Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mastan Ghani

When we finally woke up, I was ready to eat again. We checked out of the hotel and drove around town looking for food. We stopped by a biscuit shop and bought a fair lot of the goodies for our own consumption and to distribute to folks back home. Then we headed to Jalan Maharani a.k.a. 為食街 (glutton street) to look for food.

In our days, this was the town's favourite haunt for breakfasts. On both sides of the road are covered shelters for the hawkers. There were no such shelters then. There were just stalls by the sides of the road. I remember the wonderful curry mee, chee cheong fun, Peng Sok's lai fun (fat round rice noodles), loh mai fun (糯米飯 glutinous rice), and many more. I also remember there was a funeral parlour very near by. We used to eat while they preformed funeral rites not far from us. It was damn bloody eerie and spooky.

We walked both sides of the road. Nothing appealed to us. I couldn't find the curry noodle stall that I was aiming for. Perhaps we were too late - it was already 11.00 plus. So we kicked in plan B. We got back into the car and drove 2 road away - to Jalan Selat (Canal Road).

Mastan Ghani is mamak eatery. I remember this shop since I was a young kid. The shop must be more than 50 years old now. There are now many Mastan Ghani outlets in Teluk Intan. I was told the Ghani family is a large one and the many outlets were opened by the many children. This shop we went to was the original Mastan Ghani.

This original outlet in Jalan Selat specialises in just 2 dishes - mee rebus and rojak (pasembur). I believe the other outlets diversify to other foods. But I was quite happy with mee rebus and rojak. And I wanted to eat the original. We ordered 2 plates of mee rebus and a plate of pasembur to share.

Our drinks arrived first. This was my colourful Ais Bandung.

Our meals finally arrived. I took a sip at the mee rebus gravy and told myself - "Yep, this is the one". It had not changed one bit. This mee rebus was exactly the same as how I remembered it to be. It was absolutely delicious. We don't get mee rebus like this in KL, PJ or anywhere else. What we call Mee Java in the Klang Valley is nothing like this. In my plate were generous portions of solid prawn fritters, fried tofu, a whole egg (not half), bean sprouts (taugeh), crispy fried shallots, spring onion, green chilli and a cut of lime. The gravy was potato-based with flavour of dried shrimps. It tasted superb - not the sweetish crap like those we find KL and PJ. It was one heck of a mee rebus.

The rojak or pasembur was likewise fantastic. This taste also remained the same after these 50 odd years. The plate had the same ingredient as the mee rebus - prawn fritters, fried tofu, egg, etc. There was of course no noodles. Instead there were sengkuang (jicama) and cucumber strips and bean sprouts (taugeh). The gravy was not the same. It was more sweetish. Again, we don't find pasembur like this in the Klang Valley.

At RM3.50, the mee rebus and rojak were most reasonably priced - considering the generous prawn fritters and the whole egg. I would had had a second plate of mee rebus if only there was still room in my stomach. As we drove out of Teluk Intan for home, we were so very glad that plan B turned out so well. It should had been plan A in the first place. 

Thank you Teluk Intan for the memories. I don't know when I will be back next. Hopefully it will not be in another 15 years. And when I do, I hope the chee cheong fun, mee rebus, pasembur and all the other specialties will taste the just same as always.

Monday, February 11, 2013

TA Chee Cheong Fun

Anybody who visits Teluk Intan should not come away without tasting the famous TA Chee Cheong Fun (安顺猪肠粉). Well, almost...  My remark has to be addressed to non-Muslim visitors as the CCF is not halal. Besides the leaning clock tower, I think the next thing that Teluk Intan is most famous for is the CCF.

After our dinner at the Tai Chong Seafood Restaurant, YF drove us to Jalan Hill to order our CCF. We had to make our orders the night before for collection the next morning. The place he brought us to was a small family house. Beside it was a small production kitchen where they made the CCF.

Liew Kee or Ah Lek is perhaps the original TA CCF maker in Teluk Intan. Certainly, I think they are the best. There are other TA CCF producers in town and even outside Teluk Intan. But in quality and taste, I do not think any of them could match Ah Lek.

In the kitchen, they have a big conveyor steaming machine. The place may be a little messy, but they are very efficient. When we got there about 9.00pm, they were taking a break. They work only at night, starting at about 5.00pm and stopping production at about 6.00am.

The lady in charge took my order. I asked for 25 packets - for distribution to 4 families back home. At RM4 per packet, I dished out RM100. This was the first time ever that I spent 100 bucks just on CCF. She told me come back early next morning. She said she would not be around and showed me the table where she would leave my CCF. She asked me for my car number and said the number would be written on my package.

I told her I wanted to take some pictures of the steaming process. She quickly obliged and got up from her rest to restart production. The CCF was made from a liquid rice mixture. The ingredients comprising dried shrimps, diced sengkuang (jicama), minced pork and other trade secrets, were pre-cooked separately. The steaming machine was a conveyor belt. She poured a small amount of the liquid rice mixture into a large tray, sprinkled a generous amount of the ingredients and pushed the tray into the conveyor steamer.

The tray moved through the steamer on the conveyor. When it emerged at the other side, the CCF was cooked.

A worker skillfully took up the trays and rolled the CCF...

And they turned out mouth-wateringly like so. I could't help but be fascinated and impressed.

Next morning, I woke up early and drove to the kitchen. Sure enough, on the table was my order of CCF with my car number clearly written. The individual packets were wrapped in plastic sheets and newspapers. They were still very warm to the touch. They must had made them not long before I came to pick them.

I took them back to our hotel. We made some coffee and sat down to eat the freshly made CCF. They were delicious. The noodle was soft and smooth. The ingredient were plentiful and tasty. The dry shrimps in particular were crispy and delightful. It tasted infinitely better fresh. We had a packet each and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As relished our packets, I remembered when I was a young boy, my father used to tar pau (打包) this CCF for our breakfasts. In those day, each packet was only for 10 cents. The packets were not as big as they are now; still they were just a small fraction of the current price. Just as in the good old days, it was a perfect breakfast. Sated, we got back into bed and continued with our sleep.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Nostalgic Teluk Intan

It has been about 15 years since I last visited my birth place and home town - Teluk Intan. It was Teluk Anson when I left the place more than 40 years ago. They have since changed the name to Intan. Whatever the name, to me it has always been and will always be TA.

I went back with my family for a brief overnight stay. And how the town has changed. In certain places, it was almost beyond recognition. As we drove around, I relived moments of my childhood. There were the houses that I had lived in (2  are still standing and 2 are gone), the schools I attended, the cinemas that were our main source of entertainment and of course the places I had eaten in. 

The icon of the town is without doubt the leaning clock tower. Standing at 25 meters tall with 8 storeys, this pagoda has majestically overlooked the town since 1885. It used to be a water tower and then the Scouts headquarters. Today it is just an old grandfather. The lean of the tower is distinct when viewed from afar - in the same direction as my picture. And of course my picture was exaggerated. 

This is the Nagarathaar Sri Thendayuthapani Hindu Temple at Jalan Bandar. I remember the yearly Chithirai Pournami festivals in this temple. Devotees from all over the country flock to our town for this festival. Stalls selling food and ornaments sprang up all around the temple and in the opposite play field. On the festival evening, a chariot bearing Lord Muruga paraded through town. Devotees broke coconuts and threw coins as the chariot passed them. I believe the festival is still celebrated today.

I will always remember this big rock. It was put there to honour those who fought in the first world war. I do not know why the town should have such a monument for a war that was fought thousands of miles away. It definitely was a British legacy. There used to be a Malay club in the vicinity. The club is now gone - replaced with shops. The rock now seems lost and out of place in the busy junction of Jalan Maharaja Rela.

This was the official residence of the Raja Muda of Perak. The present Raja Muda does not live in TA. As the result, the building fell into a state of total disrepair. It really is very sad. It was such a majestic palace.

No resident in TA would not know of this rumah hantu - ghost house. Whether or not it was haunted, I haven't the faintest idea. I remember as kids, we were terrified of the place and would not dare go near it. I am surprised it is still standing - especially on a big piece of very valuable land in the heart of the town. Perhaps they are preserving old buildings like this. But I saw holes made on the windows of the house. I fear they might had converted it to attract swallows for bird nests, as they have done on several buildings in town. If indeed it was the case, it would be a real crying shame.

We drove to the eastern side of the town. I remember an old railway bridge across the Sungei Bidor. The trains do not operate into Teluk Intan anymore and I wondered if the bridge was still there. To my surprise, the old bridge was still very much in use. They have not replaced it. It used to be that we could drive across the bridge. Today traffic is only limited to motorbikes. There is a barrier preventing the flow of cars. This bridge is not far from the location where a bull elephant gallantly charged and derailed a train in defence of his herd back in 1894. See story here.

In a lot of ways, Teluk Intan managed to keep its rustic charm. This is Durian Sebatang. The place has not changed an iota since I was a kid. The roads are just as narrow and the pace as laid back.

That evening my old friend YF took us out for dinner. He picked us at our hotel and drove us to the Restoran Tai Chong (海洋家) on Jalan Changkat Jong. I believe this is one of the better Chinese restaurants in town. 

It was pretty quiet there that evening. The restaurant was typically Chinese in decor - red table cloths, red lanterns and all.

YF asked for crabs. They did not have any. They said they had sold out on crabs that day. But that was only 7.00pm. Seemed rather strange that a restaurant that proclaimed "Seafood" in its name did not have any crab. The waitress offered us soft-shell crabs instead. I believe there is only one way to cook soft shell crabs - deep fried. I don't remember eating soft shells in any other manner. We opted the salted egg deep fried. It turned out to be quite good. The flavour of the salted egg was superb on the crabs. A sinful dish.

Next was the mantis prawns. It was also deep fried in a curry flavoured batter with some curry leaves. Another sinful dish. I suspect the mantis were not totally fresh. But the deep frying and curry flavour masked the lack of freshness. As I bit into the mantis flesh, it was kind of soggy.

The steamed fresh water prawns, on the other hand, were super fresh. TA is apparently famed for its fresh water prawns - particularly udang galah, normally caught in the nearby Sungei Bidor. But the prawns we ate were not udang galah. They were steamed in egg white. The prawns were done just right - not the least over-cooked. The meat was juicy and succulent. Unlike udang galah, these prawns had good amount of flesh.

The fish we had was a Senangin or Ma Yau (). It was deep fried and served in a light soya sauce. The fish was huge. It was very well fried. The head, fins and tails were delightfully crispy. Again, I was not sure on the freshness. The meat was definitely not flaky. And again, the deep frying might had masked the lack of freshness. Restaurants don't normally use very fresh fish for deep frying. They are kept for steaming.

The vege dish we had was the chen loong chou (青龙菜). It was lightly stir fried with some bean sprouts (taugeh). It was delicious. This is the first time I have taken chen loong chou with taugeh. And I think it is a very good combination. I have not seen it done like this in KL. The next time we order this green, I am going to ask them to add in the bean sprouts.

It was a very nice dinner. I had a second serving of rice. After dinner, YF drove us to order some chee cheong fun (猪肠粉). That will be another story. From there, we adjourned to the Lower Perak Club where we met up with another friend. We chit-chatted on old times and present times till late into the night. It was indeed a most nostalgic day in good old TA.