From chewy 'pan mee' to old-school Hainanese chicken chop, this Serdang kopitiam brings back the flavours of yesteryear

SERI KEMBANGAN, June 23 — Some noodles are meant to be soft, tender to even the gentlest slurps. Some noodles have to be al dente, like pasta, with a bit of a bite to every strand, with a near-raw centre.

Then there is a good bowl of pan mee, that has a texture that is its own category: moist, chewy and as the Taiwanese (a foodie nation, surely) would call it, “QQ” — you have to have tried to know what I’m talking about.

And this is an exemplary bowl of pan mee before us: the requisite chewy and “QQ” noodles; a mountain of fried ikan bilis and fried shallots; the shop’s secret recipe XO paste, an aromatic blend of dried chillies and dried shrimps; a single poached egg, still wobbly and begging for a pair of chopsticks to pierce the golden yolk; and half a lime to brighten everything once you’ve mixed it altogether.

It’s exquisite.

Fortune favours the bold, or at least those who don’t give up so easily. Fortune… and fantastic food.

We are in Serdang New Village (officially Seri Kembangan), hoping to drop by our regular haunt that is Yan Yan Kopitiam before the pai guat (pork ribs) curry noodles run out.

Alas, we were too late; the lunch hour rush had beat us to the last bowl.

The kopitiam offers a fantastic rendition of claypot chicken rice too, full of wok hei, but that’s only in the evening. Hours away.

Too late for one delicacy, too early for the other. The perennial horror that plagues the travelling foodie.

But since we are already in Serdang, we might as well look around for other interesting eats. My favourite food-hopping motto, borrowed from the 1999 film Galaxy Quest, is very apt and encouraging here: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

And so we continue hunting, alternating between an aggressive Google search and a pair of sharp eyes. Readers, we are soon well rewarded for our tenacity.

Now, bear with me: This is not a story about unfathomably long queues. This is not a story about a shop’s décor, be it the nondescript, contemporary exterior or the walk down memory lane once inside.

Though Tiě Pí Wū Café (鐡皮屋), the eatery we agreed on in the end, does have the above attributes, what sets it apart is the food. As it should.

Formerly known as Iron House Kopitiam (this name still appears on the menu, like a subtitle from an old film) back when the original shop was located a few minutes’ walk away next to the Bukit Serdang badminton centre, Tiě Pí Wū gets its name from the iconic zinc roofs of houses in the area.

That is in the past, of course, what with high density condominiums jostling for space on prime land these days. Or perhaps not that far in the past; the aforementioned Yan Yan Kopitiam wears those zinc roofs proudly still. It’s a signature of this neighbourhood, perhaps.

Besides the simple but stellar bowl of pan mee, Tiě Pí Wū has other kopitiam staples on its menu, waiting to charm us and our taste buds.

Their nasi lemak, simply presented, rivals some of the most notorious in PJ. Fragrant grains of rice infused with coconut milk and the scent of pandan. A fiery looking sambal, almost volcanic in hue, spicy but thankfully not cloyingly sweet.

Instead of overdosing the fried chicken with heavy spices, Tiě Pí Wū employs a lighter hand with their version, resulting in a golden crust and none of that nearly burnt rempah bits.

This is food made with love, rather than a manic desire to turn tables over as swiftly as possible.

If you love the sambal as we do, try ordering their sambal sotong as a side; expect the squid to be cooked just right. None of that overdone, rubbery nonsense you might get elsewhere.

The fiery red 'sambal sotong.'

The fiery red ‘sambal sotong.’

Fancy something to help you cool off? Tiě Pí Wū has an entire shaved ice menu, running the gamut from cendol to ABC, with toppings such as red beans and even aiyu jelly (another Taiwanese nod). Or quench your thirst with their homemade herbal tea.

Cool off with a bowl of ABC (left). Homemade herbal tea (right).

Cool off with a bowl of ABC (left). Homemade herbal tea (right).

But perhaps the truest showcase of the attention and care that go into their home-style cooking is their Hainanese chicken chop, a nod to the owner’s maternal heritage.

A perfectly deep fried chicken chop rests on a bed of crusty potato wedges, coated with a homemade sauce; the colours of the peas, diced carrots and corn niblets — green, orange and yellow — a colourful celebration of the flavours of yesteryear, reminding us that food is love is love.

See also  Heritage comfort at home

鐡皮屋 Tiě Pí Wū Café

48G & 49G, Pusat Perniagaan Olive Hill, Jalan BS 1/2, Section 1, Taman Bukit Serdang, Seri Kembangan, Selangor

Open: Tue-Sun 11am-9:30pm (Mon closed)

Tel: 012-861 3886