Food galore!

Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin reminisces the variety of food available in the Kuala of yesteryear, as well as enjoying ais kacang with your lady friend whilst enjoying music from the juke box at Restoran Ghee Kheng. Bring on the good times!

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Double Lion Hotel & Restaurant today. (Source: Google Images)

Kuala Kangsar now has a new bus terminal and supermarket where previously stood the famed Ghee Kheng restaurant. Along the same street is the Double Lion Restaurant still offering the best home-made sekaya that goes well with its own-baked Hainanese bread, especially charcoal toasted. Along this street too is the 100-year old Tsung Wah Chinese school, still standing proud today, with Sungai Kangsar flowing behind the school grounds. Spanning this part of the river was an old hanging bridge then only accessible to pedestrians, pedal cyclists and small motorcyclists. This was my short cut to school and the town when I was staying at Bukit Residen (Resident Hill), passing through small footpaths in this Chinese village. And being a river-boy this bypass became my haunting ground playing truant, irresistibly charmed by the river with its clear and swift flowing stream.

The humble ais kacang, as it should be! (Source: Wikimedia)

The only other landmark this part of Kuala then was the Grand Theater, besides Ghee Kheng. In the 70’s, no cinema theatre would thrive without its own food court, enticing cinemagoers for a bite before or after a show. Ghee Kheng would come alive after six in the evening, offering local Chinese and Malay cuisine – the favorites being its ais kacang and lin chi kang. For the young cinemagoers, it was not so much the food that attracted them but the chance to play the jukebox.

Remember films when Elvis would enter a restaurant and get into a fist-fight over a girl? And he would then play the juke box and wooed the girl with his hip-swinging rocking song? Where else in Kuala could you find a juke box but at Ghee Kheng! School-going teenagers would starve themselves during morning breaks at school just to save their meagre pocket money to treat their girlfriends at Ghee Kheng. Chatting over a large bowl of ais kacang, they would dedicate songs from the juke box to their partners. There were no DJ’s, so they had to pluck the courage to ask, “mike suke lagu ape?” But to my recollection, no boy was brave enough to literally shake his hips singing to Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock in front of his lass, let alone in public!

If you watched the late shows at the cinema and spent late hours at Ghee Kheng, you would have missed the bus which stopped its services before nine. After nine, you had to make do with the prebet sapu, which were the unmetered illegal taxis. The choice we had of riding iin comfort were the Holdens and Peugeot 404’s!

Kuala Kangsar might not have its own leaning tower like Telok Anson (now Teluk Intan) but we Kuala Kangsarians took pride in our jam besor. During British rule, it must have been one of the biggest clock tower ever erected in a town centre for it to be called as such.

Jam Besor, during the Kuala Kangsar flood of 1967. (Source: Google Images)

Near the jam besor was the old bus station, located in a backstreet between two rows of shops. For the convenience of the commuters and the townsfolk, there were some hawker-stalls-on-wheels. We were not short of choices to whet our appetites.

Laksa Pak Ngah, est. 1955 - with the tag line 'Sedap kabor kawan-kawan, tak sedap kabor teman'. (Source: Google Images)

For thirst quenchers, there was cendol Pak Talib, who was always wearing his kopiah. Pak Hassan popiah was all smiles when serving his regular customers. Clad only in his short-sleeved Pagoda T-shirt and kain pulicat, one cannot miss his big leather belt with its pouches. For the lovers of mee mamak, there was mee Pak Desa, a rather taciturn man whose son was my classmate at Clifford. And laksa Pak Ngah was a must, especially for the ladies and it remains popular till now. At that time, pau Ah Lok was not in contention, hardly popular at all like it is today.

Despite the small size of their businesses, these food sellers were successful in providing for their families, schooled their children (many of whom went to school with me, like Pak Desa’s son), bought their own houses (the rumah murah Jalan Kenas) and performed their Hajj. Their subsequent success from hard work were an inspiration to me, and may Allah bless their souls! Amin.

9 thoughts on “Food galore!

  1. Salam,

    Ghee Kheng with its famous jukebox (that jukebox had the latest & best hits) …now that was THE hangout of yesteryears … where the IN crowd would be spotted. And the in crowd during my day would always be from Chandan … and when they’re from Chandan, it would mean only one thing … they’re either cousins, aunts, uncles or brothers of mine! Interestingly, the Malay Collegians could hardly be seen here, being more the turf for Cliffordians (of which I was one, albeit for a few short months as a Sixth former). And the one food at Ghee Kheng that I simply cannot forget was its delicious ‘moi’ or rice porridge, with fried chicken liver as a side dish.

    That theatre beside Ghee Kheng .. well, what was special about it was its Royal Box. A little narrow room with balcony on the 1st floor that could seat around 8 people (if memory serves), where those related to the royal family could book and get a free viewing. Enjoyed that ‘privilege’ myself a few times. And for someone with a very2 small allowance, that privilege really came in handy.

    As always, this piece is an enjoyable read, fulfilling a certain need to go back in time, to remember Kuala Kangsar during its glorious days. Its a happy read.

    Thank you!

    • salam YM Ku Yam,
      well, that theatre brings back one unforgettable memory, one that not everyone would savor. It happened just after the bloody days of May 13th. I was watching a movie and enjoying it, with the hall half packed. Suddenly pandemonium and hell broke loose! An ‘amok’ happened right in front of my eyes!

      Cries of pain and panic filled the hall and I saw blood stained people running out. It was hell broke loose, butI stood my ground for I realised that being in the mad rush to exit would only spell more untoward incident. Inevitably, there I was alone confronted by a young man with a bloodied Kris in hand!

      Alhamdulillah,managed to maintain my composure, and recalled my silat teachings and took my stance,uttering verses as a preview for battle! Look him straight in the eye, kuda-kuda well placed.

      Allah took mercy on me I guess. Just as he had exploded suddenly he lowered his head in an instant and dropped the kriss. He immediately exited with me tailing him and outside the theatre he was apprehended by the police. And that was the first time in my life to be in a police station to make a report!

      How could I ever forget that, and it happened just a few days after I ‘tamat’ my silat!

  2. Salam,

    Alhamdulilah! Allah spared your life to fulfill a greater purpose in your later years, I believe.

    But that incident … oh wow … something that I thought could only happen in movies! Good composure for someone so young (then). I never knew about that bloody history of the theatre … thank you for sharing the information.

    May Allah continue to bless you.

  3. If Director Ahmad Nisfu was still alive he would’ve quipped, “Apakah nasib kao jadi assistant editor SembangKuala”.

    I had my first chendol (went to stall no 8 caled Mustapha) at the ‘Riviera’ 30 minutes ago. And played tourist buying local handicraft at the nearby market my dad referred to as ‘New York’.

    All these after spending RM16 on Yut Loy pau (I even met the owner himself!).

    Yours embarassingly,

    Co-editor of SembangKuala

  4. Salam Mahariz,

    Hope you had your apam balek already too…🙂

    That was your FIRST cendol? Kasihannn … in true Ahmad Nisfu style!

    Anyway, enjoy the rest of your short stay in Malaysia.

    Ende Yam

    • Dah agak dah ada salah paham. Heheh. First chendoi lembah. Chendoi tempat lain sejak azali dah patek hentam.😀 -M.

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