26 September 2014

Nasi Lemak in Cafe Central, Ipoh

Over the last 1 1/2 years, with the cost of living in Malaysia shooting upwards like a star, prices of food have been increasing crazily.

Over at the famous Kong Heng coffee shop in old town Ipoh, our favourite kai-see hor fun now costs RM5 per bowl, with visibly less noodles, chicken and prawns. And the hawkers don't even want to admit that they increased prices this year - the kai-see hor fun vendor said it had been priced at RM5 for a long time. I am quite sure I am not losing my memory as it was RM4.50 before the new price hike. Compared to RM3.80 when we first moved to Ipoh in 2009.

It was the same story at the Wooley Hawker Centre in Ipoh Garden. My daughter's favourite beef noodles went up to RM6 from RM5.50 and the vendor told me the same thing when I asked - it has been RM6 for a long time.

If you have to increase your prices just say so honestly when your customer asks you and don't insult her by lying.

But I want to talk about our all time Malaysian favourite, one of the unifier of the rakyat - the nasi lemak. Hmmm, how many Malaysians dream about their nasi lemak after being away from Malaysia for some time? I sure do.

The fragrant steamed coconut rice, bright red spicy-sweet sambal thick with onions, the crispy fried ikan bilis, golden brown peanuts and soft, rich boiled eggs accompanied by slices of cool, neutralizing cucumber. Delicious!

Alas....with the high cost of basic ingredients in Malaysia now, the quality of our nasi lemak has dropped tremendously. It has been a long time since I tasted a decent, banana-wrapped nasi lemak out there. I remember the days when any bungkus of nasi lemak you bought from any makcik under any tree, or in any warung or coffee shop would be great. Not anymore.

Today's nasi lemak has hardly any coconut milk in the rice. No fragrance. The sambal is flat. You would be lucky to get 5 tiny pieces of ikan bilis in your packet. You might get 15 peanuts. And about 1/10 of a Grade C sized hard boiled egg. And no cucumber. Is that called nasi lemak? And sold for anywhere between RM1.50-RM2.80.

Which is why I am so happy to have found a nasi lemak vendor in Cafe Central, near the dim sum street of Ipoh and opposite Wah Nam coffee shop. It costs RM2.50. The rice is fragrant, and the vendor is generous with ikan bilis and peanuts, by today's standard. And you get one half of a hard boiled egg. One whole  half! That's a lot! (ok, ok, I'm over doing this right?) Plus several slices of cucumber.

This is the most complete nasi lemak priced below RM3 to be found. But I don't know how long it will hold out - in terms of price and quality. So hurry there to taste it before it too suffers the same high-price low-quality syndrome afflicting Malaysia.

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