Bakso. Photo: Lyn Ong

Locals call the place “Gerai Kak Muna”. It was one of those places you would only know through word of mouth.

“She sells this really awesome bakso. The thing about it is, she sells it from her home so you’ll actually be eating right in her living room!”

That’s how we found ourselves in Kampung Baru one day, going about in search of this seemingly obscure bowl of beef ball noodles, while the call of Friday afternoon prayers rang out from a nearby mosque.

We trotted down a quiet lane off the main road, where a mishmash of kampung style houses meet their modern neighbours. Boys in Islamic garb cycled pass us carrying their prayer mats. We were met with inquiring looks as we weaved our way through the back lanes and out onto the main road again. I followed my friend, the heat beating furiously upon our brows, getting weary and hungry.

Not a moment too soon, my friend cried, “We’re here!” I looked around sceptically as I followed her. Out front was your run-of-the-mill gerai with a few tables and some customers having their meal there. We walked past the gerai, stopping right in front of a door at a ramshackle house that was painted in red and yellow.

Gerai Kak Muna. Photo: Lyn Ong

Peering apprehensively through the doorway, I could see a few schoolgirls sitting around two low tables. Just then a makcik appeared and smilingly invited us in, after assuring us that there was still food. The girls moved to let us past. The place was small, very makeshift and sparse with one door leading to presumably the bedroom and another towards the kitchen.

There was only one item on the menu and that was what everyone came here for – the bakso soup. Bakso, a traditional Indonesian meatball dish, is made from ground meat paste mixed with a slight bit of tapioca flour to make meat balls, and is usually served with a noodle soup along with condiments like lime and chilli.

I felt a sense of awkwardness as I settled down. It’s not everyday that you walk directly into a stranger’s living room to eat. As we sat patiently waiting for our food to come, I soon realized that I was actually sitting on the backseat of a car, re-purposed to be a seat for customers.

The makcik pottered about in her small kitchen. I could see her labouring away over hot pots, boiling the noodles, chopping the onions and so forth. Finally, she came bustling out laden with bowls of steaming hot bakso. “Makanlah!” she said with a smile.

 

I took my first bite, tasted the kick of chilli and was immediately hooked.

 

The makcik’s version of bakso comes loaded with thick glass noodles, two large beef meatballs, lime, spring onions and fried shallots. All this arrives swimming in a pool of savoury, slightly tangy broth, with a side of red chilli paste. I took my first bite, tasted the kick of chilli and was immediately hooked.

In between our slurping down mouthful of deliciousness, the makcik would occasionally stop what she was doing to chat with us, offering up bits and pieces of her story. Hailing from Surabaya, East Jawa, she came over to Malaysia seeking greener pastures in 1986 and has been here ever since. She only ever returns to her homeland during Raya celebrations.

In fact, “Muna”, the informal name of the shop, isn’t even her name. It’s her daughter’s name. Muna studies at a local university, “she mixes with the young people, everyone knows her.” The makcik reckons that it will easier for people to remember the stall as “Muna” while she prefers to remain anonymous herself, refusing to divulge further details about her past.

Although she chooses to keep a low profile regarding her personal life, the makcik tells us that she started the food business way back in 1990. “I used to have a proper stall selling a variety of food items, besides bakso, soto ayam, soto kambing, macam-macam pun ada.” She laments, “Now I’m old, dah tak larat dah. I can only focus on making one thing.”

Kampung house along the way. Photo: Lyn Ong

Located across the road from Kelab Sultan Sulaiman, Gerai Kak Muna has been through many incarnations before settling at the current spot along Jalan Dewan Sultan Sulaiman, opening here in 2002. They used to be based near Menara Safuan but due to the government acquiring land for development, they had to move their stall a couple of times.

It is hard work everyday, she says. She wakes up at 5am daily to do her marketing as everything is prepared freshly from scratch, especially the broth. Coming home, she will start preparing the ingredients and spices for her dish around 8am. Business starts as soon as she is done, which could be any time from 10am – 11am. She sells throughout the day and closes around 9pm.

We hung around for a while after our meal, feeling comfortably sated and wondering if we should cave in to our greediness and get another bowl of bakso each. Meanwhile, a separate group of schoolgirls dropped by for their lunch and something caught our eye.

Similarly to the previous group, all of them ordered their drinks as “bungkus”. The reason was soon obvious. For an extra RM0.30, the quantity was almost double. The makcik would even provide plastic containers for you to put your drinks in. How handy!

The living room area. Photo: Lyn Ong

As we chatted with the makcik, she mentions that the gerai out front sometimes create “trouble” for them and they usually end up arguing. “Maybe they are jealous because I get more customers than them,” she shrugs. “Most of my customers are students from the nearby schools. We get a lot of policemen too, some even coming from as far as Shah Alam. They know us through word of mouth,” she quips.

It was apparent though that most of the makcik’s customers regarded her as a motherly figure. Watching her banter with the students regarding their studies and relationships, she gently chides them with humour and warmth. She confided in us with concern, “Ada satu gadis ni. Dia selalu datang, pagi dan petang. Dia suka makan cili, habis dua mangkuk ni! Nanti perut dia tak boleh, pedas tu cili.”

Gerai Kak Muna is certainly a precious example of all that is simple but good. The place might be shabby and the furniture old and mismatched, but it has a special warmth and the moreish bowl of bakso (priced at RM4.50 per bowl) turned me into a convert. I’ll definitely be back one day for bakso and a chat with the lovely makcik who makes it.

Additional research by Kimberly Mak

To get to Gerai Kak Muna, you may take the LRT (Kelana Jaya line) to the Kampung Baru station. From there on it is a short 15 minutes walk or so to Kelab Sultan Sulaiman which is opposite the gerai. You may call 016-3141062 for any inquiries, ask for Kak Muna.