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the original bakuteh shop, klang

February 29, 2012

Our party of twenty or so uncles, aunties, cousins and siblings accompany the Lee family matriarch into the back room of a restaurant that her husband had frequented since his youth.

The first time we’d done so without him.

Too many to fit into the room, we spilled out into the adjacent laneway. A wave of bodies dressed in blue, black and white perched atop red plastic stools.

It was fitting that we would eat here. Ba kut teh was his favourite.

Of course it would be his favourite. He was a Klang boy, born and bred – and like him bakuteh, a murky herbal dish of pork trotter that found its origins and fame in the city of his youth.

In later years, when his health started to fade, he would eat more healthily. Plain mee siam. Organic fruit. The odd serve of McDonalds.

exit to the laneway / the main dining room

“This was the very first bakuteh shopfront in Klang.” I am told as we walk up the street towards the fading yellow shopfront.

“And the other one?” I ask, thinking back to the bakuteh store under the bridge.

“No. It came later – after they started to tear down the old colonial buildings for a development. When the development stalled, the bakuteh under the bridge set up in the vacant lot. This one has been around for longer than that.”

soft boiled eggs with white pepper / the shopfront

It was forty years ago, give or take, that my grandfather and his lunch crowd decided to make this their regular haunt. Sick of trying to figure out who spent what and whose turn it was to pay, they decided to each put RM50 into a pot, held in trust by one of their own. The meals they had together were paid from that pot (if you skipped a week, you skipped your share), and when it had all been eaten up, the pot was passed around again and a new treasurer appointed.

Over time, they convinced the owner to let them use the back room of the restaurant.

They bought tables and chairs and left them there for the restaurant’s use – on the condition that it would always be made available for them when they arrived.

Later still, they all chipped in and bought a metal box with a lock that was drilled to the wall. In it, they stored their tea leaves and pots so they would never be without.

kampung nasi lemak / kampung bee hoon

The lock is gone now and the tables are worn.

It has been years since my grandfather and his friends ate together here. One by one they stopped working in the busy Klang town centre. Their legs grew weary and their mobility limited.

Left without a means of transport, some stayed at home. Smaller groups gathered at Ah-Ho’s in Southern Park. Some brought their children. Their grandchildren. Their great-grandchildren.

the back room / entrance to the back room

We had breakfast here on a Sunday morning, the day after my Ah-Kong’s funeral.

And oh, how we ate.

Two soft boiled eggs each, runny and dusted with white pepper.

Packets of nasi lemak kampung – coconut rice, a quarter of a boiled egg, ikan bilis (fried anchovies), peanuts and sambal.

More packets of kampung mee siam.

Bowls and bowls of thick, strongly herbal bakuteh. The fat boiled out from the pork hock sticking to the back of our throats. The kind where you can taste the bitter-sweetness of the herbs used to make it.

the sio bak man with my cousin Annabel & I

Half way through the meal, we popped across the road to visit the sio bak man, a slab of chinese roast pork with crispy skin sitting in his chest.

“You’ve been coming to me for so many years now” he said to my aunt as his cleaver thudded on the wooden chopping board.

He posed, gleaming with a shy pride, when I asked to photograph his motorcycle.

And when we returned to the table, more to eat. More to drink. Rounds of teh peng and teh ais and milo and kopi-o.

Stories we children had never heard. The dew of fond memories in my uncles’ eyes.

(And in amongst that, I forgot to take photos of the bakuteh we ate. I also forgot to bring my camera in amongst my packing haste so all photos have been taken on my camera phone. Whoops!)

Jalan Stesen 1
Klang, Selangor
Malaysia


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  • #1
    koji
    February 29th, 2012

    beautiful post! I bet your hungry extended family wouldn’t have wanted to wait for a photo before eating though

  • #2
    February 29th, 2012

    This post is beautiful, extended family are the best.

    how lucky are we to have our phones these days?

  • #3
    February 29th, 2012

    Those photos are taken with your phone? They still look pretty good. Such a heart-felt post sharing a love of your grandfather to us. I love how food (and their establishments) can have such a strong emotional attachment to certain memories.

  • #4
    February 29th, 2012

    I remember the old days in PJ where we use to have these type of food merchants on their bicycles / motorbikes riding down suburban streets and selling their wares. The kids always had to run out on the street to flag them down for their moms before they disappeared lol. I miss those days. KL is awesome and modern and all but I miss the more traditional and simpler life *sigh*. What I wouldn’t give to have a man ride down my street with roast pork everyday!

    Next time I’m in Malaysia, I’m def going to pay a visit to Klang and to this bak kut teh restaurant. I love the history and nostalgia of it all 🙂

  • #5
    March 1st, 2012

    Lovely post Shez, it must have been very special for you to eat at this place.

  • #6
    March 1st, 2012

    Wow! I wanna try a thick with very herbal tasting bakuteh!
    Yes to crispy roast pork!

  • #7
    March 1st, 2012

    And, in a way, it doesn’t matter that there’s no pictures of the bak kut teh because it’s the memories of who you ate it with and how it tasted and the conversations over food that you will truly remember.

  • #8
    bigbite
    March 1st, 2012

    No photos needed. Satisfaction guaranteed.

  • #9
    March 1st, 2012

    naw. so much nawww. <3

  • #10
    March 1st, 2012

    What a wonderful story, I love how your grandfather and his lunch crowd took over the back room. Your photos rock from the phone, and to be honest the story tells so much more than a photo ever could.

  • #11
    March 3rd, 2012

    Beautiful memories, and so well written! You’ve given us a glimpse of your Grandfather. If I ever make it to the area I’ll be sure to stop by 🙂

  • #12
    March 3rd, 2012

    What a beautiful post Shez, memories of our loved ones that intertwie with food like this are the best because we can always visit back and reminisce!

  • #13
    March 5th, 2012

    Oh Lordy… It really doesn’t get any better than that, does it?! This is such a great post to read. I like how it brings me back to simpler times with good food. Such a “Klang experience”, one I hope to have one day too =D

  • #14
    March 14th, 2012

    Dear Shez,

    Everytime I am in Malaysia, I just cannot get enough of those pesky little packets of nasi lemak stacked up in a heap by the road stalls. Despite so much food, I still crave for that simple packet of wholesome deliciousness!

  • #15
    April 1st, 2015

    […] My late grandfather and I had so much time – and while I was so desperately saddened at his passing, I knew that he’d done what he came for, that he had lived his life to the fullest and that time had simply run its course. […]

Shez