Curating the modern kopitiam

24 Feb 2020 / 15:07 H.


My colleague had been raving about taking our foodie group to try out this place he visited earlier in the week for a food review, so over the weekend – and despite the growing drizzle – we braved the urban traffic to head over to Hawker Hall, located in Taman Sri Hartamas.

We arrived just before the dinner crush, which packed the moderately-sized venue to the brim. As its name implies, Hawker Hall is a modern food court of sorts, featuring various stalls which serve up affordable Malaysian favourites in a vastly more comfortable setting.

Unlike a regular hawker centre, you do not have to go to each stall to place your individual orders. You can just head to the main counter to choose what you want from the extensive but well-organised menu, or make your selection at either of the two self-order kiosks near the entrance.

We decided to order a mix of cuisines, and after a relatively short wait, our food arrived to fill up the table. We had char kuey teow with fresh sea prawns from the famous Uncle Lim Penang Char Kuey Teow stall, stir-fried rice with minced chicken and basil leaves from the Chatujak Thai Street Food stall, spicy Korean fried chicken from the Gangnam Korean Fried Chicken stall, and from the Hawker Hall café, spaghetti Bolognese, Hainanese toast with kaya and butter, and even cendol for dessert.

Despite the simplicity of the orders, I was blown away by the flavours and taste. I also couldn’t resist stealing food from everyone else’s plate. It was the perfect hawker experience, but with a much more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.

Glancing around at the rest of my fellow diners, I was struck by the diversity in the room. It seemed as though the entire nation were there, represented by our mutual love of food.

It was exactly this sentiment that drove Hawker Hall co-founders Anabelle Co-Martinent and Kong Len Win. Both are familiar figures within the local F&B industry, having also co-founded the brands La Juiceria Superfoods and Super Saigon.

In an email interview with theSun, Co-Martinent and Kong said that their dream was to unite Malaysians under one roof through something they feel passionate about: Food.

They said: “Malaysian’s hawker culture is wonderful if you look at the array of food offerings and the different specialities that each stall brings. Everyone loves to eat, from breakfast to dinner.”

However, they also noted that this diversity often resulted in a splitting up of the population, based on factors such as “race, location, food type, halal and non-halal, roadside or food-court type, and opening hours”. With this in mind, their aim was to establish a modern kopitiam which can welcome everyone from all walks of life.

This simple mission came with a whole host of challenges, not least of which was being able to manage the various popular brands within Hawker Hall.

They explained: “We had to choose carefully what we could offer in this first outlet, to ensure it can bring people from all races together. To be able to satisfy them from breakfast to dinner, with quality food that also complements the cravings that they’ll have for the different hours of the day. The diversity of the food also means we have to be conscious of our kitchen planning – from ingredients, to manpower, to equipment that will be needed to churn out all the varieties of food and drinks.

“Also, the challenge was questioning ourselves how we would fare, as we will be competing with the super affordable kopitiams that are in almost every township or corner.”

They decided to focus on presenting quality food using ingredients sourced from halal suppliers, as well as offering quality and consistency in each dish.

“The wild sea prawns we use for our char kuey teow is of certain size and quality, while for other dishes that call for beef, we use Australian beef. We also monitor the cooking oil usage as we want to ensure quality in all the things we fry, like the chicken Maryland for ayam goreng berempah. For our nasi lemak, we use premium ikan bilis from Pangkor.

“To add on, for breakfast and snacks, you will find superb quality Hainan toasts with real Australian butter inside. These are just some of the examples where we highlight quality.”

Judging by the excellent response from consumers, their efforts appear to have paid off. Co-Martinent and Kong hope to be able to take their idea to the next level by opening more Hawker Halls in other areas, as well as inviting more stall owners to join them.

They said: “With all the possibilities in terms of offerings under Hawker Hall, the sky is the limit to grow the food variety of what Malaysians want.”

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