Malaysia-The town that Barfi put on the map
SERENDAH will never be erased from my mind for two reasons: its exceptional barfi and the horrendous traffic jams that often led to chaos in the little town in the 1960s and 1970s.
Prior to the advent of the North-South Expressway in the 1980s, no one had any choice but to drive through the little hamlet that tin built in Hulu Selangor.
The trunk road north ran through the town which was infamous for a narrow old bridge that saw an accident almost every other day.
When collisions took place at the natural bottleneck that the British-built bridge represented, all hell broke loose, with travel plans generally going awry for hundreds of motorists.
Serendah would then be called in to meet the sudden and urgent needs of a hungry crowd of irate motorists and their families.
As motorists fumed, businessmen, especially those running restaurants and mechanic shops, smiled.
Many northward-bound travellers, knowing that it would usually take several hours to clear the bridge, made a beeline for the little restaurants fronting the road.
With vehicles inching their way forward, there were also many cases of cars stalling and requiring the help of the handful of mechanics in town.
There were several occasions I remember when my father's old Ford Anglia overheated and he pulled over to cool the engine.
It was then that my siblings and I would walk over to the Sikh stalls selling barfi (palkoa in Tamil) for a taste of the heavenly milk and sugar-based concoction.
At that time, there were several stalls, mostly manned by the Sikhs of Serendah (there are only six families left in town), selling the sweetmeat.
Today, there are only two which appear on all counts to be on their last leg with almost no chance of the next generation taking over.
After the North-South Expressway opened in the mid-80s to allow motorists the ease of making the Kuala Lumpur-Penang journey in a smooth and effortless 31/2 hours, few took the meandering trunk road north.
Mohinder Kaur, who runs one of the two barfi stalls in Serendah, says the highway sounded the death knell for the town with the gradual drying up of the decades-old patronage of motorists.
"When the motorists used the trunk road in those days, business was good. We had a stall in a Chinese coffeeshop along the main road in the early 1970s that did roaring business," says the 63-year-old who has been in the trade for 38 years.
The president of the Serendah Sikh Temple (perhaps the only woman temple head nationwide) adds that her children, who have settled down elsewhere, are not interested in continuing with the business.
Mohinder, 63, and her husband, Mender Singh, 73, sell barfi, coconut candy and laddu from their sprawling house just off the main road.
Their brand -- Kalhas-Khoa -- is known around the world with many Malaysians coming home for holiday making the trip to Serendah to stock up on barfi.
I can attest to the fact that the quality of their barfi has not changed a wee bit over the past 45 years that I have been eating it.
Mohinder's workers still make it the painstakingly traditional way, stirring cow's milk and sugar in huge steel containers over gas stoves.
Perhaps the only thing that has changed over the years is the fact that wood fires have given way to gas.
"The secret is in the continuous stirring and a steady fire. You also have to make sure that every utensil is clean," says Mohinder, who also specialises in laddu (ghee *****), chocolate barfi and coconut candy.
As I watch a worker put his hand to the huge wooden utensil used to stir the milk into the consistency of thick yogurt, a Sikh couple walks in to place an order.
The barfi, which goes for RM30 a kg, chocolate barfi (RM34 a kg) laddu (RM20 a kg) and coconut candy (RM20 a kg), can be found in the Lotus Restaurant in Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya and the Nesan Curry House in Rawang.
The other barfi stall is run by Krishnan Lal, 74, who proudly tells me that he started business on Sept 1, 1967 and has, therefore, been at it for 43 years.
His small stall next to a new school along the main road has not changed in appearance since its inception, with the grandfather of six manning it alone today.
"I run a small business now. With the Expressway in the 1980s, business died down. It is very difficult to survive on local customers alone," he says, a palpable tinge of regret in his voice.
Lal's sweetmeat repertoire is slightly larger than Mohinder's with additions being mysore pak, jelebi, athirasam and halwa.
"My sweetmeats are popular with locals. Even the Malays like it and make orders for Hari Raya Aidilfitri and other festivals," says the septuagenarian.
Lal says his son, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Johor Baru, has asked him to retire "but what will I do at home after working all these years?"
Serendah is by all indication, in the last throes of death as a town with many youngsters migrating to Kuala Lumpur or nearby Rawang in search of jobs.
It may soon be reduced to a town of old people reminiscing about the days when barfi and traffic congestion put the town on the map.
Read more: The town that barfi put on the map http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/31ser-2/Article/#ixzz13vLR0QLj
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