The rail thing in Kluang

 
[Clockwise from the top] Curry Laksa, Mee Rebus
and Chicken Curry
PEGGY LOH drops in at the railway station kopitiam, enjoys a hot cup of coffee and soaks in the rich heritage the cafe inherits
 
EACH time I’m in Kluang, I will drop in at the railway station kopitiam to sip a hot cup of fragrant coffee and nibble on some kaya toast. It’s not just about the coffee or the charcoal toasted butter and kaya sandwiches but the experience of sitting in this 72-year-old canteen and soaking in the heritage that’s unique to the Kluang Railway Station.
 
My whole experience will be even more thrilling if I see a train trundle in!
 
When I was invited to the Kluang Rail Coffee’s newest outlet, I could not miss the words “Selamat Datang ke Kluang” emblazoned across its facade and felt very welcome. Even the two steps to the entrance were made from railway sleepers!

Rich heritage

In 1938, Lim Luan Hee arrived in Tampin from Hainan Island along with many enterprising Chinese who came in search of a better life in Malaya.


Jack Lim at Kluang RailCoffee's newest
outlet in Kluang
When he heard that a railway station canteen in Kluang was available for rent, he seized the opportunity and moved to Johor. Armed with one kati (500g) of sugar and a few cans of milk, Lim started serving his first customer at the Kluang Railway Station canteen.

Lim slowly built the business in the pre-war days and it continued to thrive in spite of the Japanese occupation.

Upon retirement, his eldest son, Lim Heng Yong, took over and continued to operate the business with the same spirit and commitment. To serve early customers waiting for the first morning train, Heng Yong would sleep on a little canvas bed in the shop after the close of business so that he could be up early the next morning to serve breakfast by 6.30am!

In the 1990s, Heng Yong’s son, Lim Jit Chen or better known as Jack, took the business to new heights by establishing the Kluang RailCoffee brand.

As a youngster, Jack used to help his father in the railway station canteen and he fondly remembers how he would skillfully slide in individual wooden planks to close the shop entrance.

Working as a team, Jack and his cousin brothers, Lim Jit Tong (Barney) and Lim Jit Chang continue to preserve the proud heritage of Kluang RailCoffee with outlets in Plaza Kotaraya, Johor Baru, Jalan Manggis, Kluang, and this flagship outlet which opened for business in August.

Rail tradition

Customers sit comfortably under whirring fans, tucking into laksa, mee rebus, mee siam, tofu rojak and the favourite chicken curry with nasi lemak. Ice cendol coffee, created with a blend of coffee, evaporated milk and cendol (green worm-like rice flour jelly), and sweetened by gula melaka or palm sugar, is also a popular choice.

I saw some customers working on their laptops while enjoyed their meals with the free Wi-Fi service.
 
Inside roof fitted with 400 pieces of refurbished
70-year old tiles from the Kluang railway quarters!
Furnished with marble-top wooden tables and wooden chairs, this chic café has a nostalgic railway theme with décor reminiscent of the original railway station canteen. The two sections of the café is divided by a wooden plank wall with wire-netted windows, shaded by a roof fitted with 400 pieces of refurbished 70-year-old tiles that were once used in the Kluang railway quarters!

There’s even an interesting railway crossing signal between the two sections that will light up and signal “ding-dong” quite realistically!

“We want to preserve the pre-Merdeka nostalgia,” says Jack Lim about how a multi-racial clientele can sit and eat together in their coffee shop. I agree that there’s indeed something special about the Kluang RailCoffee chain of coffee shops where everyone can agree on the mouth-watering choices in the menu and a good cup of coffee.
 
Toasting buns to make toasted bun
kaya and butter sandwiches
“Some of our customers come in three or four times a day and they don’t have to place their orders,” adds Jit Chang. That’s because they are so regular that the waiters are familiar with their orders!
 
They can just sit down and the waiters will serve their preferred drink with their choice of plain or wholemeal bread and buns or the classic roti kahwin — irresistible toasted sandwich slices with a generous spread of kaya and melting butter.

I’m not as frequent a customer as these regulars but each time I visit Kluang RailCoffee, I will choose something new from the menu. This time it was the grilled chicken and I was not disappointed because I can still recall the taste of tender meat with a special sweet-sour-pungent chutney-like sauce.

As always, a meal here would not be complete without a cup of fragrant hot coffee that left a lingering taste that’s so uniquely Kluang RailCoffee.

Fast Facts

The flagship Kluang RailCoffee outlet, located at No. 20 & 21 Jalan Tasik 1, Pusat Perniagaan Tasik, is highly visible from the first roundabout into Kluang from Air Hitam. It opens from 7am to 6pm daily. For enquiries, call 019-322 0072, 012-728 8802 and 012-711 5435.

The Railway Station Coffee Shop is open daily from 7am to 12pm and from 2.15pm to 6pm. It’s closed on Thursdays and takes a break for lunch daily from 12pm to 2.15pm.

Kluang Rail Café is located at No. 33 Jalan Manggis, just a short drive from the Kluang Railway Station. It’s opened daily from 7am to 10pm, except on Sundays and Mondays when it opens until 6pm only.
 
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 23 September 2010
 

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