Baba Low’s in Lorong Kurau, Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur has been the go-to makan (eating) spot for foodies, wordsmiths, and grungy, antsy, and downright irritable uncles and aunties, long before it was cool to be a grungy and antsy uncle or aunty.
Located along a row of shophouses built in the 70s, this quaint little Nyonya restaurant, which opened in 2006, fitted right in with the rest of this as-yet not affluent Bangsar. Its companions included a slew of mom-and-pop sundry stores and shops selling a multitude of everyday necessities, including fresh produce.
The neighbourhood is ringed by double-storey link houses that probably cost a pretty penny back in the day, but are now worth their weight in gold. The central field is dominated by a small multipurpose hall that doubles up as a base of operations for the local Rukun Tetangga or community watch.
Over the years, this quiet neighbourhood has seen a transformation. Most of the double-storey link houses have been updated with fresh, and more modern design cues, in keeping with the times. The multi-leaf windows that were the rage in the 70s are now gone, replaced by large, double-paned reflective windows that create a sense of unbridled freedom while ensuring privacy. Most of the iron swing gates are gone, replaced by ornate wooden gates powered by remotely-controlled hydraulic rams that lend an air of rustic charm with a touch of modern convenience.
Not spared is the row of businesses that Baba Low shares its address with. Since 2006, a string of modern, chic, avant garde eateries have popped up, offering cutting-edge cuisines and gastronomic delights, laying siege to Baba Low’s concept of simple, no-frills, rustic comfort food.
Baba Low’s simple facade stands in stark contrast to the sometimes garish, neon-infused signages, high barstools and chic interior designs of its competitors. Over at the former, you get simple wooden tables with wooden stools, hospital-green interior walls, and clean, no-nonsense, white ceramic tiles. Waiters take your orders using nothing more than pure brain power, instead of a fancy iPad, and there’s no finicky QR codes to mess about with.
The menu has not seen any major seismic shifts in its offerings to compete with restaurants with Michelin aspirations. Apparently, the ‘Baba’ here, owner Peter Low, an affable gentleman in his late 40s, sees no need to tweak it too much, unlike his more modern competitors, trusting that his home recipes, handed down from one generation to the next, will do the job. After all, if it ain’t broke...
You get the sweet, aromatic nasi lemak with a side of fresh, piping hot fried chicken, a sambal that is brimming with rich country goodness, a smattering of fried kangkung, and the usual suspects of peanuts, anchovies, and a slice of hard-boiled egg.
Its sambal udang (prawn sambal) and bendi (lady’s fingers) with sambal belacan complement one another beautifully. Another lunch favourite is the chicken pong teh, a Peranakan mainstay.
My go-to appetiser is usually the crispy pai-tee – crispy thin pastry cups filled with sautéd jicama, finely chopped omelette, and fresh cucumber strips, drenched generously with a shower of tangy chili sauce. Party in the mouth every single time. Vying for second place is its Nyonya laksa, which is among the best I’ve ever tasted.
The piece de résistance is its Nyonya cendol, a concoction of rich, creamy coconut milk, a dose of gula melaka, shaved ice and those squiggly green jelly stuff. It is just the right antidote for a blisteringly hot afternoon, although I have to admit that on my last visit, it was a tad underwhelming. But since its batting average is on the high side, I’m thinking, maybe this disappointment was a ‘one-off’ thing.
The beauty of Baba Low’s is the willingness of its wait staff to accommodate the customer’s request. Not sure if it’s my rakish good looks, my animal magnetism, or wily charms, but they seem to be more than willing to tailor my dishes according to my peculiar dietary habits.
On days when I am racked by insomnia, I’d order two servings of its roti bakar sans kaya, a bowl of their Nyonya laksa gravy, and a small serving of their sambal belacan for breakfast (they open from 7am to 10pm daily) – strictly not on the menu, but they aim to please. Pouring the sambal into the bowl of thick gravy and soaking the hot buns with all that creamy goodness is the best elixir for a dreary day.
In a sea of constant change, the ‘constant’ Baba Low provides is refreshing. Here’s to hoping that that never changes.
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