Thursday, 26 September 2013

Kedai Kopi

I am intrigued by the Malay kedai kopi (coffee shops) which are usually found at important road junctions. They are a wealth store of local happenings, knowledge, and history. Only men sit around and talk at coffee shops while the wives and mothers happily go about their daily chores at home.

At the coffee shops which I have seen, elderly men and male construction workers sit around and have morning coffee and meals. I don't know how long they sit there but quite a long time, till the afternoon call for prayers.

Some men just sit around doing plain talking while some play 'Dam Haji', a form of Malay chess. Some play other things with bottle caps. I have not seen them play poker for a long time. The men are dressed in shirt and kain pelikat plus a white or colourful kopiah. Some men smoke, most don't. They appear happy and that is why I think time spent at coffee shops in the presence of friends should continue for people who have nothing else to do the whole day. The men do look happy and I don't see why we must break up their routine. I don't think they are lazy men. I think they are making good use of their time by staying positive and enjoying gaiety at the cheapest price and a safe one. I don't think the men will get into trouble.

So far, I have watched about five such kedai kopi in the area where I live.

  1. There is one in front of the old Kubang Kerian market (now demolished for a condominium in the making). 
  2. The other one is right in my neighbourhood, where a murder once took place when a drug addict hit his own mother on the forehead as she opened her kedai kopi one unfortunate morning. She succumbed to her head injuries minutes later at home nearby her shop; her husband remarried and the new wife took over running the kedai kopi. The customers of the former wife didn't return to the kedai kopi but I see a new wave of customers. The menu is no longer as nice as cooked by the former deceased wife. 
  3. There is a small kedai kopi just up the street. My kids go there to buy their occasional nasi bungkus (packaged rice) before going to school. It is a good place to eat and hang out but the location is rather dangerous. Once a fast car lost control on Jalan Pasir Putih and ramped into the kedai kopi. It was sheer disaster but the female owner managed to make all necessary repairs and her kedai kopi was functioning as normal the following day as if nothing happened the day before. I was amazed by the speedy repairs, for only the lady and her old mother operated the kedai kopi; there were no males involved in the day-to-day running of her kedai kopi
  4. There is one kedai kopi where they usually sold durians from our village (which is noted for its quality durians). When it is the durian season, I see many elderly men having breakfast at the kedai kopi. They seemed relaxed, often helping the elderly female durian seller with the sale of her durians. I think they are testimony to the quality durians of our village. 
  5. There is one kedai kopi across the road next to the mechanic shop at the U-turn (no longer). Food comes late here and the elderly men therefore show up quite late during the day. They sit around at the table and spend a lot of time at the kedai kopi, talking and discussing with friends. 

There are a few more but life is about the same at almost all the coffee shops which I have seen. There are some not so good kedai kopi but I will say nothing more of them.

Even Ayah Mat (a village elderly then in his 80s) spent his time at the kedai kopi, very late after retirement, till he died. Ayah Mat was never known to be a kedai kopi visitor. He was a former government servant, a district officer, a religious person and was much revered by our villagers. His showing up at the kedai kopi made Affandi asked him why he was there. His simple reply was he just wanted to listen in on local news from the villagers.

What do people have at kedai kopi? Sweet black hot coffee, toast with butter and kaya, nasi lemak, nasi dagang, nasi kerabu and nasi bungkus of sorts. Kedai kopi with Indian males do offer roti canai and murtabak. Malay men do know how to make roti canai, murtabak and capati meals but it is not the same coming from the hands of local Indians.

There are coffee shops operated by Chinese (called kopitiam) but Malay men hardly go to Chinese shops for fear of the non halal issue with cups and saucers. I will not expand on the halal issue but it is a significant issue among the Malays.

Sometimes there are delicious Malay cakes served at the Malay kedai kopi and this is what attracts me to such stalls. They sell karipap (curry puffs), Cek Mek molek (sweet potato cake stuffed with sugar filling and fried), roti sardin (sardine roll made into rolled mustache or double-edged darts), cucur badak (spicy sweet potato cake; literally fried rhino cakes), kuih lapis (layered caked), and kuih keria (sugared doughnuts made from sweet potatoes). There are more delicacies on the menu but that should suffice.

Do stop at a good kedai kopi when you are in the vicinity of one. Visit it early in the morning and stay there till noon. Be prepared to spend for a table of 10 men. Be generous at any kedai kopi and you get to win over some good friends.

Affandi's coffee cup in Kota Bharu, Kelantan; 26 Sept 2013.
This is a typical coffee cup and saucer used in Malaya in the old days. The mess indicates how the coffee was prepared - by straining the hot sweet black coffee swiftly into this cup - full of zest! The mess is a mark of good coffee - described as kopi kaw (that's what Affandi told me). A clean coffee cup is never a mark of good coffee.