” Tau Foo Far ” from Nam Foong Coffee Shop 南风茶室之豆腐花 – A taste from the past
Bush Radio Marble Table Wooden Chairs
Besides being a home to my family, 188 Hugh Low Street was also once a coffee shop.
In 1945, an English man who was working and staying in Batu Gajah, retired and planned to return to England for good. He has a collection of marble tables and wooden chairs in his rented house. Unable to bring them along, he gave them away to the villagers nearby.
Dad got some tables and chairs and hired a small lorry to transport them to his newly rented shop in Ipoh. He bought a Bush Radio from a second hand dealer a few years later. Two hanging fans and fluorescent lamps were added to complete the ‘old world charm’ look. And voila, Nam Foong Coffee Shop “南风茶室” was born!
Nam Foong is famous for its tau foo far, served with essence of almond in a small porcelain bowl. They are served either warm or chilled. It was sold at 5 cents a bowl in the 40s and 30 cents during the 60s.
It was hard work to make tau foo far. First, soya beans were soaked before being placed in between 2 round stone slabs to grind them. It is then cooked in a big wok using slow fire. Once it is boiled, it is filtered and poured into wooden tubs. Roasted lime stone powder is added to give it the right texture. Finally, they were scooped into hundreds of porcelain bowls.
Dad could take the easy way out by cooking gula Melaka or rock sugar to go with tau foo far, like what you are getting nowadays. But he will have none of this. To him, tau foo far is best eaten with essence of almond and nothing can convince him to think otherwise!
To produce the aromatic and sweet essence of almond call for skill. They were steamed and pounded to extract the essence which if done incorrectly, will give a bitter taste instead.
In those days, everything was done by hands. No machine is use, unlike now. The work was done by my parents and paternal grandma from night till dawn when everyone was sound asleep.
And do you know that the outcome is not the same every day? Dad was very strict with the end result. He will not settle for anything less. If he was satisfied with the texture, he will sell them. Otherwise, he would just pour them away and for that day, he will sell the normal stuff like coffee or toasted bread only.
The best soya beans came from Indonesia and Vietnam. Different batch of beans from the same source yield different results. The secret lay in choosing the right beans and using the right amount of each ingredient. It was a skill he learned from paternal grandpa who is very skillful in making soya bean products.
Soon words spread around about the smooth and aromatic tau foo far . Before long, it sold very well and on a good day, almost 200 bowls were sold. Patrons would park their cars near the shop to have a taste of this delicious dessert because back then, Dad would not allow take away in plastic bags. He insisted the tau foo far to be served in porcelain bowls to bring out the best in taste, aroma and texture.
A myriad of customers came in for this dessert. My elder brother’s headmaster, who is a Christian brother at Sam Tet School, occasionally cycled over for a few bowls in the hot afternoon. He came in his white robes and all!
Then there is the old blind masseur who roamed the town offering his service. When he called it a night, he would drop in for a bowl or two. Whenever I saw him coming, I would quickly ran and squatted under tables or hid behind doors because the sight of him wearing big dark glasses with bells in his hands simply petrified me. I was about 5 or 6 then.
The policemen from the police station opposite would come for the tau foo far too. Some of them would ask Dad, “Eh, towkay, apa benda ini hah…….sungguh sedap?”
Dad would reply, “ Ini tau foo far !”
“Apa….oh….tau foo farrrrrrrrr…..” and everyone would laugh.
Business was stable and the family could make a decent living.
However, some 25 years later, one day, Dad received a notice from the Ipoh municipality which changed our lives completely……
Note: The photos above showed a marble table, some wooden chairs and the old radio from Nam Foong Coffee Shop. Except for the radio which was broken down, the rest are still in use till today. During its prime, we can listen to stations all over the world, just imagine that!