PETALING JAYA, Dec 31 — Walk into Ho Li Chow and you’ll discover a warm atmosphere, created by owner Sue Lim, 68. Better known to everyone as Aunty Sue, she’s the life force of this place which only started in November last year.
It was started by Aunty Sue’s son-in-law who envisioned a kopitiam concept focusing specifically on Penang food. Sadly, not many hawkers joined them so she stepped in to help out by bringing out her specialties like lam mee, nasi lemak and so forth.
As word got out about their homely Nyonya fare, cooked the traditional way, it has attracted a crowd of regulars who throng to this place.
Aunty Sue was born in Taiping and comes from a large family — she has nine siblings — where she is the youngest. She stayed there for a few years as her father was a mining engineer. She recalled how they would rear turkeys and ducks at home.
“We always had good food,” she said. In the early 1950s, her family moved down to Kuala Lumpur. You will be surprised but in the early days, Aunty Sue wasn’t very enthusiastic about cooking. As she was the youngest, she would be asked to help out in the kitchen. She recalls how her mother whom she refers to as “The Empress Dowager” would reprimand her in the kitchen. “I would get a knock on the head or a pinch on my ear. I hated cooking,” she said.
That all changed when she got married. As she had to entertain friends at home, she learned how to cook. It wasn’t really hard for her since she inherited a talent for it.
Moreover her family heritage boasts of excellent cooks, like her great grandmother who lived up to 98 years old! “Because I enjoy good food, I am critical about other people’s cooking, so I emphasise perfection. I am not the best but I aspire to bring things back to their authentic taste.”
Prior to her taking up the reins here, Aunty Sue was involved in manufacturing children’s clothes which she would supply to places like the now defunct Kimisawa department store. When competition from the China market drove down prices, she retired about 10 years ago.
Ho Li Chow’s menu tagline is “from the heart to the table”, as Aunty Sue is incredibly particular about the food served here. All of her dishes here are cooked from scratch, using all natural, fresh ingredients prepared on a daily basis.
You won’t find any curry powder, MSG or pre-prepared ingredients in Aunty Sue’s food! She adds, “Taste and cleanliness are my top priority. What I am feeding my family is what I feed people here. I want to profit but I’m not a profiteer.” At the eatery, you will find a band of family members and friends helping her cook and assist in the front.
The star item is her version of lam mee (RM12.50), cooked to a recipe that dates back over 100 years. You will want to drink up all of that delicious broth boiled from prawns, sole fish, pork meat and ribs. Pair it with yellow noodles, thinly sliced omelette, prawns, minced pork and pork slices for a satisfying meal especially when you need a warm pick-me-up.
Their unique laksa lemak (RM11) is also a must-eat here with its mellow, creamy taste from the usage of turmeric, galangal and lemongrass. The broth, laced with just a touch of fresh coconut milk, is made from dried shrimps and fish that gives the laksa a nice sweetness.
She tells us one needs to slowly stir fry the dried shrimps and fish for a long time, otherwise it’ll be too fishy. She uses fresh sardine fish that is rich with oil. If you prefer a tangier laksa, Ho Li Chow also has their assam laksa (RM10). It’s a healthier version with no oil or fat.
Another crowd favourite is the Acar Fish Set (RM18.50). Not often served in eateries, the fish is left to marinate in rice vinegar mixed with turmeric, sugar and garlic. It’s a complete meal, as the fish and rice is served with ju hoo char made from shredded yam bean stir fried with dried cuttlefish, prawns and pork slices.
We also like their bihun Siam (RM12.50), a classic Nyonya spicy noodle dish with its zesty Thai flavours. They also serve nasi lemak (RM12) that is served with a choice of three options like Nyonya chicken, beef Dinding or pork curry.
If you just want a snack, go for the pai tee (RM6 for a set of five pieces) — light, crispy deep fried shells filled to the brim with finely shredded yam bean and French beans, topped with a homemade chilli sauce.
It has a healthy touch with no salt added. Sometimes Aunty Sue will just eat that for a quick, light lunch. They also serve otak-otak (RM8 for medium size, RM10 for large size) that you can order as a side dish.
Dig inside the soft mousse topped with daun kaduk to discover a chunk of fish. She explains to us that she likes to use the bigger sized ma yau fish as it’s much tastier.
On weekends, there are more dishes to enjoy such as Kari Kapitan, perut ikan, acar sayur, ulam meehoon and the list goes on.
For a sweet ending, there’s a choice of two desserts on a daily basis: bubur cha cha and pulut hitam. The desserts are priced at RM5 per bowl.
Occasionally, they serve mak chok (RM3.50 per bowl) too. Aunty Sue tells us her version of bubur cha cha is a little different from others as it’s a cross with a pengat pisang. Originally, she served it with pieces of pisang raja. However she had to omit it since it goes sour.
Dining here is about much more than just the delicious food. It boasts a homely environment with Aunty Sue stopping by each table to ask about the food. “It is like Cheers, a place where everybody knows your name,” she quipped as most of her customers have became her good friend, like Girlie Khoo who eats there at least three times a week.
She has also touched many customers’ hearts with her warmth and food especially the older generation. “When they eat my food, they tell me, they think of their grandmother or mother.”
This was affirmed by one of her customers, Gan Kam Foong, who often visits with her husband, Yeoh Beng Keat, who is jokingly the unofficial food tester at the eatery. As they live in London most of the time, Yeoh tells us he dreams of the food at Ho Li Chow.
As the dishes have no added MSG, the older folks also appreciate that original taste of the ingredients immensely. “They know the taste of the food without MSG,” she said.
For the festive season, Aunty Sue who has a passion for baking is now branching out to offer homemade pineapple tarts and pineapple melting moments. Here, the pineapple jam is painstakingly cooked from scratch, over a hot fire for many hours.
Advance orders (at least three days) can be made for these goodies as Aunty Sue will bake them a day before delivery. The enterprising lady also offers catering for any occasion at your home.
Starting from January 2018, you can look forward to dinner service. It’ll be a different menu not served in the day with dishes such as assam hei, kiam chye ark tung, hong bak, etc.
Her repertoire of dishes is a huge one so you won’t ever go hungry in Ho Li Chow. “My food is endless. I can create anything. God has given me the gift and I just want to share and let people enjoy the food.”
Ho Li Chow Kopitiam
40, Jalan SS20/10, Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03-7710 4088
Open: 8.30am to 3.30pm
Closed on Mondays