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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