The Malaysian kopitiam has been undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts. They are no longer the grungy slop shops that we knew and loved. In their places are peppy, preppy open-air eateries replete with free WiFi, lots of power points for the juicing of electronic companions, and which all seem to share one dish in common: nasi lemak. And, most of these new breed of kopitiams seem to have worked out how to get our unofficial national dish right.
One of the more impressive players in this happy hawker bandwagon is Ali, Muthu and Ah Hock (AMAH). Considering their location in the (as yet) mostly unoccupied residential development of Oasis Ara Damansara, the coffee shop has been enjoying a fairly brisk trade. Maybe it’s because of the irreverent décor that includes life-sized portraits of the owners in period costume, but more likely than not, it’s due in large part to the competitive prices and signature dishes like the nasi lemak. Sure, it’s important to get the ikan bilis just right crispy, but the triumvirate of the nasi lemak has to be the sambal (sweet enough but not too cloying or oily), the fried chicken (you know what good fried chicken tastes like), and the rice. For something as ostensibly simple as rice, it’s disturbing to see how regularly this staple is botched up. Not so, propitiously, at AMAH. Here, the rice is perfectly steamed, aromatic, and the ideal foil for the chicken and condiments.
The limited – for now – menu includes Malaysian classics like the fluffy, porous toasted roti bakar, soft-boiled eggs served runny with white pepper and soya sauce on a coffee saucer, sotong curry, and inexplicably, sambal kerang. There’s also a not-bad soto bihun, although it needs all the accoutrements added to give the flavour a kick-start. If the team keeps up the good work and adds more items to the menu, AMAH could very well be the kopitiam of choice when the neighbourhood reaches full capacity. Fay Khoo