Lau Pans and Lau Pan Nians of Tea Cars
I dunno about other countries, perhaps they have their movable ice cream trucks, their hawker stands on motorbikes but here in KB, we have what is normally referred to as ‘Tea Car’. Now it’s not what you think. It’s not the kind of car you step up to get your chai latte on.
Usually it’s a long wagon vehicle (mostly Toyota corolla from the 1970’s) with the back seat put down and the back would be loaded with trays filled with all sorts of breakfast-able yummies. It varies from car to car but usually you would find kolo mee, kuey teow, nasi lemak, kuih of all sorts, coffee, tea, soft drinks and cold water.
When I was a kid this was like some kind of ‘special’ car, a travelling kopi tiam, and my first encounter with them is when I was brought to my dad’s work place – construction sites.
Construction of a Kid’s Memory
Dad paints houses and more often than not, he would pick me up after school and I would end up amusing myself in construction sites. Now you’d think it’s dangerous but not really, cuz see by the time the painters, like dad, comes in to paint the house, all the big and dangerous stuff are done, like brick layering and cementing.
Most of the projects dad worked on was those grand houses ordered by rich people. So you can imagine what fun a 10 yr old had imagining herself as a damsel in distress on a particular romantic balcony, or holding a impromptu production of Ali Ba Ba and the forty thieves along dark hallways with multiple rooms.
But what most amused me were the designs of the houses and materials used. Some were very lavish and grand while others were simple and chic. The tiles and glass used were often very pretty and unusual.
It was fun to imagine the kind of people that were going to inhabit these houses. I use to wonder how they could live with so much space and so many rooms. There was even one house with a water fountain inside with a small pond for fish. Sometimes I would play ‘dollhouse’ where I would picture mommy and daddy room is where and how they would decorate it, and same goes for all the other areas of the house. I even have their gardens planned out! Lol.
Dad would usually let me alone roaming about the house as long as I don’t wander too far off. All the other uncles working at the house are dad’s friends so sometimes they would give me little chores to do like sorting out tiles (wait, was that a chore or just something to get me out of their way? Hmmm).
Just One More Piece of Yummy
It was during these lazy afternoons that the tea cars would roll over around 3-ish and sold their goodies.
I remember where was one uncle whose car was literally filled to the brim with food. He had siu mai, chu chang fen, kolo mee, kuey teow, lo pak kuih, wu tou kuih, chai kuih, really, almost everything you can possibly imagine. His coffee and tea are already made in large water dispensers and if you want one, he would rip off a plastic bag, fill it up with either tea or coffee (your choice) and stick a straw into it before handing it to you.
All his stuff was delicious! Even now I can still recall how almost everything was my ‘favourite’, hahaha, kind of a pressure for a 10 yr old to pick just ONE with the single dollar she got from her dad. The uncle was very kind though and always gave me an extra piece of siew mai or chai kuih. I wonder if his family is still doing the same business today. I heard from my colleague when she was working in KB a couple of years ago, the old uncle was still there making the usual rounds. Bless him.
Present Day Tea Masters and Mistresses
Today the tea car in my work place just recently changed from a Chinese aunty (I miss her kolo mee) to a Malay uncle. I really didn’t know there are malays out there making tea car rounds. Not that I’m racist or anything but I’ve always thought the tea car business being a ‘Chinese’ thing, you know, like kolo mee and lion dance.
But now dawns a new era I guess (or maybe there were malay tea car but I just didn’t know until now) and the uncle now catering to our area offers stuff that his wife personally makes, like nasi lemak, mee or mee hoon goreng, curry puff, cucur pisang and other malay kuih of all sorts. To me this is equally yummy and came to a point where I have to watch what I eat cuz it’s all very tempting! Even the vehicle updated, his car is a Toyota Avanza.
Even though I miss the days of long ago, the quaintness of it all, the practice is still very much alive today and although it’s not the same as those of yesteryear, but still, time moves on and when one door closes, another opens.
Besides, uncle’s nasi lemak is pretty good especially with a dash of limau with the sambal ~ delish! ^_^