About 10 years ago in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, nestled a down-home porridge stall that acted as a firm fixture and a neighbourhood favourite, for citizens of the area. For a good 30 years, Lester Koh Thin Hoong, operated and ran the popular porridge stall known as Hoong Kee Seafood Porridge.
Mr.Lester who was initially in the mechanical engineering field, quit his job in 1987 during the recession, to pursue his passion for cooking. He rented a stall and started selling porridge, a classic comfort food for many Malaysians. As his stall slowly gained regular customers, he started to expand his range of porridges to include chicken, frog, Hong Kong style porridge, a wider range of fish porridges such as pomfret, threadfin, grouper, and of course there was his classic seafood porridge.
Unfortunately, by the time his stall had established wide recognition amongst denizens of PJ, the rental for the stall had become too steep and Mr.Lester was forced to close. He was offered a position as head chef, at a restaurant in Sungai Long, where he worked for 10 years.
When the pandemic hit in March last year, Mr.Lester was amongst the unfortunate thousands who had lost their jobs. Looking back today, it seems like a blessing in disguise, as he took a trip down memory lane during this difficult period.
(Credit: The Star)
Mr.Lester’s son, Marcus, who had also unfortunately lost his job, came up with the bright idea of reviving the old family business, deciding it was the perfect time to do so. They had to pay their bills and put food on the table, somehow. Getting the business up and running was a process, one that took months. Marcus was in charge of research; scoping out competitors and learning how to handle the operations, while Mr.Lester took to getting reacquainted with his famous recipes, which was a process he thoroughly enjoyed.
In an interview, Mr.Lester admitted that during the few months that he spent getting back into his old routine, he actually produced a recipe that was superior to his old one. He had also made a few adjustments so as to assuage modern palates.
The first six months were rough for Mr.Lester and his son. Not only were they running a home business now, but it was one that no one really knew of, resulting in poor sales. Still, they relentlessly persevered, and with the help of supportive friends and regular customers, they pulled through.
(Credit: The Star)
His supernova porridge is still his signature seafood porridge, currently going for RM23. The porridge is rich with grouper fish slices, clams, large fresh prawns, dried scallops, accompanied with a few herbs and yau char kwai, which is fried dough. Mr.Lester still has a variety of porridges ranging from crab meat porridge, to grouper head and belly porridge, amongst others. This time however, the duo have decided to add a selection of authentic Chinese dishes to the menu, such as braised pork belly and fish head curry.
(Credit: The Star)
After months of struggle and hardships, their home business is now doing very well. Marcus hopes to learn as much as he can from his experienced father, so that he can take on the family business when the time is right. Together, father and son have pulled through a cloudy period and have paved a better path for themselves. Going back to their roots, their past, and relentlessly pursuing something that matters to them and their family, is inspiring, and acts as a reminder that there is always a solution. Do not give up hope.
This pandemic has affected the lives of many Malaysians, who are now struggling to make ends meet. It is heartening to see Malaysians coming together, to help lift and support one another. In such challenging times, it truly is important that everyone sticks together and stands strong.