The temperature outside is a skin-scorching, migraine-inducing 38 degrees Celsius. I am wilting under the oppressive heat.
Perfect cendol weather.
I grab my keys, crank up the Vespa and head for Makan Time in Kota Damansara, Selangor, home of arguably the best cendol this side of the Mississippi.
There’s something to be said about this beautifully crafted bowl of cendol – the silky-smooth mound of freshly shaved ice, so pure, so delicate, blanketed by a silky, rich coating of coconut milk, which in turn, is draped in the warmth and comfort of saccharine sweet palm sugar, topped with pandan-flavoured jelly. A party in your mouth.
Makan Time opened about seven years ago and is run by a husband and wife team of Chef Daniel Chong Shue Kit, 44, and Chew Siew Fong, 45.
Chef Daniel, better known as Chef Dan, is largely self-taught, the beneficiary of an enterprising mother who started her own tiffin carrier food delivery business in Ipoh to supplement the family income.
Starting out in 1981 with only three or four homes a day, at its peak, Chef Dan’s mum – Farn Wai Fong, now 78 – was doing in excess of 100 orders.
In 1991, and at the age of 48, she took the plunge and opened her own joint – Yum Yum restaurant, in Ipoh, Perak.
“Yeah. Basically, I was her sous chef. That was a good introduction for me,” he quipped.
The allure of gas-fired stoves, the constant clanging of woks and the aroma of fresh herbs and spices drew Chef Dan further into the culinary honeypot. In 1996, at the age of 18, he came to Kuala Lumpur to study at Taylor’s Hospitality College. He worked his way up and finally secured his dream job.
“In 1998, I joined Lafite at Shangri-La.”
The French fine dining restaurant proved to be the best training environment Chef Dan could have ever asked for.
“It was like drinking from a fire hose. They really work you like a dog. But I learnt so much there.”
The exacting and demanding standards he learnt during his one-year stint at Lafite stayed with him and is evident in his little makan shop.
Dishes are prepared meticulously. No corners are cut, no shortcuts taken. If the chicken stock needs four hours to prepare, then, it will take four hours.
In the case of the Ipoh kai see hor fun for instance, the pot of chicken bones soup is boiled for over eight hours to achieve what Chef Dan wants in a decent bowl of kai see hor fun goodness. Not a minute more, not a minute less.
During my second visit there to savour his cendol, I was dismayed to find that it was not available.
“Yeah, I couldn’t get fresh pandan leaves and fresh santan (coconut milk) today,” he said unapologetically.
“If I can’t get the ingredients I need, I just won’t do the dish that day. It just wouldn’t be right.”
Everything in his cendol is homemade, including the squiggly green stuff, using fresh pandan leaves extracts with no artificial colouring.
To further bulletproof their cendol jelly cooking process, Chef Dan uses science and precision equipment. Occasionally, you can see him hovering over the deep bowl with a hand-held Bosch industrial thermometer, to make sure that the jelly is cooked to perfection.
Chef Dan’s cendol is devoid of frills. He doesn’t believe in frills – the food should speak for itself. There is nothing extraneous on it – no corn, red beans, nuts, sprinkles, rainbows, or prancing unicorns.
“People ask me all the time, ‘You don’t have corn, ah?’”
“I tell them ‘You can bring your own, and I’ll put it in for you’.” The only thing he concedes that goes well with his cendol, is pulut panggang.
“The lemak-ness… the smokiness of the pulut go really well with the cendol. Especially if it’s still warm.”
His recipe is naturally a closely-guarded secret. I suspect he would tell me, but then he’d have to kill me.
Makan Time serves Asian fusion cuisine, but the staples, like Asam Laksa, Nasi Lemak, Nasi Sambal Tumis Udang, Chicken Chop Sambal Petai, Hainanese Chicken Chop, and Mee Kari, are all there. Portions are more than generous.
Bestsellers include the Hainanese Chicken Chop, the Hainanese Meatball, Nasi Kerabu, Siamese Laksa and Asam Laksa.
Kafe Makan Time is in Jalan Teknologi 3/9, Kota Damansara, 47810 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Operating hours are between 8am and 3pm.