Some of the older parts of Kuala Lumpur are decaying little by little, but some institutions still stand strong to remind us of the character it once held. A good example of these is the Old China Cafe, a cafe serving delectable Peranakan dishes, slightly off the beaten track in Chinatown.
Previously the premise of the guild hall of Selangor and Federal Territory Laundry Association, the cafe is housed in a heritage pre-war shop house dating back to the early 1900s. The cafe retains its quiet charm, with most of its original furnishings still gracing the interior. Expect to find old Chinese furniture such as marble-topped tables at least 100 years old, and Wild-West-like wooden saloon doors that flap as you push them to enter. Little antique trinkets line the shelves for sale for those who would like a piece of history.
Interracial marriages between Singaporean Chinese and local Malay Muslims ladies during the late 15th and 16th century resulted in the birth of the Peranakan people, and today, because of religious laws prohibiting Muslim Malays marrying other religions, traces of the Peranakan race are becoming a rarity. Blending centuries-old cultures and customs, the Peranakans’ way of life is a reflection of both races, and it is apparent in their dishes – non-halal ingredients such as pork are cooked with Malay flavours, and vice versa. Peranakan dishes are also known to be very rich in flavours, thanks to their spiciness.
In the Old China Cafe, spicy dishes rule the menu and as an introduction, try out their Nyonya pai tee. Crispy deep-fried flour in a shape of a top hat comes with condiments such as bean sprouts, shredded turnip and carrots, and if you’re wondering how to attempt this, here’s how. You stuff the deep-fried flour with the vegetables and top it off with the chilli sauce before eating it whole. Eating pai tee is always a fun affair, and it serves as a great starter, especially during big family dinners.
For mains, we recommend beef rendang and fish head curry, and you can have it with a choice of either plain white rice, or the blue-tinged coconut rice. The cafe’s beef rendang is especially good - tender and spicy, just as how we like it. As for soups, try out the itik tim, which is a duck soup boiled with salted vegetables and lean pork meat, and ginseng soup, a great option for the health-conscious. For RM8.90 per bowl, this is one of the cheapest ginseng soups we have ever stumbled upon in KL.
As for desserts, items such as bubur cha-cha and sago gula Melaka make up the menu. The bubur consists of little cubes of sweet potatoes and taro in a thick sweetened coconut milk served as a nice ending to our pleasant evening of Peranakan fare in the cafe.
Old China Cafe
- Opening Hours: 11:00 till late
- Address: No. 11, Jalan Balai Polis, Kuala Lumpur
- Tel: +6 03 2072 5915
- How to get there: Old China Cafe is just a walk from the nearest LRT Station, Pasar Seni. From the station, alight east to Jalan Sultan towards Jalan Hang Kasturi and turn right onto Jalan Panggong. Turn left onto Lorong Panggung, and the cafe will be on your left.