I WAS doing a spot of fishing a couple of weeks ago. Nothing great, just some river prawns, a few gelama and still fewer bebolos. The weather was kind and the boat ride was smooth. Nothing like a spot of fishing to calm the nerves...
The experience more than compensated the poor catch, though there were enough prawns for a black pepper dish at dinner with fellow anglers. Later, on the way back to Kuala Lumpur, we stopped for "soup gear box" just outside Kota Tinggi. It was simply divine!
"Soup gear box" is mutton soup, with plenty of bone marrow in the bones. You need a straw to suck the marrow. The trick in enjoying "soup gear box" is simple and effective - forget everything your good doctor tells you!
But that's the charm and curse of a small food operator. And there are quite a number of them all over the place. While they serve good food, their charm is in the smallness of their operations, where the proprieter personally welcomes his customers, engage in small talk and thank them with a smile and wave them goodbye when they leave.
It's the same with THE nasi minang shop in Tg Malim. Andrie opens his shop at 1pm sharp, come rain or shine; the customers may be waiting outside but he just won't open the doors till it's 1pm on the dot. The food? Simply out of this world!
The Tanglin nasi lemak just behind the National Mosque is another all-time favourite. In the mornings, expect a long queue before you get to the food counter. And when you do, pray that the sambal sotong and ikan bilis have not finished.
The owners of these outlets have no plans for expansion. They seem quite happy to operate like this for ages. The Tanglin chap (Zainal) did try to open an outlet in Bangsar but this failed. It lasted for a couple of months only.
Nevertheless, a few did manage to transform themselves from a small, popular operators in their small town to become upmarket operators in posh outlets in the federal capital.
Surprise, surprise! Yik Mun pau of Tg Malim is now available in cafe style shoplot in the shopping complex of Plaza Damas; Kluang Station (where the roti kaya and kopi O is to die for) have outlets in Tesco (along the MRR2), Ikano in Damansara and in Ipoh; the Kemaman kopitiam is also popular in Kuantan; and Johor Baru's mee rebus is keeping operator and customers burping (also in Plaza Damas).
The curse for the small operators is simple and clear - their business is likely to remain small unless they think big and move to bigger markets. Yes, they may be charming outlets in their own way. But no, they won't enjoy bigger turnover and their popularity is quite localised.
Why can't these small one-shop operators like the "soup gear box" in Kota Tinggi; Andrie's nasi minang; and Zainal's Tanglin nasi lemak go a notch higher and expand to other towns? And after that, when will they venture abroad to Tokyo, London, Paris...?
Shouldn't the people responsible for franchising be on the lookout for good outlets and maybe guide them to expand their business? Some of these small operators may not be aware of such possibilities. If they do, they would still need much guidance, encouragement and help. Maybe their resources are limited; maybe they had tried and found the going tough and rough.
And maybe nobody bothers. Since everyone seems to be speaking about and championing big businesses, RM9 and FTAs, the smalltime operator is left behind to continue being "happy" with their lot.
If we are looking at promoting the Malaysian brand abroad, some serious efforts must be made. The Pelita Nasi Kandar guys are already in Chennai, while another Malaysian nasi kandar outlet recently opened in Perth. They have proven that it can be done!
After years of shouting himself hoarse when speaking out for the Third World, the Mahathir brand is so well-known. For many years Malaysia was Mahathir, and Mahathir was Malaysia. This is both good and bad. So much so, people overseas still keep asking about the Old Man, often followed by names such as Anwar Ibrahim, Proton, the Twin Towers and F1 Sepang.
Is it still Malaysia Boleh? I wonder...