Lawanya Food Corner: For that great taste of home cooking

The family behind Lawanya Food Corner (from left to right): Challama, their helper, Vasanti and R.V. Ramu. — Pictures by Choo Choy May
The family behind Lawanya Food Corner (from left to right): Challama, their helper, Vasanti and R.V. Ramu. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, June 26 — Hidden in an alley just off Jalan Scott in Brickfields is Lawanya Food Corner. I had stumbled upon it one day; what grabbed my attention was the bright green hue of the eatery. Next I was attracted to the array of claypots filled to the brim with a variety of vegetable dishes. One lunch later, I was hooked.

The humble place is run by R.V. Ramu and his wife Challama who is in charge of the kitchen. Food is fuss-free, affordable and it may look deceptively simple but it’s the home-cooked taste that will draw you back for more.

The 33-year old eatery is named after their youngest daughter who was born just before they opened this place. Prior to running the stall, R.V. Ramu worked at the Klang bus stand in KL and Rapid KL.

Find the eatery at the alleyway behind Jalan Scott.
Find the eatery at the alleyway behind Jalan Scott.

When they first started out, they only had a small selection of items and lunch was just RM1.50! Challama tells us that she learnt to cook on her own when she was 29 years old.

Before, all she could cook was rice! She started to experiment in the kitchen and would try to recreate dishes she had tasted in other eateries before introducing those dishes in their place.

The stall is open from 6am, where they’ll serve a variety of breakfast dishes like roti canai, thosai and chapati. There’s also nasi lemak and fried noodles that is prepared by Challama.

From 10am onwards, they start frying the fish and chicken for lunch.
From 10am onwards, they start frying the fish and chicken for lunch.

From 10am onwards, it’s time to cook the lunch dishes. You’ll see Challama and her eldest daughter, Vasanti cooking up a storm at the stove. They are also assisted by a worker who fries up the chicken and fish. It’s a sight to behold, as dish by dish emerges piping hot from the woks.

Usually the vegetable dishes are cooked up first and the last dish that emerges from the kitchen is their most popular item, the chicken varuval, since it needs a longer time to slowly cook and infuse the chicken pieces with the spices.

If you love your vegetables, this is the place to visit as you will enjoy their spread of vegetable and vegetarian dishes (about 20 in total). The food is placed in claypots that make it look more appealing. The idea for this presentation was started about 12 years ago since it’s a change from the usual stainless steel trays.

The claypots are elevated at the back row so customers can easily reach for their vegetables.
The claypots are elevated at the back row so customers can easily reach for their vegetables.

As the claypots are placed in a row, they are elevated to allow their diners to spoon the food into their plates. According to R.V. Ramu, a lot of people like to eat vegetables but some restaurants tend to overcook their vegetables. Here, they cook the vegetables to the right texture — not overly soft.

You will find little-seen vegetables here like stir fried banana stem or vazhaithandu. The banana stem is finely chopped and has a nice crunchy taste. Another popular item is the sour vegetable known as red sorrel that is cooked with ginger, garlic and brinjal that is known as pulichai kirrai kaddayal. The dish is said to be rich in iron, anti-oxidants and contains lots of fibre. Once it’s cooked, it’s hand ground into a puree. It’s absolutely delicious.

Look for this unusual stir fried banana stem (left). Pick these deep fried lady’s fingers (right).
Look for this unusual stir fried banana stem (left). Pick these deep fried lady’s fingers (right).

According to R.V. Ramu, the selection of vegetables differ depending on what’s available. He shops at the Pasar Borong in Selayang and tries to buy as many Indian vegetables as he can.

For instance, the first time I ate there, they had dark green moringa leaves but on another day it’s an appetising spinach fried with freshly grated coconut and dried chillies. Staples include the bitter gourd that is deep fried into slightly bitter chips that is supposedly good for your blood. On Tuesdays and Fridays, they serve oyster mushrooms, vegetarian fish and vegetarian chicken.

Most of their diners will spoon large portions of the vegetables over their plate of rice (left). The fish is kept separate from the curry for the pieces to be intact (right).
Most of their diners will spoon large portions of the vegetables over their plate of rice (left). The fish is kept separate from the curry for the pieces to be intact (right).

You get a choice of three types of fish: ikan tenggiri, kembung and ikan merah. There’s also fried chicken. Depending on the weather, they cook different dishes. On an overcast grey day, a number of dishes may be cooked in a spicy sambal rather than the milder soy sauce, since their customers would prefer a little warmth with their meal.

It’s best to come early, by noon, so you get to select from the whole spread of dishes. Ask for a plate of rice, either the normal rice or Indian parboiled rice with less starch if you’re watching your waistline.

Take a dollop of this sour tasting red sorrel vegetable cooked with ginger, garlic and brinjal (left). A popular item is the spinach cooked with coconut and chillies (right).
Take a dollop of this sour tasting red sorrel vegetable cooked with ginger, garlic and brinjal (left). A popular item is the spinach cooked with coconut and chillies (right).

Regulars flood their plate of rice with a large ladleful of the comforting dhal. On one of our visits, it was a special version with spinach. R.V. Ramu tells us he cooks up a big pot of the dhal as it’s popular with his customers. They use the thickened dhal the next day to serve with their roti canai for breakfast.

Every day, you have a selection of at least three types of curries; fish curry, chicken curry and mutton curry. On Fridays, there’s onion curry. The fish curry gets a slight tangy taste from mango seeds! It’s cooked with shark meat which they separate out in another container to ensure the fish pieces don’t break up in the curry.

Cooking the chicken varuval takes a longer time to allow the flavours to infuse the chicken.
Cooking the chicken varuval takes a longer time to allow the flavours to infuse the chicken.

Help yourself to pappadums or a tiny cup of tangy rasam to wash down your meal. On Fridays, you will get a small bowl of dessert, like red beans with sago pearls. On Wednesdays, there’s chicken biryani, where the style is more similar to pilau with a slightly wetter texture. The aromatic rice can be accompanied with a piece of chicken and hard boiled eggs.

You can get a plate of rice with three types of vegetables for RM6. On Fridays, it’s RM7 as they serve more expensive items like mushrooms and vegetarian meats. If you add a piece of chicken or mutton, it’ll be RM8.50. It’s RM8 when you combine one fish with the three types of vegetables. Usually they also look at the amount that people ladle on their plate and charge accordingly, as sometimes it can go down to RM4 or RM4.50.

Lawanya Food Corner, No. 1077/8, Lorong Scott, Brickfields, KL.
Open: 6am to 4pm. Closed on Sundays.
Tel: 016-2202117/016-2218074. Directions: Enter the alleyway from Jalan Scott, next to Hotel Classic Inn.