Chocha Foodstore: Old-World Charm is the Buzz
A local architect and his partner resurrect a neglected old Petaling Street Shophouse onto a food establishment and community hub.
Old-world charm is Chocha Foodstore's strength.
From the outside, the name Mah Lian Hotel is a misnomer for the actual hidden haven occupying it.
Instead of a motel, visitors stepping in will definitely be surprised by the multifaceted jewel they will find within the confines of the building. Chairs and tables occupy the right side of the ground floor, with more seating areas inside. Aged tiles, rough concrete walls and old bicycles act as ‘decor’.
Formerly a hotel, the facade makes Chocha Foodstore even more intriguing.
Chocha Foodstore, officially opened in July 2016, is at Petaling Street, which is also a collective name for the country’s version of Chinatown.
“Chocha Foodstore is really a project to generate economic activities and bring life to the area,” said founder Shin Chang, an architect by profession. Not just an eatery or teahouse, Chocha also functions as a collaborative platform for multi-disciplined creatives.
Petaling Street’s successful beginning has its roots in the foresightedness of Kapitan Cina Yap Ah Loy, a Chinese community leader in 19th century Kuala Lumpur who opened a tapioca flour mill to provide work to Chinese labourers. The neighbourhood soon grew into a thriving commercial enclave.
A simple interior decor makes the area cosy.
Today, the locale is a bustling trading centre popular among locals and tourists alike. The site is renowned for its shops selling clothes, bags, caps, sunglasses and watches — for a good price, if you haggle well.
Shin, who spent a good part of his childhood roaming the lanes of Petaling Street, is determined to bring life back to the area.
“We basically try to maintain all the existing structures of the shop, the rooms’ layout, as well as the original essence of the building itself. It is too charming and pretty to be wasted, and it is a duty for us to preserve it,” he said.
“We hope this can set an example for stopping unnecessary demolitions of old buildings. We also hope we can be part of a revitalized Kuala Lumpur and Chinatown,” Shin continued.
Chocha Foodstore founder, Shin Chang.
It took Shin about 4 months to refurbish the store and it is one of a few business projects being run in the building. Currently, the restaurant occupies the ground floor which includes a sunny courtyard, along with a coffee bar near the reception and a bicycle workshop tucked at the back.
“The project is a flexible collaboration. We will soon have a small corner for a bookstore dedicated to design publications. We have a coworking space on the first floor now (Shin’s firm MentahMatter Design) and a cocktail/wine bar will open on the same floor.”
The yum cha culture is one of the establishment's hallmark.
A new development — a chain hotel — is taking place across the street from Chocha Foodstore. “I believe it’s better for the resources to be spent refurbishing old hotels rather than building a new one,” said Shin wistfully. He noted, for example, the long-standing art deco-ish Starlight Hotel as a possible candidate.
The Chocha Foodstore project also highlights the heritage of Chinese culture in Malaysia, particularly relating to yum cha. This is already evident in the name: Chocha is a Hakka word for “sit down and drink” — be it tea/cha or any kind of beverage. Interestingly, the word carries different meanings in other dialects, such as “first brew of tea” (Mandarin) and “stir food in wok” (Hokkien).
Chinese Pesto Flat Noodle
Perusing the menu of Chocha Foodstore, one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a ‘fusion’ bill of fare. “My partners, Penny Ng and
Youn Chang, design the menu. There is a twist but the essence is still Chinese,” said Shin.
Cincalok Fried Chicken is batter-fried chicken infused with the pungent cencaluk (fermented geragau shrimps), and served with tangy salsa and the sweet house tomato chutney. The unique amalgamation of flavours and textures takes the dish to another level altogether.
Curryflower is just what the name suggests — curried cauliflower. Curry leaves give it a heady and appetizing aroma. The starchy main is a dish of flat, wide handmade noodles inspired by the local Chinese pan mee. This one is blanketed in capsicums, an intoxicating coriander and Thai basil pesto, sesame and chopped peanuts, designed to make you say “oomph!”.
Cincalok Fried Chicken
“All the dishes in the menu focus on local produce or ingredients, and some of the vegetables come from our home garden,” Shin said.
Tea, an important part of the Chinese food and drink culture, is a specialty here. Chocha’s cold-brewed tea range such as Sencha, Gold Rush (a fragrant brew with a sweet aftertaste) and Ding Dong Oolong comes highly recommended. There’s also hot tea such as Pu-erh.
NOTE: Chocha Foodstore is open daily from 11.00 am to 10.00 pm. Address: Chocha Foodstore, 156, Jalan Petaling, 50000 Kuala Lumpur (Tel: +603-2022 1100).