There are a few restaurants that hold a special place in your heart. The ones you went on your first ever date, the ones you first sneaked out of school for, the ones that you saved up money to go to – because it was out of your price range enough to make it a special treat, but cheap enough to mean you could pay for it yourself as a broke schoolgirl. For me, Strawberry Fields is a place few other restaurants can hold a nostalgic candle up to (and the food’s pretty good too!)
What was that thing Anthony Bourdain said? If the menu has over 100 things on it, there’s no way it can be good? Something like that. While our favourite neighbourhood cafe isn’t exactly haute cuisine, it does a pretty excellent job at keeping the bellies of PJ folks full as it’s been doing for years. Looking pretty much the same since I first started going there as a pudgy schoolgirl more than 10 years ago, it occupies a sweet piece of real estate in New Town that many would clamour to hold on to for that long. In recent years, they’ve even acquired the lot across the walkway from it, essentially making the restaurant twice as big.
Back to the aforementioned menu: this thing really does have over 100 items on it. There’s a small selection of different nasi lemak, a couple of pages of Asian noodle and rice dishes, a whole section of Western offerings, snacks and nibbles, and a long list of drinks. I’ve rarely been disappointed with anything I order here, as their portions are generous and the taste almost always hits the spot. This has led to menu exploring; most times my friends and I come here, we challenge each other to try something new on the menu we haven’t tried before. You know, just to see if it’s good. And that’s what we did the other day, on our (probably) 256th visit to our favourite cafe. A few random jabs at the menu, and we sat back and waited patiently.
First, the drinks. We always over-order the drinks, as they have tasty flavour combinations. There was the honey milk, warm and soothing for a sore throat. We can imagine having a cup of this snuggled in bed at night with a good book. Then there was the chocolate banana milkshake, one of the best we’ve ever had. Rumour has it that one of our friends and his dad asked the restaurant to mix the chocolate milkshake and banana milkshake. It proved so popular that they added it to their menu permanently! The fruit juices are pretty good too, and not too sweet. We guzzled down a watermelon lychee drink and a jumbo pineapple juice, both utterly refreshing.
The fried belacan lo shee fun arrived first. The amount of belacan was just nice, and it wasn’t crazy spicy like most belacan fried dishes usually are. It also had a subtle hint of wok hei, which won a lot of points. The little prawns were perfectly cooked, and the beef slices we requested to be added were also just the right amount of chewy.
Feeling like seafood, I ordered grilled fish with lemon sauce. The fish was firm and flaky, grilled well with a sweet-sour hit from the sauce. This, like many of their Western-style dishes here, came with crinkle cut fries, coleslaw and baked beans as accompaniment. The coleslaw was crunchy and tangy, and the crispy fries did an excellent job of mopping up the sauce.
While we suspect that the chicken rice wasn’t actually cooked in the claypot but only warmed in it at the last minute, their claypot chicken rice was still rather tasty. The chicken was moist, the rice perfectly separated and the sauce had an intense yet delicious punch of ginger. Best of all, the rice was slightly crusty at the bottom of the claypot!
As we lingered over drinks and reminisced about our school days, it felt a little bit like it was back then. Us in school uniforms, privately feeling about in our pockets to see if we had enough money to pay for the meal, sitting amongst office workers on business meetings. We believed then that we were special, that we couldn’t wait to grow up and come back here as adults. And now that we have, we still feel that enormous affection for this cafe that still gives us comfort after all these years. We spied a knot of schoolgirls heading towards the restaurant and smiled. With any luck, Strawberry Fields will be here forever.
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