By See Foon Chan-Koppen
Most food outlets exist to serve food to those unwilling or unable to cook for themselves and hope to turn a profit in the process. Some special food outlets have a dual purpose: serving food as well as helping those who serve. The Ray of Hope Kafe is one of these food outlets that not only serve good food but in the process, do good as well.
The Ray of Hope is a non-profit, non religious multi-racial centre set up by St Peter’s and St Augustine’s churches, Ipoh. Its sole objective is to give hope to people with learning difficulties. The cafe was opened in July of last year in partnership with the Hong Leong Foundation. Its bakery which now produces a wide variety of breads and confectionery was set up by the Rotary Club of Ipoh in 2008 initially for vocational training and now it is turning into a commercial enterprise in the hope of raising much needed funds for the centre.
I went to the Ray of Hope (in the vicinity of Ipoh Kiara Condominium in Bercham) not having too many expectations for a gourmet lunch, given that the Kafe serves multiple purposes: teaching the learning disabled vocational skills; provide them with opportunities to interact with customers and developing social skills; teaching them service skills and hopefully to provide a source of funding for the centre.
Well I was delightfully surprised. An interesting assortment of breads and confectionery arrested my attention and the staff were all standing around with big smiles on their faces. Dato’ Dr Yeoh Beng San, Advisor and Fundraising Chairman for the centre, and his wife Datin Mary Yeo, who is the dynamo behind the centre and the main mover and shaker for the cafe, greeted me with open arms and proceeded to show me around the training centre, the bakery and kitchen. Everything was immaculate and the toilets were the cleanest I’ve ever encountered – an almost impossible feat by Ipoh standards. I was also struck and touched by their motto which is emblazoned on the wall in the cafe and which says: “Every Life Counts, Every Person Matters”.
The menu is extensive. There are more than 20 different rice dishes and a similar number of noodle dishes not to mention spaghetti dishes and western dishes like chicken chops with a big choice of sauces and, fish and chips. The noodles run the gamut from egg noodles, to flat rice noodles to vermicelli to Japanese Udon to ‘lou shi fun’ (short stubby rice ‘pasta’).
I will mention the few items which I tasted and consider the ‘must-haves’. The Assam Laksa was a generous portion, the soup/broth had a fulsome body to it unlike some others I’ve had before which can be plain watery. I could taste the fish that had gone into making the broth as well as the various herbs and spices which are critical to its turning out successfully. Chunks of fish with pineapple and cucumber slivers, topped with a sprig of fresh mint, complemented the smooth white ‘lai fun’, enveloped in the broth – RM5.50.
I spied Nasi Lemak on the menu and being a big fan of this ubiquitous dish, promptly ordered it. I was glad I did. Served with Pandan/Coconut Rice, the Chicken Rendang that came with it was comparable to some of the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere in Malaysia and Singapore. Add to this the aromatic flavour of the pandan (screw pine leaves) and coconut in the rice, and the usual condiments of peanuts, egg and ikan bilis; and I found myself in foodie heaven – RM6.00.
I next tried their Cheese Baked Rice, a heaping bowl of rice with a mixture of seafood topped with a big slice of fish and oven baked with a generous helping of cheese. If ever there was a fusion dish of east and west, this is it; the cheese melted to a golden brown and slightly charred, the pan-fried fish underneath soft and flaky while still lower down, the rice with its garnitures, fluffy and full of flavour. This cheese baked rice comes also with chicken and instead of rice, with spaghetti – RM 12.50.
But it is the bakery that shines as the star of the show in the cafe. I sampled their cookies, their different types of bread, their sweet and savoury buns, and particularly noteworthy are their Lemon Cheese Tarts. At RM0.70 for the bite-size and RM1.80 for the larger ones, they were melt-in-the-mouth delectable and I, a professed non-sweet eater found myself reaching for a second one. I made myself a mental note to order these for takeaways, for birthdays and other parties or as dessert petits fours with coffee at home after dinner; I also tried their Siew Pao, thin fluffy pastry with a tasty chicken meat filling. Helped by the students in filling and wrapping, these paos are made by one of the teachers at the centre and are her own recipe. Excellent – RM1.50.
Of Pasties and Biscotti
Two other bakery items of note are their curry puffs and their pasties. The huge pasty is laudable; the crust, a cross between a suet and short crust pastry, enfolding a filling of chicken and vegetables that was delectably flavourful. This is a meal in itself and is served with salad – RM7.00. The curry puff has the same pastry and filled with a curry filling that actually has meat in it instead of the usual potatoes and onions – RM1.50.
Other items from the bakery which make great party offerings are their boxed cookies and their biscotti, paper thin crisps encrusted with almond and pistachio slivers, an Italian favourite of mine that is great with coffee or just for nibbling. Biscotti: RM12.00
So for all my dear readers out there who read this column, remember that the next time you feel the urge for some confectionery, need to bring a gift to someone’s house, or organising a gathering, remember to place your order with the Ray of Hope Kafe and while there to pick up your goodies, linger awhile and try some of the items on their menu. Not only will you enjoy the taste treat but you’ll be helping a good and worthy cause.
Ray of Hope Kafe (Halal)
24 & 26 Persiaran Bercham Selatan
Taman Sri Kurau, Bercham
Tel: 05-5488796 Open Mon-Fri 9.00 a.m. – 4.00 p.m.
GPS: N 04 37 459 E101 07 455 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org