“BLACK pepper steak?” The “waiter” at the Damansara Uptown food court in Damansara Utama in Petaling Jaya poses quizzically, hovering over my table. I gesture for him to put the steak, still sizzling in the plate, in front of me. The smell of the black pepper sauce wafts tantalisingly and eventually the sizzling sound fades. I devour the juicy and succulent meat that’s smothered in a sweet and spicy dark gravy, momentarily lost in the moment, despite the bustle around me.
There’s no fancy decoration or service here at the food court, just sturdy plastic tables and chairs with huge umbrellas, and straightforward “waiters”. Nevertheless, it has no trouble attracting diners, all drawn by the wide variety of food. There’s Ah Keong’s infamous yong tau foo (a favourite of mine), fish head curry, sotong kangkung, fried oysters, and more, all in one location.
That was several years ago. Damansara Uptown has since undergone some major facelifts over the years. Starling Mall recently opened its doors complete with multi-level parking, together with the 23-storey Somerset Damansara Uptown serviced apartments. Even the food court looks different now although thankfully, the food offerings remain just as great. Ah Keong is still there, but I’m not sure about the steak joint as I’ve not dined there since the revamp.
The institution that is the food court has been an integral part of Malaysian culture for as long as I can remember. Some iconic eateries such as the spacious Ming Tien food court in Taman Megah, Petaling Jaya, which opened in 2001, and Asia Café in SS15 in Subang Jaya never lack the crowd and even command loyal customers. But news of the imminent closure of these two food courts to make way for new developments have left many heartbroken.
(At the time of writing, Ming Tien food court has moved to a new spot in Bandar Utama).
One of them, who grew up in Petaling Jaya, is Adrian Yap, founder and director of Freeform (organiser of art and music festival Urbanscapes) and founder of Tiffin, a multi-layered platform for varied dining experiences and activities that’s spurred by Malaysians’ unparalleled love affair with food and drink.
“I used to live down the road from Ming Tien. Although it wasn’t my regular hangout place, I did go from time to time. The concept of the food court where you can lepak (hang out) with your family or friends over affordable food fascinates me,” begins Yap when we meet at his office in The School in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya. “What I like about medan selera (food court) is the fact that you can get a mix of everything. You can find Malay, Chinese and Indian food all in one location. It’s sad that you don’t see much of that nowadays.”
For that reason, Yap, who founded Freeform 17 years ago, is planning to bring the food court experience back, and more, through his Tiffin Food Court event. Starting Dec 8, foodies will find a deserted warehouse along Kelana Jaya LDP abuzz with a three-weekend long gastronomical fair. Held in collaboration with more than 30 vendors and partners, Tiffin Food Court wants to create the ultimate multi-layered food court experience serving food from every continent including hawker favourites and casual interpretations of haute cuisine, creative cocktails, music, parties, and more.
ALL ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE
The food court concept is not unique to us alone. All over the world, every country has its own interpretation of it. For example, NightQuarter at the Gold Coast, Australia has quickly become one of the city’s most iconic food destinations for the past two years. Every weekend locals and tourists flock to the precinct to experience the best in street food, authentic eats, market stalls and live entertainment.
Think Mediterranean back alleys meets street food culture — that’s what NightQuarter is like. Nestled among upcycled shipping containers, visitors can discover a kaleidoscope of global flavours, string lights, street art and over 100 regional vendors within the creative playground.
Set up in an open area across the road from the Helensvale Train Station and Helensvale Westfield Shopping Centre, NightQuarter offers an organic, buzzing vibe every weekend with hawkers yelling their wares, delicious aromas wafting in the air, and the local community coming together for a good time.
Similarly, in the UK, Street Feast, which was launched in 2012, has taken over locations across London including Canada Water, Dalston, Lewisham, Battersea and Bermondsey, and transformed them into unique eating and drinking environments, bringing great street food and brilliant vibes to people around the capital.
Like NightQuarter and Street Feast, most food courts in Malaysia are also set up in an open area like Damansara Uptown. Some can even be found smack inside shopping malls such as the ever popular Food Republic in Pavilion, KL or KLCC Signatures in KLCC. But to have one inside a warehouse is certainly something unique and will no doubt offer a different kind of experience altogether. And this is precisely what Yap and his team are after with Tiffin Food Court.
“It’s not just about the food,” says Yap, who previously co-founded music and culture-centric magazines KLue, Junk and online fashion portal Tounge In Chic. “I want people to see the many layers to the food court — the social and emotional level. It’s not very common to have a food court inside a warehouse which used to be an electronics factory.”
The warehouse, shares Yap excitedly, will be artfully decked with incandescent, visually-vibrant streamers and neon lights to reflect the kaleidoscopic rows of food vendors below. It had taken Yap and his team about a month to transform the venue to ensure that it meets with all safety and hygiene standards.
BEST FOOD FORWARD
Venue aside, there’s the food of course. Filling a niche between street food culture and fine dining, Tiffin Food Court will bring food from around the world along with local favourites in a communal dining setting. “Fine dining doesn’t have to be set in a formal setting,” remarks Yap with a smile.
Finding the vendors has been the most fun part of the process, chips in Vivienne Chong, a representative of Freeform culinary content team. “We went to several restaurants based on suggestions and recommendations and tried their food. Then we talked to them and pitched our ideas to see whether they were interested to come on board,” shares Chong, adding that the vendors will serve something out of their usual menu exclusively for Tiffin Food Court.
Suffice to say, foodies are going to be in food heaven come Dec 8. Authentic Penang hawkers are dishing out perennially-beloved street food, while casual gourmet burger experts KGB or Killer Gourmet Burgers will serve their best chin-dripping juicy burgers. Meanwhile, El MaÌz Venezuelan Cuisine will be offering exotic bites, and there’ll be cakes and coffee by Pulp by Papa Palheta as well as artisanal ice cream parlour Softsrve, to name a few.
Committed to classic Catalan cuisine, Marta’s Kitchen will plate paella and tapas out of a specially-built, traditional Spanish-style bar. And from across the causeway, the modern, playful Japanese raw bar Tanuki Raw and The World Is Flat will be there with their revolutionary take on traditionally staid food, while ramen outfit Sumo Bar Happy will host pop-ups.
“We’ve also got progressive and established chefs such as Darren Teoh from Dewakan and Christian Recomio from Sitka Studio to join in and they’ll host three-day pop-ups at Tiffin Food Court serving casual versions of their innovative brand of haute cuisine,” shares Yap.
Chong, whose food court experience started when she was in primary school, would love for visitors to try and sample everything, and share a meal with their family and friends, just like how she used to. “I remember going to the food court near my house in Jalan Kuchai Lama. My cousins and I would order maybe 30 sticks of satay, my favourite food court food, and we’d share. This is the kind of experience I hope we can revive with Tiffin Food Court.”
Both Yap and Chong hope that everyone will be able to make the date and join in the merriment. “Nothing makes me happier than to see the smiles on people’s face as they enjoy themselves. That’s what drives our team of about 20 people day in, day out as well,” concludes Yap.
Tiffin Food Court
Where Lot No 1, Jalan SS8/6, Sungai Way Free Trade Industrial Zone, Petaling Jaya (along Kelana Jaya LDP, next to Western Digital)
When Dec 8 - Dec 24, 2017 (Fri-Sun)
Time 5pm till late
Details at www.tiffin.my