Monday, 30 June 2008

Unseasoned Joy

I didn't write anymore for Fried Chillies after this, because my new job began to take its toll, stress-wise. The warnings I got, including one from the Fried Chillies editor, were completely ignored.

Joy Cafe
This unassuming cafe tries to keep everything healthy. And guess what? It takes nothing away from the taste, proving that you need not sacrifice taste for the sake of health.

first published in Fried Chillies, 30 June 2008

"No salt?!"

My jaw hit the table with a thud.

"Not a grain," says Mr. Dennis Ng, of Joy Café, a place he runs with his wife, Joyce. "People from far away as Subang, Damansara, KL, Shah Alam all travel here for the food." The passion isn't just in their cooking; it's also in its preparation and serving. Their big bowls aren't for the portions, or for show - it's to prevent the waiters' thumbs from dipping into the food. Nor do the cooks grab noodles with their bare hands - each serving-sized portion is wrapped in plastic, to be used only when needed. And they're organic noodles.

This was only my second time in Joy Café. During the first time I had their toast bread and chicken curry. They also have it served with kaya and butter which you have to spread it on yourself. I also had the orange white coffee; it was my first encounter with the fruity variant of my favourite brew. The taste had me begging for more. Another interesting flavour is the blackcurrant white coffee - a full-bodied concoction with a blackcurrant taste.

The menu of the months-old café is packed with the usual fare kopitiam fare: nasi lemak, "special fried rice, laksa with the addition of their braised dishes and a few other items. They also have brewed Chinese tea, and at least one dessert for each day of the week: double-boiled lotus root, red bean, etc - all served in a green-painted environment that instills a Zen-like calm while you wait. You wouldn't need to go anywhere else for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and supper.

I took another look at my half-eaten bowl of lamb brisket. Nice, tender chunks of lamb brisket (what else?), swimming in delicious brown gravy with a bevy of ginger and water chestnut slices. The gamey smell that gave it character was subtle enough not to offend. Such a flavourful dish - and no salt was involved? That's like hearing "no, there's no MSG in our kway teow soup".

Lamb brisket isn’t the only dish in this category – there’s also beef brisket, which can either be served with rice or noodles. I opted for the rice version. My brisket came in a separate bowl; on the plate, the mound of rice is dotted with black sesame seeds at the top, accompanied by a single fried egg (sunny side up) and some stir-fried lettuce.

My makan buddy for the day meanwhile, found her fried rice intriguing. It looked absolutely packed with goodness: finely sliced spring onions, long beans, fried egg, bits of minced pork and preserved radish which brightened up an otherwise mundane dish. And not a single ear of corn, green pea or diced carrot anywhere.

Again, Mr Ng satisfied our curiosity. "The fried rice is made from freshly-cooked rice," he explained. "Overnight rice is not fragrant enough. The pork is braised for three hours in a stock made from over a dozen different herbs and spices, before it's minced and added to the rice during cooking." And yes, no additional salt is used in their braised dishes.

We looked at each other and shrugged. Isn't it the nature of proprietors to sing praises of their own food? Still, I'd rather let my food do the talking. I took a bite of a lamb brisket. It talked, alright - like Barack Obama. With the water-chestnut pieces, the meat and gravy was a hearty dish that went great with rice or noodles.

My friend’s fried rice was also telling her things as well, something to the tune of "Yes, we can! Yes, we can!" She gave me some. Not only was it flavourful, there was also texture. A welcome departure from the boring old frozen peas-carrots-corn variety.

"So how was it?" I asked her, actually doubting my tastebuds. Hailing from Ipoh, another great food capital, she would know better.

"Very good," she said, emphasising each word for effect.

Our vote was unanimous. Joy Café is a shoo-in - and we barely even scratched the surface.

Joy Café
540, Jalan Riang 11,
Happy Garden,
58200 Kuala Lumpur



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