IF YOU are in Alor Setar, make sure you stop by at the Curry House as the food there is sure to leave you craving for more.
Affectionately known to locals as the “No 8”, the restaurant in Jalan Lumpur has been serving its famous piping hot fish head curry for 29 years.
After aborting a seafood business in 1985, owner Chor Guan Juan, 55, and her husband Lim Boon Dee, also 55, turned their latest venture into a success story.
“We had to stop our seafood business back then because it was not exactly a staple food or something you have to eat.
“So we decided on a simple lunch business as everyone needs to eat during this hour. That is how we started making fish head curry,” she said.
Chor explained that in the earlier days, there were no advertising tools like the social media to introduce their new set-up.
“My husband and I hopped on our bike and went around telling people near our neighbourhood about our new place,” laughed Chor, adding that there were only three tables available for customers at “No 8” when business first began.
Chor explained that the name “No 8” was the number of their house.
“We did not think it was necessary to have a name for the place when we started,” Chor quipped.
She said there was no secret recipe passed down from generation to generation when it came to the preparation of the dish.
“It is my own recipe and I am glad that my customers enjoy it a lot.”
Twenty-five years and thousands of bowls of fish head curry later, the couple moved to a new location in 2010, just one street away from the previous site but with over 20 sets of dining tables.
Despite the change of location, business kept getting better.
Among their loyal supporters is 64-year-old retiree Lim Sin You, who has been a regular customer for 10 years.
“Their fish head curry has a distinct sweet taste, something which sets it apart from the others.
“The curry is also less creamy but with a smoother texture, which makes it more appetising,” said Lim.
Another regular customer, banker Mohd Nizam Wahab, said he usually did not fancy the Chinese-style curry, but the couple’s fish head curry was different.
“I cannot put my finger on it, but every time I eat it, there is an “oomph” factor.
“I have been coming here between three and four years after being introduced to it by my colleagues.
“It is a must for me to visit this place at least once a week,” said the 42-year-old.
Tan Gaik Yen and her family would always bring outstation relatives to sample the dish.
“They love it most of the time as the spice is just nice and there is also a hint of sweetness in the curry,” the 46-year-old mother-of-two said.
The Curry House is located at 8A, Jalan Lumpur, off Jalan Putra, Alor Setar.
Meanwhile, another not-to-be-missed local food in Alor Setar is the Kampung Berjaya laksa.
Shopowner Khor Siew Tiang, 75, said his laksa had been around for about 40 years in Jalan Kampung Berjaya.
“Ours is different from the Penang asam laksa. The Penang version is sweeter and the prawn paste is much thicker, making it more aromatic while ours is more sour and a little spicier,” said Khor.
Khor said the preparation method to her laksa was similar to the Penang one as her late husband coincidentally was from Air Itam, Penang, a place famous for asam laksa.
According to one customer, Heng Soon Chen, 41, the Khor’s laksa gravy had a tangier taste compared to Penang’s asam laksa.
“As a laksa lover myself, I like both types because they have their own style and character,” said Heng.
Besides laksa, Khor also sells rojak, ais kacang and cendol.
“After a bowl of spicy and sour laksa, many customers will opt for some ais kacang or cendol to cool themselves down. So it is a good combination.”
Khor has passed down her mantle to her son, Tan Boon Pin, 45, who now manages the business.
“I only help out here and there but most of the preparation and cooking is done by my son.”
On the prospect of expanding the business, Tan said they planned to open another outlet in the future but said after 40 years of doing the business, it was hard to move elsewhere.
“It has a sentimental value and customers are already so familiar with this location, but I will still not rule out anything as there is still room to grow,” added Tan.