*Leave our egos out here.

Last Friday afternoon, the entire family headed north to that sleepy town near the Perak-Selangor border called Tanjung Malim[1]. It rained pretty heavily en route but subsided once we arrived at Yik Mun to get my pau fix, all twenty of them (6 kaya, 6 kari ayam, 8 kari dagi… never mind). We didn’t eat there as we were actually heading to another location in town, which used to be the rest house.

The rest house in 1917. My grandfather is seen here seated to the left of Almarhum Sultan Abdul Jalil.

I can’t really recall dropping by the rest house in Tg Malim, as our usual stops in the pre-PLUS days of interstate family road travel were mainly houses of relatives or friends (one in Gopeng comes to mind), and at best, the rest house in Kuala Kangsor. These rest houses that are/were dotted along the trunk road of Perak were inns in days of yore, and provided cheap sleeps for the wary traveler then. The rest houses would also have a restaurant where you could have a meal before heading off on the road again. The Tg Malim one was somewhat in disarray a few years ago from what I read, but recently had been given a new lease of life thanks to a certain film director named Mamat Khalid.

The rest house is now called Sarang Art Hub which is pretty much an active centre for the local arts, and rest assured, is still functions as a rest house for travelers should you wish to drop by. The original building has been given a fresh coat of paint, giving it a white and black look, probably reminiscent of what it was like back in colonial times, but peppered with B&W murals of senimans from the golden age of Malay cinema, as well as the likes of Akira Kurosawa, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. The porch in front of the Sarang houses a spot for music performance as well as a few settees for guests. As one does in a Malay domicile, guests are politely requested to leave their shoes in the porch at the bottom of stairs leading to the main verandah. Guests are also requested to leave egos too as you can see in the photo below.

The main verandah and the adjoining “bar” room have a few tables for dining, each named after a seniman (M Amin, P Ramlee etc) and from here you could enjoy your food and drink whilst watching people playing music. Adjoining the left side of this bar room is another dining space for guests, doubling as an art gallery with paintings and sculptures by artists, may it be from new or established ones, like the small series of canvasses painted by S Amin Shahab. The main dining areas also house several vintage items like a barber’s chair and one of those massive hair dryers found in amoi hairdressers from the 60s/70s. Apart from murals, the walls and doors contain excerpts from the likes of old P Ramlee film lines, and props from Mamat Khalid’s films.

Sarang Art Hub has a decent selection in their menu which comprises local and Western dishes, pretty much like the sort you get at those mushrooming (but not necessarily hipster) cafés or food trucks in the Klang Valley. The whole family ordered the mee goreng Pak Jabit that came very highly recommended, which was pretty much a mee goreng mamak that was quite nice. If it wasn’t for the two paus I had, I would’ve immediately ordered a second helping. The drinks were lovely especially the teas – the teh ais and teh O ais – came pretty kau[2].

Music is a regular occurence at Sarang. They have a chap who would regularly turn up at about 6 PM, singing Malay and English songs of the oldies persuasion, while playing his acoustic guitar. The band members, if any, are somewhat ad hoc in their arrangement as, provided you have the ability/talent, you could as a guest walk up to ask if you could join in. When I was there last night even Mamat Khalid joined in for a couple of songs on his Hofner bass, as did my brother on electric guitar.

As you can see here, you’d think this performance was rehearsed. So, if you think you have the chops – do join in!

When we were there, a friend of mine, whom I knew from his PhD days at Sheffield, came to meet us. He is a college principal at UPSI, and had been involved with the Art Hub and partially contributed some of the artwork on the old rest house, as well as curating art exhibitions in the Sarang gallery. It was from here I noticed the difference with Sarang when compared to your run-of-the-mill eatery. It has a genuine feeling of community where people here know each other, and you can add that “where everyone knows your name” phrase from Cheers here too. My late cousin, who was also an UPSI academic but in the Faculty of Music, was here almost every day until his recent passing three months ago. And because of that, people whom I never have met came up to me, including Mamat Khalid himself, expressing condolences and sharing stories of arwah with me and my dad. To add to the mix, in the last half hour before we left home, I was surprised by the presence of an old SDAR friend (he appeared briefly in Mamat Khalid’s Werewolf Dari Bangladesh) who dropped in en route to Kuala Kangsar, so much so that Mamat then told me I had no excuse to go home to KL just yet!

The author with Mamat Khalid.

I think I could go to the best ever restaurant in the country to enjoy food with family and friends, but the pleasantness would end there. I had a great time being here as Sarang felt like home, they served simple yet good food, and it was filled with people with similar genuine interests in the arts. Never have we ever stayed in restaurant for five-odd hours (I had seconds), as if we were merely following the 5 petang hingga barai[3] time allocation in their gig posters, to experience something short of a kenduri with people you know.

I cannot promise you the same experience I had, but do check it out if you think the traffic jam is too bad on PLUS!

Sarang Art Hub
Jalan Rumah Rehat
35900 Tanjong Malim
011 1041 5009


[1]I called it Tanjung Bas Malam as a kid. Don’t ask.
[3]Transl. “5 PM ’til you drop.”