Ajib and Rina offer simple, unpretentious, affordable comfort food

Celebrated American writer and playwright Ernest Hemingway was a semi-permanent fixture at the Floridita, a popular watering hole among writers, rogues, smugglers, and artisans in Havana, Cuba.

There, he found diversion in spirited conversation, the adulation of women, and the warm embrace of daiquiris, apart from mojitos, particularly those served at La Bodeguita del Medio, also on the tropical paradise.

While Hemingway I am not (not by any stretch of the imagination), I do enjoy the occasional Sunquick, especially on a blisteringly hot day.

And at an intersection in Mutiara Damansara, under the verdant canopy of the Samanea saman trees, I discovered my Floridita.

From the side of a white food truck, Muhammad Najib Jamak, or Ajib, 32, works his magic with the orange concentrate and syrup, measuring the quantities by feel, instinct, and intuition honed over the years mixing drinks. His teh ais is phenomenal, but his Sunquick is simply exquisite.

Meanwhile, his wife Marina Jusri or Rina, 32, tends to the long line of customers who flock their humble food truck for a dose of comfort food.

The couple have been running their food truck business at the same spot – at the Mutiara Damansara intersection behind Lotus’s – for five years now. They typically start at 7.30am, serving the Malaysian staple of nasi lemak and an assortment of kuih.

By 11am, Ajib or Rina would run off to grab a plethora of lauk, ranging from kurma ayam, masak lemak cili padi, sambal terung, ayam goreng berempah, pegedils, rendang ayam, and an assortment of vegetables from their house nearby to cater to the growing crowd of office workers, e-hailing drivers, p-hailing riders and the casual diner.

Over to the side is Rina’s mother, Maryam Karto, 60, armed with a wok of hot cooking oil, a ladle, and some good old country wisdom. Here, she serves up cucur sayur, keropok lekor, goreng pisang, curry puffs and fluffy donuts to satiate your hunger while waiting for the main course, or in case you’re in the mood for something lighter.

Maryam all smiles at her stall.

Their customers range from the regular – a microcosm of Malaysia – some of whom make the trek from as far away as Ijok and Tanjung Karang, to a German retiree with an un-German-like obsession for spicy food, a Brazilian swimming coach, and an African-American expat who got hooked on Rina’s cooking after just one sitting.

Their food is simple, unpretentious, uncomplicated, and devoid of unnecessary flash. Unnecessary because it is that good. And against the current ringgit crunch and runaway inflation, both Ajib and Rina offer some semblance of pricing sanity amidst a world gone mad.

The sweet spot is the sweet spot they call their stomping grounds. In a fast-paced, frenzied, harried world, it offers a slice of tranquility, a refuge that Hemingway himself would appreciate; daiquiris or no daiquiris.

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