Hainanese fare on hillock

The Negri Sembilan Hainan Association kopitiam is a bright and breezy place to enjoy a meal.

The kopitiam institution is typically associated with the Hainanese community, and these coffeeshops are usually located in shoplots.

The Negri Sembilan Hainan Association in Seremban, however, has its own kopitiam at its premises.

But make no mistake as this is no ordinary kopitiam.

Beside the main entrance is a lovely mural depicting Chinese opera performers, and the artwork elevates the hall from being a no-frills coffeeshop to a cultural space.

Unlike the typical old-style coffeeshop that has been around for decades, this kopitiam is a relatively new addition.

It was set up around two years ago when the association decided to maximise the use of the hall after receiving requests from would-be hawkers.

Perched on a hillock, the association is situated in a residential neighbourhood and throughout the day, streams of people arrive at the kopitiam.

It helps greatly that there is a large parking lot nearby with no fee charged.

Predictably, the coffeeshop is most lively between breakfast and lunchtime.

As there are no steps leading to the kopitiam, it is very accessible to the elderly, who often arrive accompanied.

Customers are a good mix of families and the working crowd during weekdays, and hawkers tend to wrap up by 2.30pm after the lunch crowd clears.

The hall has lots of windows to let in natural light so it’s a bright and breezy place to enjoy a meal, unlike coffeeshops in intermediate lots that can double as saunas.

It’s not hard to find a table, even on weekends, as there is additional seating at the side of the building.

A few tables are also placed on the hall’s stage to maximise use of the space.

So, what’s good to eat at this coffeeshop?

Well, there are so many options to choose from that there is even a ring-bound “menu” of laminated sheets, with stickers indicating the updated drink prices.

If you have a big appetite or arrive ravenous like I did, I would recommend ordering the Hainanese chicken chop, which at RM14 offers great value for money.

The light gravy for this Hainanese kopitiam staple is very tasty with loads of umami flavour.

I very much liked that the big cut of meat was served with sliced red onions, mushrooms, sliced carrots, baby corn and peas, besides the garnish of sliced tomato and cucumber.

This is many notches up from the pre-mixed frozen corn, peas and carrots that are usually added by some hawkers who serve this dish.

I also liked the kopitiam’s pork satay.

Succulent and slightly sweet, the spiced meat is delicious with its lingering aftertaste of lemongrass.

The accompanying peanut sauce isn’t too spicy and goes well with the satay.

But satay for breakfast or lunch? I’d be happy to enjoy this any time of day.

Loong Kee is possibly the only stall in Seremban that offers satay during the day and has chicken and pork for meat options.

Stall operator Loong Soo Foo, in his 60s, used to work as a surveyor and was involved in the construction of airports in Sabah and Sarawak.

After his retirement, despite not having any prior food-vending experience, Loong whipped out his 50-year-old family recipe and began operating his stall at the Hainan Association last October.

“The satay is made from my mother’s recipe. She used to sell satay at Cameron Cafe in Seremban, starting in 1972,” he said.

He was tight-lipped about the ingredients, other than saying that 15 types of spices go into the marinade.

Another dish that I enjoyed at the Hainan Association’s kopitiam was the Hainan pork belly noodles.

This is the porky challenger to Seremban’s signature dish, beef brisket noodles, which is sold at Pasar Besar Seremban.

It’s the dish that former Seremban residents hanker for and try to replicate when they live abroad.

Stall operator Woo Yong Foo, 64, said he was looking to provide an alternative to the beef brisket noodles when he devised this dish.

The noodle dish with tender slices of pork is served in a flavourful broth that employs much less of the five spice powder, compared to the wet market version.

Garnished with chopped spring onions and salted mustard leaves, the noodles get a delightful crunch from peanuts and sesame seeds.

A small bowl of broth is served on the side, along with a mildly spicy chilli sauce that adds just enough zing.

While the dish is somewhat different from the beefy version, Wong’s dish evoked memories of my granduncle taking me to the Seremban wet market for the signature dish.

I am likely to be disowned by my Seremban relatives for saying this, but I like this porky version more and will return to Seremban for it.

Negri Sembilan Hainan Association is located at 30-31, Jalan Datuk Abdul Malek, 70000 Seremban, Negri Sembilan.

Business hours are from 7.30am to 4pm, except Mondays.

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

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