Sabar Menanti: Where the wait for delicious Malay food is worth it

Steamed fish in a tangy broth with lemongrass, chillies and onion reminded us of the Teochew style of steamed fish. – Pictures BY James Tan
Steamed fish in a tangy broth with lemongrass, chillies and onion reminded us of the Teochew style of steamed fish. – Pictures BY James Tan

IPOH, March 15  — The restaurant is called Sabar Menanti which literally means “waiting patiently” in Malay. You can imagine the gleeful reactions to the somewhat weird choice of restaurant name, right?

Well, this place focuses on the concept of “slow food”; every single dish and every piece of roti (Indian flatbread) is cooked on the spot upon every order.

Be prepared for a long meal as the food comes (slowly) to your table piping hot and bursting with fresh flavours.

But of course, they do serve an admirable spread of ready-cooked dishes for breakfast and lunch as well, in the tradition of nasi campur but this is a minor extension of their kitchen’s strength. The restaurant also has a battalion of staff hurriedly taking your orders and serving platefuls of delectable Malay food.

Sabar Menanti can easily pass off as just another Malay eatery within the serene Ipoh city; nestled away from clear view within an oasis-like garden environment next to the public swimming pool.

The roti canai served here is made fresh on the spot; the sardine sambal is spicy but complements the roti perfectly
The roti canai served here is made fresh on the spot; the sardine sambal is spicy but complements the roti perfectly

I came across the restaurant back in the mid-1990s (maybe it was a different name or under a different management 20 years back) when we used to attend swimming lessons here, and wondered what the fuss was with a line of vehicles parked along the road leading to the entrance to the pool.

Only recently did we have a chance to sample some of Sabar Menanti’s range of simple, almost rustic Malay dishes with a very Malaysian twist like the Indian-Muslim inspired roti canai as well as Chinese-inspired soft-boiled eggs served on thick toast with a dash of pepper and soy sauce/dark soy sauce.

For breakfast, you can also order fried noodles or rice from the kitchen, which can effectively test their mettle so early in the morning and for you to possibly experience the Sabar Menanti hospitality-cum-patience test. But let’s not digress.

The roti canai arrived warm and crisp. What appeared to be a piece of Indian pancake made too dry without an unhealthy dose of ghee was misleading; the texture was just right with a certain chewiness that I simply adore (as I hate roti canai that is super thin and all crispy without any substance or texture).

The accompanying curries and condiments were passable. The sardine sambal took the prize of being the most delicious complement to the flatbread; a notch above the usual spiciness threshold of similar offerings from “mamak” stalls, without resulting in a fiery finish the morning after. The creamy dhal curry was mild and relatively diluted but flavourful enough to be forgiven.

Roti goyang or soft-boiled eggs on toast is an increasingly popular breakfast choice among hawker stalls in Ipoh, including Sabar Menanti where they have dedicated an entire counter to roti bakar and various toppings (left). Ayam masak merah and taugeh masak ikan masin are served during dinner, but just be aware of the waiting time during peak dinner hours (after 8pm especially) (right)).
Roti goyang or soft-boiled eggs on toast is an increasingly popular breakfast choice among hawker stalls in Ipoh, including Sabar Menanti where they have dedicated an entire counter to roti bakar and various toppings (left). Ayam masak merah and taugeh masak ikan masin are served during dinner, but just be aware of the waiting time during peak dinner hours (after 8pm especially) (right)).

To call the soft-boiled eggs on toast roti goyang might sound a little weird. Images of dancing wobbly eggs come to mind, but that’s a fair moniker given the fact that it’s served with runny egg yolks dripping over a thick slice of bread that was lightly buttered (or could be margarine) and then toasted over charcoal fire; a rather unorthodox but traditional method of creating crispy toast with a faint, smoky finish.

Don’t miss their cucur bawang — sweet onions dredged in flour and deep fried to a crunchy texture on the outside and a soft, moist centre served with a sweetish kuah kacang or peanut and sambal sauce. At RM1 per piece, the savoury snacks are stacked near the DIY counter at the front of the premises; whereby you can also pick other kuih-muih packed separately for a lighter breakfast or to satiate those in-between meals cravings.

As I mentioned earlier, Sabar Menanti also serves nasi campur (Malay style mixed rice with a plethora of ready-cooked dishes usually served with a healthy array of raw greens aka ulam and sambal) and a la carte orders from the kitchen. These are available for lunch.

Come dinner time, the dining environment gets a little bit subdued; the area near to Stadium Ipoh seems to quiet down considerably, darkened skies casting shadows upon the rows of hawker stalls at the stadium food court, but Sabar Menanti operates well into the night – closing at around midnight.

For a rejuvenating start to the morning, a cup of frothy teh tarik and a piece of delectable cucur bawang from Sabar Menanti might do the trick (left). The heavenly stack of cucur bawang with self-served kuah kacang will draw your immediate attention upon stepping in to the restaurant (right)
For a rejuvenating start to the morning, a cup of frothy teh tarik and a piece of delectable cucur bawang from Sabar Menanti might do the trick (left). The heavenly stack of cucur bawang with self-served kuah kacang will draw your immediate attention upon stepping in to the restaurant (right)

What they serve currently are classic Malay dishes such as ayam masak merah and telur dadar, and certain Thai-inspired items like tom yam campur and steamed siakap in a clear, tangy broth flavoured by lemongrass. The dishes come in relatively small portions; good enough to be shared by two  but for four persons and above, you would need to really order two portions of each dish. In the future, there are also plans to include Thai dishes in their dinner repertoire.

Their selection of greens seems to be agreeable with us as well. Even though the bean sprouts stir fried with salted fish was a little bit different from the norm, it was still tasty enough thanks to the juicy, plump taugeh cultivated in Ipoh.

The airy dining ambience, friendly staff and quality cooking are factors that have kept drawing the Malay food-loving crowd day after day, and night after night. Oh yes, the wait for the food during peak hours can really test one’s patience, but what’s wrong with taking things slower once in a while?

Restoran Sabar Menanti is located next to Kompleks Kolam Renang MBI, Jalan Ghazali Jawi, 31400 Ipoh, Perak. The restaurant opens from 8am until 12am daily.

James Tan loves good food and blogs at Motormouth From Ipoh (www.j2kfm.com)