Leisurely charm of old-school kopitiam

Ho takes great pride in the kopitiam’s service level and says she will even crack open the soft-boiled eggs upon customers’ request.

IN Section 1, the oldest residential area of Petaling Jaya, there is a very modest coffeeshop that is not short of charm.

Kedai Kopi Choon Kwong is located in a quiet nook of the neighbourhood.

The row of shoplots where it is located, faces a traffic island.

You are bound to notice the traffic island’s three stately ketapang (Terminalia catappa) trees that offer much shade to the shops.

Choon Kwong may possibly be the oldest coffeeshop in Petaling Jaya that is still in operation, which is a big deal, given that it has survived multiple lockdowns since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

Entering this coffeeshop gives one the feeling of stepping back in time as the shop has retained its original structure.

Large facing mirrors, green geometric floor tiles, the transom, retro ventilation blocks and outdoor bamboo chick blinds complete the old-school kopitiam look.

Even its Bakelite switches are still in use.

Two wooden mahjong tables, complete with drawers and retractable drink holders, are still used but only for serving food.

I felt as if I were at a small town eatery, because the serene ambience here is atypical of traditional coffeeshops that are usually buzzing with workers calling out orders.

Thanks to the pandemic protocols, there are only a few tables, which makes it the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee while reading a newspaper or enjoying the view of the lofty trees.

It is also the perfect spot to enjoy an unhurried conversation over a simple meal.

The coffeeshop’s cheerful and chatty proprietor, Ho Lee Mee, has an impeccable memory and remembers the orders of her regular diners.

I was pleasantly surprised that she could tell it was my second visit and that the friend whom I had brought along, was a first-timer.

Assisted by her Indonesian helper, Ho is mostly a one-woman show. She makes the drinks, takes food orders and prepares the noodle dishes, in addition to packing takeaway meals.

Up until the time that the pandemic broke out in late 2019, Ho said she was even delivering bowls of noodles to the dialysis centre around the block for her regular patrons who were undergoing treatment there.

Besides the kopitiam staple of soft-boiled eggs served with toast slathered with kaya, Ho also serves pork noodle soup.

The clear, flavourful soup is less salty and the pot has thin meat slices added to it.

Diners get to choose the type of noodle they want and each order is topped with crunchy lard fritters.

One can also opt to have the noodles tossed in a dark soy sauce with soup on the side.

An unusual option offered with the noodles is a poached egg.

Well, the eggs served at this coffeeshop are rather special.

The yolks are large and have a rich flavour, even without the addition of condiments.

Ho said, “My husband buys the eggs directly from farms in Banting and Rawang so that the eggs served here are farm fresh.”

When asked how long the coffeeshop had been in existence, Ho said she wasn’t sure.

The coffeeshop was started by her paternal uncle, who later asked her father to take over as he was looking to move to Sabah.

“When I was in Form One, my family moved from Penang in 1970 to help my father operate the coffeeshop.

“We lived at the back of the shop and I lived here up to the time I got married.”

She said that she had seen three generations of customers.

Given the eatery’s rather obscure location, one would assume that the patrons are mostly from the neighbourhood but Ho said, “They come from everywhere. Those who move away from here, return with their children.”

Back then, she said, the coffeeshop was packed during the day and open late into the night.

Ho recalled, “During the day, it was frequented by tradesmen who would have breakfast here.

“And during that time (which was well before mobile phones), if people sought a particular tradesman, they would come here to find him.”

In the olden days, customers would return to play mahjong at night, Ho added.

In her youth, Ho represented the country as a judo exponent in three South-East Asian (SEA) Games, winning silver and bronze medals.

When she was away competing, customers would gather at the coffeeshop to watch her on TV.

Ho, who is now in her 60s, said she ran the coffeeshop on weekdays to pass the time.

When told that her coffeeshop would be featured in a newspaper, she quickly exclaimed: “Don’t tell people to come!”

Kedai Kopi Choon Kwong,Jalan 1/3A, Section 1, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Business hours: 7am to 1pm, except weekends.

This is the writer’s personal observation and not an endorsement by StarMetro.

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