KUALA LUMPUR, April 2 — There are many reasons why people are willing to sacrifice their sleep just to dine at Restoran Tuu Dok Wan 1488. Known for their mouth-watering and extensive spread of Kelantan specialties, this eatery is often packed from as early as 7am with folks from all over the Klang Valley.
It is hard to believe that about three years ago, it was just a small nasi lemak stall trading from the five-footway of a Chinese coffee shop. Che Azlina Che Muda, 42, had set up her business on a plastic table selling homemade dishes that she had learnt from her mother. Since she was a young girl, the Kelantan native had been helping out her family at their eatery in Machang. She had relocated to Kuala Lumpur when her father took up a job with a political party here.
As her food grew more popular, the coffee shop owner offered Che Azlina the whole space. The enterprising lady took up the challenge and decided to fill it up with various stalls selling Kelantan delicacies. It is a family affair here with her mother, aunt, sister and brother pitching in. Her husband, Suhaidin Ismail also helps out.
Once you arrive at the bustling shop even though the sun is not even up, make a beeline for the front where a table is laden with all kinds of goodies. People will be queueing up to pack their orders home or to the office. For the Kelantan natives, rice is essential to kick off their day.
You will be spoiled for choice as there is nasi lemak with sambal sotong (cuttlefish), daging (beef), paru (cow’s lungs) and kerang (cockles). Or go for the classic nasi dagang with gulai ikan tongkol. It is accompanied by a tangy acar with vegetables and pickled chillies. What makes it exceptional are the perfectly cooked reddish rice grains.
If you prefer, there is nasi kerabu where the rice is naturally tinged with blue pea flower. It is topped with shredded vegetables and herbs, fish floss, salted egg, budu or fermented fish sauce and a spicy sambal. Look for the fried fish or ikan tepung goreng to accompany this. The eatery prefer to use fresh sardines that give it the dish a sweeter taste compared to the usual ikan kembung. Alternatively, look for daging salai to eat this comforting dish.
Even the nasi lauk or plain rice is delicious purely because of their crowd favourite gulai ayam. This special mildly spicy gulai has a thicker consistency compared to other places. Che Azlina cooks up the gulai using a traditional recipe and her own blend of spices to give it an incredible oomph! Every day from 2AM onwards, they will cook the gulai ayam. It takes several rounds of cooking the chicken since they need to prepare at least five pots a day. Additional chicken feet is also added to the gulai when it is cooking. During the weekends which is their peak period, they increase the portions for the gulai ayam to around nine pots. Usually by 10AM, the gulai ayam will be sold out. Che Azlina tells us that even her Chinese customers love the gulai ayam and will pair it with gulai ayam for their Chinese New Year celebrations.
Supporting the eatery is a horde of homesick Kelantan folks like Shida who had travelled all the way from Taman Tun Dr Ismail with her sister Noni. On how they discovered this place that is so far from their home, she tells us that, “Orang Kelantan cari orang Kelantan (Kelantanese folks will seek out their own kind).” Their favourite item is the popular gulai ayam. “The taste of the food is makes me rindu (miss) my mother,” she said. The gulai ayam is definitely on everyone’s order list including another regular customer like Kak Ruby who is also from the East Coast (Pantai Timur). She tells us, “Once you taste it, you will know.” Others tell us the way the Kelantanese cook is entirely different from others with the spices they use and their penchant for the food to be a little sweeter in taste.
When you tear yourself from the front table, walk inside the shop and you will find a rare sight; laksam made on the spot. This task is given to Che Norsaadah Che Muda, one of the owner’s younger sister. Think of it as chee cheong fun since it is essentially rice flour mixed with water and salt. Here the mixture has a thicker consistency that almost resembles a spreadable white paste. A ladle of the mixture is spread around round lids before it is steamed. The rim is essential to keep the mixture from spilling over. Once it is steamed, she’ll slowly peel it off the lid using a knife. These sheets are rolled up like a cigar when it is still hot or else the sheet won’t stick together. When an order comes in, they will be slice it up, ladle the creamy fish gravy and garnish it with shredded vegetables and herbs. A dollop of spicy sambal will complete the delicious laksam.
Don’t ignore the roti canai that is made by Che Azalina’s mother, Azizah Awang. The flatbreads have a nice flaky light texture that is simply addictive so one piece may not be enough. Eaten solo, they have a nice tinge of sweetness that goes well with a glass of hot creamy teh tarik. For a more savoury taste, pair it with their thick creamy dhal. What makes it extra tasty is a ladleful of chicken curry with the dhal. Azizah tells us that some customers will even just pack her dhal home.
Also look out for the pulut pagi prepared by Che Akmal Hakim Che Muda, the youngest brother of Che Azlina. From 4AM onwards he will prepare the glutinous rice that is soaked overnight. It is steamed over a medium fire till each grain is cooked. You have two choices: the sweeter gula Melaka version or the plain glutinous rice served with a piece of deep fried salted fish or ikan masin. Both types of glutinous rice is paired with freshly grated coconut.
You also have mee wantan kicap served with poached chicken shreds and fish balls prepared by Che Azlina’s aunt, Siti Rakiah. That same stall also serves fish ball kuey teow soup should you be craving for a hot bowl of broth. Another alternative is fried noodles and fried rice from another stall run by one of Che Azlina’s staff. For lunch time, there will be a spread of cooked dishes like ikan gulai tempoyak, fish curry, ikan singgang, asam pedas with fish or beef. There is also a stall that sells nasi ayam.
If you are curious about the name of this eatery, it’s an interesting amalgamation of Kelate and Chinese! Originally the restaurant was called 1488 that meant in Chinese that, you will prosper until you die. When Che Azlina took over, she retained the ‘1488’ name since everyone was familiar with it. All she did was add ‘Tuu Dok Ko’ that says, this is the place in Kelate.
Restoran Tuu Dok Ko 1488
609, Jalan Samurda Utama 1
Batu Caves, KL
Open: 6.30am to 4.30pm
Closed on Monday