Why should I pay more for a teh-o kosong suam?

The Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association had proposed a price hike for drinks and food from March.
The Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association had proposed a price hike for drinks and food from March.

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JAN 15 — Teh-O kosong suam.

When translated, it means warm tea, without milk and sugar.

It’s a drink I usually order when I am at a mamak restaurant.

But I have an issue with the price of the drink. At some places, one would be able to get it for just 80sen but at most places, it ranges between RM1 and RM1.50 — no different from a glass of teh tarik, with milk and sugar.

When questioned about the unfair pricing, the foreigner who mans the cashier would usually either stare blankly or give a sly smile. That leaves you wondering if the foreigner actually understood what you had said.

Why would a drink — a mixture of boiled water and a teaspoon of tea leaves — cost so much? The same can be said about dishes served at such eateries. A plate of fried noodles may cost RM3 but the moment you ask for mee goring vegetarian, it shoots up to RM3.50. And why should one pay RM3 for a plate of Indo mee goreng — a packet of fried instant noodles with no meat or vegetables?

Ridiculous as it may sound, many of us are forced to dig deep into our pockets for substandard food at mamak restaurants.

Yet, the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) had, on Sunday, proposed a price hike for drinks and food from March.

This took the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry by surprise as its minister, Datuk Seri Hasan Malek, had yesterday said he was scheduled to meet Presma on this matter.

Presma also said they would go on a nationwide tour next month  to speak to their members about the price revision.

Perhaps what Presma should  do is to take note of the levels of hygiene and quality of food served.

Ever noticed the number of pests present in and around mamak restaurants? What about the filthy pieces of cloth used for wiping tables and chairs? Ever noticed some cooks do not cover their heads, only for you to see strands of hair in your fried rice?

What about the cracked and stained cutlery and glasses — a clear indication they have not been washed properly. What about those places that shamelessly sell stale pre-packed nasi lemak and have the audacity to claim that’s how it is supposed to smell when confronted?

Every consumer has a list of grouses. Will Hasan’s ministry look into this, too?

Sadly, many customers close an eye to these matters. When asked to comment, they would simply say “what to do”, “normal mah” and “complain also no use lah”.

We should not just single out the mamak shops because even the Chinese ‘tai chow’ shops in Taiping to the fancy diners in Bangsar are also guilty of substandard service but remain defiant in increasing prices on their menus.

A tai pao now, with more flour than meat, is priced at RM3 while a bowl of wan ton mee that used to cost RM3.80 is now RM4.50 just because  Chinese New Year is around the corner. Stall operators say such price hikes are a norm.

It is often difficult to order a glass of warm water from fine-dining restaurants. Your only option would be to buy a French-sounding 500ml bottle of purified water that costs RM8.

To be fair, there are some mamak restaurants that have placed hygiene and food quality as their priority. We should also be mindful of the escalating operation cost. As such, some of the mamak restaurants deserve a minimal price hike.

Perhaps Hasan ought to join Presma on its nationwide tour and eat — breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper — at these joints before discussing any price revision.

With the rising prices for goods and services this year, more people would prefer to frequent mamak shops as they would be their best alternative of having a decent meal without burning a hole in their pockets.

Do not take that away from them.

And if a price hike is deemed necessary, then justify it with the service that comes with the food. I would not mind paying RM2 for a teh-o kosong suam if it came in a nice, clean cup or glass served to me by a smiling neat-looking waiter.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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