (brother in Tamil), give this ‘abang’ one ‘rava thosai’ ! ” Asam Pedas Pak Aji stall owner Ishak Kasim can be heard calling out the order on behalf of a customer to the person manning Kedai Makan Kasim.
“Haji, this ‘abang’ wants nasi lemak,” an employee at Gerai Ah Kow tells Ishak.
This is the way the three stalls operate. No matter where the customers are seated, they are free to order from any stall.
To these stall operators, all that matters to them is the satisfaction and happiness of their customers.
THIS IS MALAYSIA!
“You cannot find something like this in Kuala Lumpur these days,” remarked Ishak, referring to the Malay, Chinese and Indian stalls situated practically elbow-to-elbow.
“Here, we practice tolerance. You can order your food from the Malay stall and choose to sit at the Indian or Chinese stall.
“You can also eat food from the Chinese stall at the Malay stall. No questions asked. No one feels insulted or gets angry. I think this is the only place in Kuala Lumpur where unity clearly prevails.”
Ishak, a former Malaysia Airlines employee, said the reason that particular section of the food court was a crowd-puller was probably due to the variety of food choices available there.
“We cater to all tastebuds and cultures. The Indian stall offers ‘thosai’ and ‘vadai’ while the Chinese stall serves traditional favourites like mee and chicken rice.
“I serve traditional Malay food like asam pedas from Melaka, masak lemak from Negeri Sembilan and curries and side dishes from the north,” he told Bernama, adding that the stalls complemented one another.
According to Ishak, even dignitaries patronise their stalls. Apparently, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk M. Saravanan enjoys the ‘thosai’ at Kedai Makan Kasim while former MCA president and Transport Minister Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik seeks out Gerai Ah Kow’s curry mee.
“Our IGP (Inspector-General of Police) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar is a fan of my asam ‘podeh’ (pedas),” Ishak declared proudly, pronouncing “pedas” in the Negeri Sembilan dialect.
Gerai Ah Kow operator Ng Soon Lee, 40, who took over the stall operations from his father, said their section was like a mini 1Malaysia.
“I hope it remains this way as it’s fun being together. I enjoy having my stall here. Should one of the three elements go missing, the atmosphere will not be the same anymore,” he said.
A 59-year-old driver, who only wanted to be identified as Tambirajh, said he was a regular at the stalls and usually came alone as he did not mind sharing a table with others.
His favourite is the curry mee, insisting that it is one of the best he has ever tasted in the city.
“I like to come here to eat and chat, like how I’m chatting with you now,” he told the writer.
Razak Junet, an entrepreneur from Melaka, said each time he has a craving for one of the delicacies at the food court, he would hop onto his motorcycle and ride to Kampung Baru all the way from his house at Sungai Rambai, Melaka.
“The food is tasty and I like the atmosphere, where else can I find such a place,” he said, adding that if his children knew where he went they would be annoyed at him for not taking them along.