Malay comfort food at Mak Teh's

Façade of Mak Teh restaurant at Jalan Kolam Air, JB
If you passed Jalan Kolam Air recently, you may have spotted Mak Teh restaurant among the businesses that are open in the new rows of shophouses at Nong Chik Heights. 

Named after the chief cook and wife of proprietor Aziz Abu Bakar, 69, Siti Hawa Talib better known as Mak Teh, 62, the restaurant is fast gaining popularity for their menu of Malay comfort food.  From the constant stream of customers at the restaurant for breakfast, it looks like their search for food that reminds them of mother’s cooking, ends at Mak Teh’s.

Serving staff will add gravy to a serving of Laksa Johor
The restaurant has a casual dining ambience where customers are invited to help themselves from the breakfast buffet and order drinks from the waiting staff.  There is an interesting sense of trust as customers are welcome to enjoy their meal and return to the buffet to pick more food if they so wished.  At the end of the meal, customers should just go to the counter to tell Aziz the items they ate and he would tally the bill for payment.

It is open from as early as 6am and early birds hungry for a taste of local food will appreciate the buffet of familiar favourites in the breakfast spread.  Regulars seem to know what to do upon arrival so just join the crowd to look at the food choices before you take your pick.  To the uninitiated, it may be a bit intimidating because there are no signs that label the items as the most of the locals know enough about the ingredients in each dish to make their choices.

A colourful serving of Nasi Kerabu
For instance, spaghetti is the main ingredient for Laksa Johor, a noodle dish unique to Johor, topped with raw cucumber curls, bean sprouts, onion-rings, fragrant leaves and a sprinkling of crunchy chai-poh or preserved turnip. 

Mee Rebus is distinguished by its yellow noodles topped with slices of hard-boiled egg and green chillies, sprinkles of savoury crisps and chopped ku-chai leaves.  These two Johor favourites have a slice of lime to drizzle over the noodles and needs to be topped with gravy before savouring.

Make your own serving of Lontong Kering
Serving staff are on hand at the nearby gravy counter where a range of gravies are kept warm so just hand your plate over for them to pour the gravy over your noodles.  A serving of Laksa Johor is topped with rich, spicy fish gravy while the Mee Rebus is served after its vegetable-based gravy is added.  

There are several condiments at the counter to add to the noodles for that extra zing like sambal belacan or spicy shrimp paste for Laksa Johor and a blend of dark spicy sauce for Soto Ayam or chicken soup offered in a choice of rice vermicelli or ketupat rice cubes.


Nasi Lemak is a popular choice at Mak Teh
There is Nasi Kerabu which is served with a topping of serunding or savoury meat floss, a side of mixed raw vegetables, two types of sambal, a piece of fried chicken and half a salted-egg, or assemble your own fried noodle meal with choices of fried noodles like kway teow, vermicelli and macaroni (pasta) with a dollop of sambal and bulls-eye fried egg.  From the available ingredients like ketupat, sambal, serunding, beef rendang, hard-boiled eggs and spicy peanut sauce, you can also make up your own portion of Lontong Kering.  Another popular choice is Nasi Lemak or rice steamed in coconut milk which often gets sold out first because customers simply love it!

A selection of local kueh or cakes
A live cooking station offers freshly made roti canai that is served with a side of dhall or lentil gravy but you are welcome to help yourselves to any add-on items from the buffet.  There is also a range of sweet and savoury kueh or traditional cakes to choose from like Seri Muka, Kosui, Bingka Ubi and rolls of Roti Jala filled with curried potatoes.

While there are waiters to attend to customers, don’t be surprised if Aziz comes to take your order or passes you squares of table napkins as he often mingles with customers. 

Aziz Abu Bakar [Right] tallies up the bill for
customers at the counter
Aziz said he was just 18 when he started working in the food business with the canteen in his alma mater, St Joseph School in 1968 and later went into his family’s Mee Rebus business at Jalan Lumba Kuda.  Now a father of 10 children, 3 of whom are adopted, Aziz and his wife have two other restaurants that are run by their children in Bahau and Senawang. 

Located at No. 8 Jalan Kolam Air 1, Nong Chik Heights, Johor Baru, Mak Teh restaurant is open daily from 6am to 11.30pm.  For lunch, the restaurant serves a range of dishes for Nasi Padang, Nasi Negeri Sembilan and Nasi Johor while steamboat, satay and ala carte items are offered in the dinner menu.  For catering enquiries, Tel: +6019 – 736 8663.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 5 May 2014

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