These days, I hang out for quite a bit at a training provider located in Danau Kota. The strategy is simple: if they see me often enough, they’ll hopefully assign me to a training job or two. The good news is that it seems to be working. The better news is that Danau Kota is dead smack next to Taman Ibukota – the place where I grew up and learnt the things I should and also a few things I shouldn’t have as well. So, it’s sort of a trip down memory lane.
The drive to Danau Kota takes me past a row of shops (just past Past Pasar Besar Gombak) along Batu Lima Jalan Gombak. It’s been a few decades (yes, I’m a decrepit old git) since I’ve been this way. I was surprised to find that the old Malay coffee-shop called “Rose Fatimah” still exists. It no longer stands on the old site but is now a few units farther down the road – all spruced-up and solid-looking (well, as spruced-up and solid-looking as an old Malay coffee-shop can be).
I remember the days when it was my duty every morning to cycle on the old Raleigh Chopper to get my dear grandma her daily dose of nasi lemak from Rose Fatimah. Looking back, I recall how I used to hate this chore. But it did have its high points: while waiting for the nasi lemak to be packed, I had the chance to enjoy a teh tarik and my first cigarette for the day. I was seventeen (or so) then – smoking in the house would have got me killed.
Now, thirty years later, when I look back at all those trips to Rose Fatimah – regardless of how much I hated doing it at the time – I could not think of a greater honour than to cycle the four kilometres to get my grandma her nasi lemak. Heck! Today, I’d gladly cycle a hundred kilometres to get her her nasi lemak from Rose Fatimah. Isn’t it funny how we are all too willing to do things for people only after they are dead?
So, on a lark, I pulled-up at Rose Fatimah one fine morning to sample their legendary nasi lemak. Nothing has changed. The clientele is pretty much the same: old Malay gents wearing baju Melayu, sarongs and white skull caps talking amiably with each other – obviously just out of the nearby mosque after performing solat subuh. However, these are probably the sons of the same old gits wearing baju Melayu, sarong and white skull caps, who used to leer disapprovingly at me as I lit-up my cigarette thirty years ago (I was seventeen at the time, remember?).
And surprise of surprises, the owner is still alive. He sat quietly at a table near the service counter, serene as any dignified any old man could be, overseeing operations and smiling courteously at all the patrons. I smiled back, too. But it is obvious he didn’t remember me. Maybe one of these days I should drop by riding a Raleigh Chopper, dressed in faded Wranglers and a Fruit of the Loom T-shirt, and lighting a Benson and Hedges with the arrogance of a seventeen year old. Maybe that would jog his memory; then again, maybe it wouldn’t – he looks as if he is just a few days short of his 100th birthday.
But the magic came when the youngish Indonesian girl served me up my plate of nasi lemak. It was as if time had stood still at Rose Fatimah. It was as savoury, piquant and mouth-wateringly delicious as it was thirty years ago (I am talking about the nasi lemak, not the female Indonesian worker, OK?). If you are ever in the area at about breakfast time, do you self a favour – park your car, waltz in and order your nasi lemak. I would recommend the rendang daging. And if you don’t take beef, you can’t go wrong with their sambal sotong. Do this and then look me in the eye and tell that that wasn’t the best nasi lemak you’ve ever had in your entire life. I’m betting the two twenty sen coins I am rubbing together in my pocket that you will not be able to do this. In a sentence, Rose Fatimah serves the best nasi lemak in the world!
As I paid for my food it struck me that in a world where everything is changing (and going to pieces at the same time), it is comforting to know that some things remain the same – like this old Malay coffee-shop known as Rose Fatimah.