A friend of mine once remarked,’You will never have a better lunch than one in the middle of paddy fields. Hot steaming rice, freshly cooked dishes, nothing too fancy. Then after all that, top it up with a glass of good ole local black coffee.’
I always thought that was an exaggeration, my friend being from Kedah and all.
After all, with all due respect, they can either be the kings of understatement or the best of salesmen, making the most simplest and mundane of things the next best thing to sliced bread or the ‘so what’s new?’ of all inventions.
As for me, its only lunch. Or so I thought. Fast forward a decade or two and I may have to eat my words after all.
As luck would have it, I was in Alor Star recently, on company business.
For the uninitiated, Alor Star or more popularly pronounced as Aloq Staq, is the capital of the northern state of Kedah, a state also popularly known as the Rice Bowl of Malaysia.
Since I had finished my official business earlier than I had anticipated, my wife, who sometimes accompanies me on my business trips, suggested that we try out this place she read somewhere on social media, for lunch.
For someone who has always kept to a very tight schedule on his business trips, the fact that I had finished my business rather earlier than expected, gave me the time and hence, the opportunity to take the idea up.
That and the fact that it was nearing lunch time and that I did not have breakfast.
After all, I did say that I was on a rather tight schedule.
Or thought I was.
Guided by Google Maps, we got to the place in good time. After rather a short drive, we arrived at what we assumed was the place.
After all, it is the only eatery on that stretch of the road and should there be any lingering doubts, the many cars parked by the roadside either side of the place would dispel them away.
Typically Malaysian that.
Set in a typical rustic environment, the place is called ‘Restoran Selera Pokok Pisang’ and is located adjacent to a few plots of paddy fields, as far as you can see.
Upon entering the eatery, it may have been a hot and sunny day outside but it was surprisingly cool inside, with enough ventilation to make lunch look like its going to be an appetizing and pleasant experience.
Lunch was typically a plate of hot steaming rice (we are in the Rice Bowl of Malaysia, after all), complemented with portions from a generous selection of main dishes and side dishes to choose from.
Of chicken, fish, mutton and beef, all freshly prepared and cooked for the day with some, like the fried ‘Ikan Bawal’ served straight from the hot steaming frying wok to our table.
We all know how tasty and fresh that can be.
But as this is a typical village eatery, the main attraction had to be the different choices of spicy chilli-based ‘sambal’ (pastes) and dips, all made using fresh red chillies together with other ingredients readily available from the local village, be they lime or durian or even tomatoes, as well as the many types of ‘ulam’ available.
Now, what is ‘ulam’, you may ask.
‘Ulam’ is the word used to describe the many types of greens available, including slices of tomatoes, cucumbers, shoots and sprouts, seared lady fingers, just to name but a few, and eaten as it is served, which is most often than not, eaten raw.
That’s what most people would refer to typical ‘kampung’ or village fare.
Apparently, this eatery is quite well-known, for more and more people were dropping in as it gets well into the lunch hour.
From the nonchalant demeanour of the clientele, it safe to presume that many of them were regulars, most likely from the nearby neighbourhoods of Aloq Staq. They who are from afar tend to be newbies like us, slightly more excited, not knowing which dish to savour but wanting them all.
The food was sumptuous, the ambience comfortingly homely, and the sight of paddy fields freshly harvested as far as the eye can see, quite settling. Not a bad outing for lunch, I must say.
And well worth the dinero.
To cap our lunch, we just had to ask for coffee, prepared using local coffee, brewed and served strong and black. As I took my first sip of the strong local coffee, I must admit, I suddenly felt that my lunch was complete.
I dare say, my friend was right. Having lunch by the paddy fields, with a glass of the local brew of strong black coffee thereafter, is definitely a memorable and impressionable experience.
An experience which a repeat would be a most welcome treat and hopefully, in the very very near future.