Kampong Cempaka was a typical Malaysian-Chinese village that was far away from “civilization”. The only access was a dirt road where any vehicle would stir up a trail of thick white dust or dirt behind!
Today, the dirt road is a major highway and the path where my brother and I once jogged by a used mining pool with water of sparkling clear turquoise and surrounding rubber plantations are now a hypermarket, shop lots and condominiums! Housing and new township developments in its surrounding areas enveloped the little village but regardless, Kampong Cempaka didn’t seemed to be much affected by their rapid growth.
Mom still does her marketing at Kampong Cempaka at least once a week. On weekends, I would have my breakfast there at the “old” Kopi-tiam (coffee shop and this one also sells liquor and getting a liquor license is almost impossible since the past 30 years or so unless you have “connections”). It used to be one of those wooden structures like its surviving neighbors’ but was rebuilt to its current state in bricks and concrete some time back.
Of course, what draws me to this coffee shop is their kopi-o that is thick, fragrant, rich and with the right sweetness. There is no sour aftertaste – meaning that the drink dispenser or barrista (?) doesn’t leave any stale coffee powder in the kopi preparation bag for too long or within the time before the old coffee power releases the stale and sour taste. Or he may have replaced the bag after a few cups with a freshly cleaned one.
Most of the food here is also above average to very good. The most popular (best, if you are a fan) would be the Yong Tow Foo or fish-paste stuffed vegetables like fresh brinjaw (egg plant or aubergine), okra, red and green peppers (chilies), bitter gourd, fried tofu skins, plain tofu and fish balls. The most popular would be the gigantic, crispy okra that sells out faster than the rest. I personally like the stuffed plain white tofu that is both firm and its natural soy bean flavor works very well with the given condiments – a combination of their sweet sauce and chili sauce. I normally give the stuffing to my mom as no matter how good the stuffing is, I still prefer this tofu “au natural”.
Next would be the Mee Jawa(noodles). It’s me and my dad’s favorite and I like mine with extra fresh lime juice. Unlike Mee Jawa served at other places, the cook would squeeze them (the fresh lime) for us to spare our fingers from getting messy or sticky. The tomato-based gravy is just thick at the right consistency and garnishing consisting of half a hard-boiled egg, pieces of boiled potatoes, fried film tofu (tau kwa), fried shallots, fried crackers, bean sprouts and julienned cucumber. The only garnish missing is the sliced squid but this version is so pleasantly flavorful, you don’t even notice that! Then again, there is no fixed rule on the garnishing and despite the “Jawa” being part of its name it was actually a Penang Baba Nyonya creation!
The Mee Jawa is only available on Wednesdays and Saturdays but her stall also sells 12 other kinds of noodles that are available throughout the week. I also like her dried stewed pork with cloud ear fungus (my grandmother used to make the best)! Since this lady (who is somewhere in her late sixties) handles everything herself without any assistants, the customer will need to practice a little bit more patience.
I have yet to try the other 10-11 stalls in this Kopi-tiam except for the roast pork rice (but unfortunately, that was a no-go for me yet a lot of customers go for the fried chicken rice from this same stall); and the fried potstickers/dumplings/ jiaozi are just average (and they stinge on the essential condiment of finely sliced fresh ginger with malted vinegar)
To me, this Kopi-tiam/coffee shop has the ambience of the old time Malaysian-Chinese village where time has stopped (feels like since the seventies or eighties)! This is a place where most villagers would still congregate in various groups every weekend to catch up over light meals, tea or Kopi; their simple life-style and dressing sense; the way the men sit; wooden shop lots and houses, this is it – a simple kopi-tiam in Kampong Cempaka (PJU1 Main Road) that is quite charming in its own rights!
Kopi –O – 4/5 Stars
Mee Jawa – 4/5 Stars
Yong Tau Foo – 4/5 Stars
A table-full of ladies congregating over tea and chatting while over the speakers, classic Chinese songs mainly from the 30’s to the 60’s play.
The Kopi-tiam, “Restoran Sin Hoy Kee”
My mom buying fresh corn right across the road from the Kopi-tiam.
The wooden shoplots next to the Kopi-tiam.
Update 19 June 2016:
The Mee Jawa stall has changed proprietress (a younger lady). The menu is basically similar but the Mee Jawa is, sadly, not as good as from the last cook.