Yang TU Yang Ni
Pass the old police station on Hugh Low Street and you can’t help but notice the garishly painted building at the junction with Cowan Street. It’s painted yellow, green, red – Rasta Colours. This is the Chokodok Reggae Bar and Backpackers’ Hostel.
Chokodok is the brainchild of Wira who has been travelling and working at anything he can find. He returned to Ipoh with lots of ideas for a bar/cafe and hostel. More than that, he returned to Ipoh with a Japanese wife – Keiko who is fully supportive of his project.
Wira Malik runs the cafe/hostel with his sister, Ina and brother Anaz. Wira has dreadlocks to make any Rastafarian proud. A devotee of Bob Marley, the patron saint of Reggae, he decided to open a reggae bar. Later he added the backpackers’ hostel as he felt Ipoh needed a place for true budget travellers.
Starting up for them has not been easy. But what they lacked in money they made up with passion and determination. They approached Tourism Perak for support to get them a government loan or grant. Not content to leave it at that they made their pitch to Yayasan Bina Upaya directly. Their perseverance paid off, they were given RM30,000 seed money. The promised letter of support from Tourism Perak eventually came after they got the money. Why am I not surprised?
Thirty thousand doesn’t go far these days. The two brothers and friends knocked up furniture from recycled wood. They painted and decorated the place themselves. The result is cheap chic. While the brothers were busy with the decorating, Ina worked on the menu.
For their initiative and imagination they got grief from Ipoh City Council who objected to their furniture – unhygienic it seems. Unhygienic why? Because they are not a marble-top bar and laminated tables with pleather chairs? Why, I have seen dirtier places with tiled floors and plush furnishings. The Reggae Bar is one of the cleaner eateries I have been to in town. Our authorities need to lighten up and go after the real culprits instead of three people on a tight budget trying to make a go at it.
The ambience is interesting bordering on weird but pleasant nonetheless. The table I sat at was a discarded ‘wheel’ that once used to coil cables. My stool was a tree stump.
I ordered Jerk Chicken and while waiting for it and chatting with Wira, one of the staff came up to him and said “takde timum”. In which restaurant do you have kitchen staff coming up to the boss in the restaurant and saying we are out of cucumber in front of customers? Naïve it may be, but refreshingly honest nonetheless.
The Jerk Chicken was tender and tasty although it could be a little spicier and the smokiness one expects of jerk meat was not noticeable. The salad was miniscule and of course without cucumber. I ordered lime syrup with instructions to go easy on the syrup and “COLD please”. The drink I got was tepid and too sweet. I left it. Instead I sat back and listened to Anaz and his group belt out some numbers. Why no reggae, I enquired? Apparently that’s Wira’s department – how appropriate with his dreadlocks and all – while Anaz with his specs was more John Lennon.
I felt that the food could be more interesting. I expected Akee and Salt Fish and Callaloo – a typical Jamaican Stew of vegetables and meat. Papaya Salad is another Caribbean dish which can easily be replicated.
Wira assured me there will be new dishes added, as they go along. But whatever is lacking in the menu is more than made up by the ambience and the friendliness of the place. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with just about anyone there. You certainly can’t turn round to the next table in any of the so-called high-class diners to chat. They will think you are from TR.
I told Wira that my friend complained about not being able to get a drink (and I don’t mean water). He said that while he does not serve alcohol he has no objections if you bring your own grog and drink it discreetly.
Would I go back? Well there are not many places in town where you can have a decent meal, enjoy live music and interesting company on less than RM20 these days. And there’s no corkage if you bring your own. Yes, I will certainly go back and bring friends too. The Maliks deserve all the support they can get for their venture, or should I say adventure.
May the blessings of Jah be upon them!
(the man from TR)
Or anything that covers your vitals will do.