KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — Cheras is one of those places you can never quite finish exploring, even if you’re a resident there. If you’re an outsider like me, the often congested and sprawling neighbourhoods of Cheras can be intimidating. Unless there is a delicious meal or two at stake, of course. In which case, no amount of traffic or confusing roads will prove to be a challenge for a true-blue makan kaki.
For a day of good eating, head to the less-frequented area of Cheras Selatan, close to Balakong. Further away from the city centre than other Cheras neighbourhoods, there are plenty of good eats here for the intrepid explorer.
Begin your weekend with brunch at Restoran MaMa Love, home to one of the best bowls of pork noodles in town. Known to regulars as “Lao Ma Zi” (literally “Mama” in Chinese), the shop was originally a tiny stall at a Cheras kopitiam before moving to its current location in Taman Tun Perak.
Come early or come late, be prepared to wait for there is always a line for a table, which is always a good sign. The corner lot shop has additional tables along the covered alley next to it, with trees on both ends of the corridor; grab a seat here as it’s cooler than inside the shop.
The pork noodles here arrive brimming with generous portions of ingredients — tender slices of pork, minced pork, bouncy meatballs, fresh innards such as pork liver and intestines, and a good dose of fried pork lard. The latter is fried fresh frequently so do order an extra helping for even more oomph in your bowl.
The piping hot broth is clear and sweet without the taste of MSG (that I could detect). When I asked the lady boss what made the soup so sweet, she coyly replied, “It’s because the person drinking it is so sweet.” There are no secret recipes being spilled anytime soon, I see.
Options for noodles include the usual koay teow, bihun and loh shu fun. Do try the dry version which is savoury without being overly oily and comes with a soup on the side that’s darker in colour and deeper in flavour. What made my day was the saucer of cili padi (bird-eye chilli) that is extra spicy, a boon for those who love it!
After such a hearty meal, there’s no better way to beat the heat and post-brunch slump than heading to a café for a cuppa. Cheras isn’t really known for its Third Wave Coffee scene the way Bangsar and Taman Tun Dr Ismail is, but there are a few caffeine hotspots here and there if you know where to look.
One such café is Tea Code Coffee at C180, a mixed commercial property in Cheras Selatan, right at its border with Balakong. Neither too much of an artisanal alcove or a hipster haven, Tea Code Coffee has an easygoing charm and relaxing ambience, perfect for lazy weekend afternoons.
The cosy décor is punctuated with daybed-like lounges on wooden pallets and colourful cushions adorned with swaggering cockerels and vintage airplanes. This is a home away from home for Cheras residents who need some space to get away — to tap away on their notebooks or to snuggle with a good novel.
The friendly baristas behind the bar will be more than happy to customise your cup of Java for you, whether you like it black or white, with more foam or less or none at all. You can’t go wrong with a cappuccino, crafted with beautiful latte art.
Other than coffee and tea, Tea Code Coffee also offers freshly blended smoothies made from dragonfruit, avocado, or cherry tomatoes with sour plum. Their house lemonade, made from freshly squeezed lemons and not some artificial concentrate, is suitably sour. (Remember to ask them to leave out the syrup though.)
Once your hunger pangs arise once more, it’s time to head to the next spot on the Cheras food crawl for dinner. Located at Taman Bukit Anggerik, Hakka Marble Restaurant swiftly serves up hot plates of wok-fried dishes such as loh mee, Hokkien mee, fried rice and even their stir-fried version of the usually soupy assam laksa.
But their claim to fame is, of course, the traditional Hakka dish of “abacus beads” or “Hakka marble” that gives the shop its name. Known in Chinese as suan pan ji, this dish is thus named because it resembles the wooden beads of an abacus (the Chinese calculator in olden days before the electronic calculator was invented).
This labour-intensive dish (as it’s made by hand) is typically made from a blend of yam (or taro) and tapioca flour. At Hakka Marble, two types of abacus beads are offered — the conventional taro and the alternate variety made from pumpkin. The proprietor explained that the older generation preferred the taro abacus beads as they had more flavour while the younger customers favoured the pumpkin version for its bright orange colour and its chewy texture.
Both versions are rolled into long cylinders of dough before small segments are cut away and pressed into discs using the thumb. These abacus beads are first boiled and then cooked a second time by stir frying with pork, mushrooms, black wood ear fungus, cuttlefish, and shrimp paste. Plenty of wok hei imparts an irresistible aroma to every bite.
Other popular dishes include the Hokkien mee, which is thickly and evenly coated with dark sauce and fried pork lard, and the unusual stir-fried assam laksa. The latter is created by frying the noodles with the laksa broth and presented almost like a salad. The noodle base is topped with strips of pineapple, cucumber, onion, mint leaves, chilli, and a single prawn as its crowning glory.
To enjoy this dish, squeeze the wedge of lime over it and toss it altogether. Spicy and sour just like a real assam laksa, except without the broth. If you need something to wash it down, order their signature “Sarsi cincau”, which is a concoction of sarsaparilla soda and cooling grass jelly. There’s no better way to end a food crawl.
Restoran MaMa Love (“Lao Ma Zi”)
No. 17-1, Jalan Tun Perak 2, Taman Tun Perak, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 7am-5pm except Wed closed
Tel: 016-205 1741
Tea Code Coffee
D-51-UG, Jalan U80/1, Dataran C180, 43200 Cheras, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 12pm-11pm
Tel: 03-9081 0503
Hakka Marble Restaurant
No. 10, Jalan 34/154, Taman Bukit Anggerik, Batu 7, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 2:30pm-12am except Mon closed
Tel: 012-290 0538