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Dining with the DAP

FOR dinner one day last week, I decided to visit the DAP’s Rocket United Café which opened a month ago.

Choosing to eat there felt a wee bit odd, as if one were making a political statement by deciding to patronise the outlet. And considering too, that there are numerous other food outlets and a wai sek kai (hawker centre) just across from the café which is located in SS2, Petaling Jaya.

The kopitiam-style café is pork-free, although I could not spot officially-approved halal certification. It has DAP written all over it, though, from its entrance with the party’s blue and red rocket logo beginning in the tile work on the five-foot way and extending up onto a wall of the interior. A pull-down screen hid part of the rocket’s design and I was half-expecting a ceramah video to be playing but thankfully it was the Channel V music video channel instead.


Near the cashier, spare change for Beng Hock?

At the entrance and facing the street is a book rack where the past and current editions of the party organ, The Rocket, are sold. At the cashier’s counter, there is a donation box for the Teoh Beng Hock Trust Fund.

Inside, one wall is taken up by a display cabinet selling DAP memorabilia like t-shirts, Justice for Beng Hock button badges and coffee mugs. Also on sale are books, which include titles like The Memoirs of Shamsiah Fakeh: From AWAS to 10th Regiment, and The Finest Hour: The Malaysian-MCP Peace Accord in Perspective. Books by Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali and DAP researcher and Member of Parliament Liew Chin Tong make up the other titles available. I thought it was good that finally, there is an easily-accessible public place where alternative histories and commentaries on Malaysia are available.


Upstairs, with bed-like setting and a wall photo essay on the DAP’s success in the March 2008 general elections

There’s also a cosier upstairs section with rattan chairs and bed-like couches to recline on. These are meant for football nights and are also a more comfortable spot for patrons using WiFi, which is provided free.

All about Lim Guan Eng


Anwar and Guan Eng watch while you eat

But what really becomes the topic of dinner conversation is the blown-up photograph of DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. It takes up half a wall and looms over diners. A bit too-in-your-face, perhaps? Plus, Lim is photographed at an angle that isn’t too flattering, giving diners a view of his raised underarm.

Lim, who is also the Penang Chief Minister, is featured a fair bit in the menu. In between the pages of what’s available to eat, there are photos of him handcuffed and a short write-up of his detention under the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act for his allegations of statutory rape against former Malacca Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik.

On another page is a short essay of PR’s performance in the 2008 general election, the DAP’s wresting of Penang, Lim’s appointment as chief minister and the state government’s achievements to date.

All in, a little too personality-driven, I thought. Then again, March 2008 was a historic milestone.


Chendol and char kuay teow

But I’m here for the food and opted for the Penang Char Kway Teow while my dining partners chose the Nyonya Rice with Chicken Rendang and chendol. A cursory glance around the coffee shop and I noticed that most people were ordering the chicken rendang which comes with the blue-dyed nyonya rice or nasi lemak. Most friends who had already eaten here had also recommended the rendang.


Chicken rendang with Nyonya blue rice

Verdict: the rendang is quite good, tender and spicy, the fried kway teow was a tasteless disappointment, and the chendol lacked sweetness. Prices are reasonable, however, compared to other kopitiam outlets, and the choices on the menu are far wider. Another friend who ate here said the prawn mee was a good choice, and the Sarawak laksa “okay only”. But I personally tend to judge outlets based on whether they can pull off an everyday favourite like char kway teow. I’m doubtful about any place that can’t hack something as commonplace as that.

Another thing — despite what the menu said about serving Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for RM4.90 a scoop, I was given ice cream that tasted locally-made. When I queried a waitress, she said it was because they didn’t have the imported stuff in stock and she would deduct RM1 off my bill.

DAP publicity chief Tony Pua, whose idea the café was, admitted that the consistency of the food needed to be improved. “We have three chefs who rotate on shift, so it may be a bit hard to get the same quality of food every time,” he says in a phone interview.

A DAP chill-out franchise?

Pua, the Petaling Jaya Utara MP, had been thinking of a DAP café since the March 2008 general elections. It only came to fruition in the early part of this year when he found party supporters willing to invest and execute the idea.

“To ensure that DAP leaders do not get involved in business, no party leader should have a stake or be involved in the running of the café,” he says. Only the DAP logo, party products and images are used in the café under a licensing agreement. In exchange, the party gets up to 10% of the café’s earnings.

“The party has no investment but gets a say on the interior design and the items put up for sale. The risk to us is our image if the food is bad!” Pua adds.


Discount available for DAP members!

The café isn’t out to convert patrons into DAP supporters or to recruit members. There isn’t even any incentive to join the party other than the 10% discount on food and drink. Rather, Pua says, “It’s a place for people to hang out and to showcase our collectibles and books. There’s no big political goal, it’s just about publicity and reaching out.”

Other DAP elected representatives are interested in having branch outlets opened in their constituencies, he adds. SS2 is under his Petaling Jaya Utara seat.


Party logo at the entrance

The café had a steady stream of customers for the two hours I was there. I spotted a mix of Indian and Chinese Malaysians, but could not discern any Malay Malaysian diners. The diners were mostly families or groups of young people, the suburban type of crowd dressed in shorts and t-shirts looking for a quick meal. There were also many who walked past the entrance and did a double-take to scrutinise the outlet before moving on.

What does the Rocket United Café say about political thinking among the public? That investors are willing to throw money behind the DAP brand name in the competitive food and beverage industry? That anti-Barisan Nasional sentiments can actually be turned into a market segment? Given the volatility of politics, what would happen to the business if DAP were to lose in the next general election?

Food for thought?


Deborah Loh will return to the Rocket United Café when they have real Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

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17 Responses to “Dining with the DAP”

  1. jin says:

    Certainly, a creative marketing strategy of the DAP that can whet people’s appetite.

  2. siew eng says:

    That last line is such a well-placed cliche :)

    The answer to that is – just get the food quality up to mark. Malaysians have a homing device for good food that’ll take them anywhere, finances permitting.

    I’d be more worried about the cult personality promoted by the larger-than-life pix in a nation prone to hero-worship (guilty!) than perjuangan-worship.

  3. KW Mak says:

    Shouldn’t the waiter or waitress be instructed to advise customers that the ice cream wasn’t available? What if there were other customers who ordered the dessert, not knowing what Ben and Jerry’s ice cream really tastes like, and did not question the authenticity of the product like the writer did?

    Even if DAP isn’t involved in the management of the place, I’m sure it doesn’t help if the headlines in major newspapers were to scream that DAP ice cream isn’t authentic (pardon the scream/ice cream bit, I couldn’t help myself).

    And since the restaurant carries the DAP name, it must also uphold the standards and ensure that all official guidelines from the local council is adhered to, as it has to be a role model for all other restaurants.

    Personally… I think DAP should either do the cafe business properly or stay out of it entirely. When you lend your name to a product and something goes wrong with the product, it isn’t so clear cut to say, “It wasn’t my fault. I just endorsed the product.”

  4. Hoyohoyo says:

    Hah, was following Tony’s facebook and it seems the cafe doesn’t sell beef as well… but I think they did not manage to get the food halal-certified, and perhaps that’s a huge barrier for Malay [Malaysian] Muslim friends…

    I think what really matters for a political party is its ideology and stance in governing, which sadly aren’t really existent in Malaysian politics. Party leadership, and the control of federal/state governments can come and go; what reasons people [have] to support a certain political party (and henceforth its franchise?) should be based on ideology and policies…

    It’s easier said than done though…

  5. seriati says:

    I will make it a point to patronise the place once in a while. Parking in SS2 is no joke. As an ex-Umno [member], I will try to invite some Umno members, insyallah, and see what they have to say about it.

    I think the Anwar-LGE blow-up should be scaled down. Reminds me of east European government offices during the Cold War. Even the best Penang kuey teow would taste different if big brother is looking over your back.

    Wishing the cafe the good luck.

  6. Andrew I says:

    The fact that you were not served the imported ice cream without first being informed about it speaks volumes about the standard of service in this country.

    Most wouldn’t find it a big deal, but why pay RM15 for a coke at certain outlets when you can get it for one at the supermarket?

    Malaysians tend to overlook the small things, but service is something which is intangible, and the consequences of word of mouth can be dire. It’s small wonder Thai standards are impeccable when it comes to service. Just look at how much tourism is bringing in for them.

    It’s not just the pole dancing, you know.

  7. chong kee chai says:

    Great idea. I will come by on my next trip home. Will promote the place and encourage others to do likewise. Please play down the cult personality bit. We love him and know who he is. Just don’t get too swollen headed.

  8. M.K. says:

    A very innovative idea. Wish them success all the way!

  9. James says:

    This is great news! Not so much for culinary quality in the food served BUT it is a means for the average Joe [and Jane], like you and me, to show support for this venerable political institution without being hauled up by MACC or PDRM. Come on, you cannot prosecute someone for patronising a cafe or can you? Not so sure in this topsy-turvy bolehland of ours.

    Once again, let us all provide patronage to this cafe for the good of all MALAYSIANS.

  10. MM says:

    These people at RUC don’t even bother to cater halal food to the majority of Malaysians …. yet they want to claim Malaysian Malaysia agenda? Ignore the majority and just concentrate [on] the minority. I reiterate, political parties in Malaysia are full of [...] cheap talk and twisted agenda, be it BN or PR. Both are selfish, self-centered, good for nothing. This is why I remain a non-registered [voter]. [...]

  11. Joseph Ting says:

    Definitely GOOD for publicity and a place for ALL Malaysians to hang out. It is not about politics but a place to glance through history in the making.

    Well taken steps. I will definitely visit the cafe on my next trip to the area.

    Keep up the good work, DAP.

  12. Phua says:

    Reminds me of the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) in its heyday just before World War One. The SPD had its own network of social service organisations for party members. Including bowling, gymnastic and cycling clubs! :)

  13. Great initiative. The cafe looks good. Will go check it out soon. Wishing the Rocket all the best….

    Cheers!

  14. Sean says:

    Hilarious! Reminds me of the Catholic church I went to far too often as a child. The church ‘modernised’ the church hall on a wave of renewed enthusiasm after an emotional coach trip to see the Pope at Coventry. My mum (the Priest’s housekeeper) had an agonised look on her face when she saw the larger-than-life picture of PJP on the wall. “He’s a great man, but I can’t bear the eyes following me everywhere,” she whispered.

    So remind me… in the picture above – which one is the Pope?

  15. George says:

    Will visit the cafe one of these days. When will the cafe be launched in Klang?

  16. ammie says:

    The author forgot to mention that the public can register to vote at the cafe! The cafe provides voter’s registration forms for those who have not registered to vote. It beats registering at the post office for sure!

  17. lalang says:

    @MM

    If the majority of Malaysian cannot get Halal food here, then it’s their problem. We the minority here can form Federal Govt next elections WITHOUT the help of the majority.


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