(Photo by Wong Meng Lei. Moi Soung is read from right to left)
The Cafe Moi Soung was started early in the twentieth century by two men who gave the cafe their names : Moi and Soung according to one source. The late Mr. Wong Nien Soung was a powerhouse of Foochow Opera who allowed his coffee shop to be the meeting place for the Foochow Opera group to practise in the early evenings.
Many social and economic changes have been seen right in front of the cafe. But within the cafe the coffee shop culture has also slowly changed . However three of the mainstays of the cafe are the coffee ; tea and the noodles (kampua)which have remained the same in perhaps taste and flavour for more than 50 years!! But porcelain plates have given way to the orange plastic plates. And of course the old coffee cups have given way to glass mugs.
Another remarkable change (perhaps not even the Kang Chu Wong Nai Siong himself could have foreseen) is the figure of the coffee hand (kopi chiw). The coffee hand (in modern terms the bar tender) is the man behind the counter who makes the coffee when it is ordered. It used to be a faithful man who worked for Moi Soung the whole of his life! When he passed on his son took over. Then over the years an Iban man has taken over that important spot. He can quickly make two or three cups of coffee within one or two minutes of your order. This is one remarkable aspect of a Foochow coffee shop. You do not have to wait until your seat is warm before your coffee is at the table served by an older Foochow man who has a ready towel over his right arm.
Foochow boys no longer work for food now in coffee shops like Moi Soung. Their parents used to send them to work in such food outlets so that their labour could be exchanged for "three good meals". The younger generation of Foochows have generally become educated and gone further afield. What I saw in the shop were Indonesian maids who served quickly and heartily.
The old charcoal stove has gone and in its place is the ubiquitous gas stove. It is traditional that the water is always kept piping hot over the stove to maintain the special flavour of the local ground coffee and also to make the service very quick.
These are two bowls of steaming hot pork balls soup. Lovely in taste and very special because the meat is specially chopped by hand and pressed without the additional or extra bean curd or tapioca flour.
This is the plate of special kampua or dry noodles with a simple lard and onion sauce. Some salt is added. The noodles are topped with some slivers of thin pork and chopped onions. The kampua is very addictive. Most people like to order a second plate after eating their first plate. Besides the ingredients the secret lies in how the plate of noodles is mixed with chopsticks and a big spoon before it is served. The Foochows call this "buak" or mix well and evenly with chopsticks and spoon.
The Foochows like their noodles to remain long .However if one has to share the plate of noodles with a friend one has to use the chopsticks skilfully to cut the noodles in this way (as shown in the photo). the Foochow word for this "cutting" of the long noodles is to use the chopsticks to "ga" the noodles. Usually when one eats noodles correctly and traditionally one usually just puts a chopstick of noodles into the mouth and then bite off with one's teeth. The Panda Po did it very well in the excellent movie "Kungfu Panda".
The marble tables and the special chairs are all gone now. In their place are the foldable laminated tables and plastic chairs. But the two frontages of the cafe continue to watch the boats coming in from the villages downriver. Perhaps the river boat horns are all gone but the noise of the bustle of the people is still there.
I had images of the traditional match maker and the potential brides and bridegrooms sitting and looking at each other secretly in the coffee shop. I gave a sigh that a great era of river side life and culture has gone. Life changes. People change.
Memories remain while visions dance before me as I ate my lardy kampua with friends. With a chuckle I told Tumi and Meng Lei( my hosts) that more than thirty years ago no one initiated a match for me in this very cafe which remains an important part of my Foochow childhood.
(All other photos by blogger using a simple Sony Cybershot)