Monday, July 20, 2009

Staple On The Cheap

The Ukhwah Restoran Rakyat 1Malaysia, located in Lorong Medan Tuanku Satu (next to Prescott Inn) Kuala Lumpur
(pix taken from Star Online)

Way back in 1974, a restaurant named for the man in the street opened its doors in Kuala Lumpur, at the site of what is today a public fountain in the shape of a monkey pitcher plant, in the vicinity of the traffic intersection near Dataran Merdeka.

I remember Restoran Rakyat well for I was amongst the thousands of common folks who thronged it on days when the heart was heavy and the pocket light, as light as the day was long.

I was then a rookie reporter just months into my first job at the Malay Mail and struggling to cope with life, on a shoestring budget in a big city. Despite putting up with a kind-hearted aunt and her family of six in a cramped DBKL flat, I was perpetually broke.

Entering the workforce sans paper qualifications had plunged me right to the bottom of the totem pole, with a take-home pay that was woefully inadequate even for a single working girl.

[I had started work by choice at 19, steadfastly refusing to finish my studies, much to Opah's chagrin. By the time I returned to the books aged 27 and a mother of three, she had passed on, never knowing that I had made good on my promise to graduate from college someday].

There were times when I took to walking from the Bandaraya flat in Cheras to my place of work in Jalan Pantai Baru, Bangsar, because I couldn't afford the bus fare and was too embarrassed to ask for a small loan from my aunt.

The morning walks would take slightly over two hours at a brisk pace, passing by the Railway Station and National Museum (my favourite stretch), and arriving Balai Berita drenched in sweat, face aglow from the 'forced' exercise.

It was Restoran Rakyat that kept the likes of us sorry souls nourished for a mere pittance, for it served a full meal of rice, curry and some vegetables, and a glass of iced water, all at one ringgit per plate. The menu, thankfully, varied from day to day.

I don't remember why the restaurant eventually closed its doors, and when; in all probability when I was living in the UK in the mid '70s, or in Kuantan, post-London. By then, my life was already on an even keel and memories of Restoran Rakyat eventually dimmed over time.

Yesterday, I flipped open Sunday Star and lo and behold! There's a new Restoran Rakyat in town! Best of all, it's keeping to the spirit and tradition of its erstwhile namesake by offering good food at very low prices.

One piece of roti canai and a glass of teh tarik for just one ringgit, right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur - that's what you get at Ukhwah Restoran Rakyat 1Malaysia.

Located in Lorong Medan Tuanku Satu (next to Prescott Inn), this non-profit oriented eatery, a week into its operation today, is owned and run by Koperasi Pendidikan Islam Malaysia Bhd, better known as Ukhwah.

What's heartening to note is that Ukhwah president Datuk Rahim Baba could be seen lending a helping hand, clearing and cleaning tables alongside his men, all members of the co-op, during peak hours. That's walking the talk for you.

On the downside, three days into operation the nearby mamak joints had 'sent a clear message' (to quote Datuk Rahim) asking the restaurant to "maintain the market price of food." I hope, for the sake of the needies, he won't buckle under pressure.

He says he won't budge because he believes food should be reasonably priced. He even gives an insight on pricing, noting that most restaurants make 200% - 300% profit from selling food.

Datuk Rahim stresses that even at 40 sen apiece for roti canai, the restaurant still makes 100% profit because the actual cost of making roti canai is only 20 sen. As for teh tarik, he says he makes a profit of 18 sen by selling it at 60 sen a glass.

The newspaper report says Ukhwah Restoran Rakyat 1Malaysia needs RM2,000 a day in sales to break even, to cover rental of RM7,000 per month and salary of its 16 (all local) staff.

Reading this bit of Malaysiana had me all choked up. Restoran Rakyat of the 1970s fed me when I was low on cash. In the current tough economic times, Ukhwah Restoran Rakyat 1Malaysia serves to fill the belly of many a man (or woman) in the same predicament.

I only have good wishes for Datuk Rahim Baba and his band of Ukhwah men. May God bless your good work!


MrsNordin said...

Yeay! Thumbs up for Restoran Rakyat!

(you had to walk for two hours to get to work? I should tell this to my daughter who complained of having to walk for 15 mins to college!)

Pi Bani said...

Wow! From Cheras to Bangsar? I kena jalan from Wisma On-Tai in Jalan Ampang to Pudu Raya pun dah berpeluh-peluh dah. That time CHOGM was held in KL and banyak jalan tutup. So by the time we wanted to go home from work, no busses or taxis lalu Jalan Ampang. Mau tak mau kena jalanlah ke Pudu Raya. Naik bus pulak kena berdiri, bergayut pegang besi kat atas tu and by then ketiak pulak dah basah...

edelweiss said...

Kak Puteri...

tersedak i baca u jalan frm Cheras to Bangsar...salute u.

I nak try this Restoran Rakyat weekend nih :)

Kama said...

Mrs N, Pi, Edelweiss - those days the traffic was not as complicated and as busy as today, so it wasn't much of a problem. All I did was walked the entire length of Jalan Pudu up to Foch Avenue (now Jalan Silang), then cut across the bridge leading to the Railway Station and then turn left into Jalan Travers, and onwards to Jalan Pntai Baru.

I was only 19 and very athletic too (having been an active sportsgirl in school). Strangely enough, I found it easier then (and now) to borrow $$ from friends than from family.

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Hi Puteri,

That’s the positive thing that comes with tough economic times. From America, to Europe, to Australia & I’m sure many other parts of our global communities, you’ll find good Samaritans opening their hearts out for fellow ‘down & out’ brothers & sisters. There are smorgasbords restaurants that offer good well balance meals that allow patrons to pay as they can afford, you’ll find people paying from $1 up to $50 each, and those that can’t afford actually pay by volunteering their services by washing the dishes, clean up the place etc…

Me, I’m forever grateful to all the ever reliable Hare Hare Krishnan Restaurant for their healthy veggies meals in my reckless abundance days.


P/S – Despite fairly well fed nowadays, I’d never wasted any food. Always polish off my plates clean, mama told me so!

Kama said...

Hahaha.. Tommy Yewfigure? A distant cousin to Tommy Hilfiger, I bet! Nice one!

Indeed, there are a lot of unsung heroes out there..

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Yeah right, I'm the guy behind SQNY, Relex & Adilas too! But not FCUK, sayang itu taken by someone else oreadi.


TATA said...

Salute to you, kak pu3. Askar pun tak larat nak jalan kaki macam akak. Anyway, just nak informed akak, program 1T3F (1 Terengganu, Food's, Fruits Fiesta) akan diadakan pada 01 Ogos 2009 bertempat di Stadium Bukit Jalil mulai jam 0600 petang hingga 1200 tgh malam. segala mok nenek makanang kita akan disediakan FREE pada hari tu.

Akak khabbor lah ke anaok beranok dan kawang2 deh.

Anonymous said...

Cage, sorry gotta get u here but do check my contact number in ur emails. Need to talk to u urgently regarding a job. Thks n rgds.


Kama said...

tata - insyaallah we'll be there.

snowy - the tel number given salah la snowy.. i oredi sent u e-mail..

bangkai said...

Truly inspiring - both about the restaurant and your gumption (walking from Cheras to work). Good things come to good people, ma'am - but in time.

amish said...

"There were times when I took to walking from the Bandaraya flat in Cheras to my place of work in Jalan Pantai Baru, Bangsar, because I couldn't afford the bus fare and was too embarrassed to ask for a small loan from my aunt."

Haha, Puteri.

Dejavu. I did that too from Pandan Jaya to KL while i was staying with my sister in the 90s. Siap ada hujan2 as the special effects. In fact, a lot of times. Hehe, funny stuff.

Beza dia, the money my sister gave me, i spent them on cigi, boleh? Walking with a cigi in hand, in the rain. Hehe. OMG, what was i thinking.

luah fikiran said...

Need more restaurants like these. Still remember there was one restaurant (Restoren Rakyat) located somewhere near roundabout dekat Bank Negara. Berniaga seharusnya bukan sahaja nak buat untung tetapi juga nak buat kebajikan untuk bantu orang lain.

Namza said...

Peewit..reading your comments about walking to work from Cheras to Pantai Baru makes me remember the old days too. I had no choice but to walk as I don't have any money to spare. I started walking around 4pm from Muzium Negara to Jalan Pekeliling flat for berbuka puasa session, passing Jalan TAR & Chow Kit areas.I wonder whether our kids will ever do that if they have to?

mamasita said...

O I hope this Ukhwah Restaurant will stay..for the sake of so many yang budget sokmo bad and tight!

You walked all the way?? Kesiannya..

Kama said...

Mat B, Namza, Mamasita - we learned the hard way those days, didn't we? Sekarang, it's highly unlikely our children will do it..

amish - laaaa, dapat duit beli rokok? hahaha..

LF - betul tu.. berniaga with niat membantu macam ni, banyak pahalanya.. saya doakan biznes dia kekal..

mekyam said...

go Restoran Rakyat and bless datuk rahim and his coop crew!

am so passing the word abt it, puteri.

Anonymous said...

Kak, dulu ada restoren vegi kat Bangsar - Analakshemi(?) kalau tak silap. Makan kat situ bayarlah berapa nak. Yang kerja tu kebanyakan sumbang tenaga tanpa gaji. Ramai professional temasuklah dr, lawyer, engineer, teachers, etc.. yag kerja situ. Profit untuk kebajikan. Baru-baru ni balik M'sia gi Bangsar dah tak ada. Pindah ku tutup?


Kama said...

Yani - I remember that restaurant. Yes, its name was Annalakshmi. I didn't know it's no longer there, though.