It's 12:50 on a Saturday afternoon. We're sitting in our idling car, checking our watches every other minute or so, just like the folks in the ten or so other cars squeezed into this parking lot in Tanjung Malim. At exactly 1pm rolling metal doors sound the alarm, and we join the surge towards Andri's entrance.
We're newbies, so we don't fully appreciate the urgency of the situation. Dave grabs a table by the door and leisurely pulls out his camera and lenses. I amble over to the queue forming behind the glass display case, noting my excellent position at number 5 in line. But it doesn't move. Those at the front of the queue point to dish after dish after dish, asking for three or four spoonfuls of each. Food is fast disappearing from serving platters. The folks in front of me begin to shuffle their feet. They cough nervously. Behind me there's more agitation, maybe even a bit of grumbling.
When I finally take my place at the front of the queue I understand what's got my fellows worked up. I've been advised to order the sambal petai ('stink' beans in chile sauce) - and, in fact, I've just overheard the men behind me agreeing that the dish is superb. But it's gone. We've driven an hour for this lunch. The place has only been open for fifteen minutes and the sambal petai is gone. How could this be?!
Then, the chef gamely scrapes the corners of the pan and comes up with one last little bit. For us. Sorry, guys.
OK. That was a close one. Deep breath. Settle down, I tell myself. We've got our petai. What now? It's a huge, baffling array of dishes laid out before me. What's this? What's that? I ask. I can feel the collective impatience building behind me like a thunderhead. All right, all right ... I've been told to go for the chicken as well. So, chicken rendang (which, 10 minutes later, will also be gone) and gulai ayam (chicken in mild coconut curry - sold out by 1:45) it is. The crispy fried fish, several varieties, seem popular. I go for a plate of bite-sized specimens.
And eggplant smothered in chilies, always a favorite.
A dish of salted sliced cucumber, a plate of ulam (blanched veggies - wing beans, cabbage, okra, long beans) and some fresh sambal round out our feast. I'm glad to retreat to the safety of the table, well away from the hungry eyes boring a hole in my back.
But wait. Other tables are positively groaning under the weight of the dishes atop them. Our selection looks Spartan in comparison, but I can't bear the thought of returning to the back of the queue, now some twelve people long long. Luckily Dave has struck up a conversation with a London-trained tailor with family connections (his mom was the original owner of Andri's). He heartily recommends the dendeng (sun-dried beef, deep-fried and served with red chilies and onions), strides over to the display, grabs the platter so Dave can take a photo, and then dishes up a couple of portions for us.
We tuck in, and immediately understand what all the fuss is about. This is easily the best nasi Padang we've ever eaten - outside of Padang, that is. Everything sparkles with freshness, with layers of flavor that can result only from the utmost attention to every detail. This is home cooking of the highest order.
Chicken rendang slides right off the bone, and is smothered in an almost chocolate-y sauce rich with tens of dried spices. It tastes like it's been cooking for a day, or longer. The dendeng is a spectacular feat - dried beef that is chewy but not at all dry, not a tooth-buster. Caramelized, half-crispy onion rings add sweet complexity to this meaty, spicy dish. Eggplant (is it roasted? boiled?) is so yielding and creamy it could be pureed; the vegetable's mildness is a fine foil to the heat of chopped chilies with a hint of lime juice. The fish are a surprise - not at all greasy, shatteringly crisp, fishy but not overly so (they'd make a perfect beer snack). Spooning up the last of the lusciously coconuty sauce from our ayam gulai, we're genuinely sad to see this meal come to a close.
Andri's is one of many establishments that sprung up years ago along the old Kuala Lumpur-Ipoh highway. The best ones, like this kedai makanan and Bidor's famous duck noodle shop, still pull in the crowds even though the newish North-South highway has lured most traffic from the trunk road. Malaysians will always detour for a good meal.
In spite of the fact that I stole the last bit of sambal petai from right under their noses, the diners at the table next to ours happily share reminiscences of long-ago pit stops. 'I never minded the drive to Penang,' one tells us, 'because it meant I could stop at Andri's for lunch.' Today marks his first visit in five years. 'But it's still the same, as good as ever,' he says, wiping his mouth with a grin.
Who's Andri, anyway? We thought it was this man, and so did the EatingAsia reader who steered us to this find.
But no, this is Anasrul, the owner of Andri's. His aunt opened the restaurant about twenty years ago. When she was ready to retire she sold the business to her nephew and schooled his wife in the art of preparing sublime Minang dishes. Anasrul's wife Wilastieli, working with three assistants, starts on the day's menu at 6:30am. Her chicken dishes rely on kampung ('village') chicken - scrawny, sinewy, free-range birds with a flavor far superior to that of fat, puffy farmed birds - special-ordered and delivered to the restaurant every night. And everything is cooked over an old-fashioned wood fire. Anasrul says it's the wood smoke that makes his wife's food extra tasty.
The masses appear to agree. A few years ago a restaurateur eager to reproduce Andri's dishes in KL offered Anasrul a blank check for his aunt's recipes. To the city's loss, he declined.
We probe a bit about the identity of the restaurant's namesake, but never do get to the bottom of it. But really, with food like this, who cares who the restaurant is named after? It's 2:30pm. And there's barely a morsel left on the display.
Heartfelt (and belly-felt) thanks to CS for directing us to this little gem.
Kedai Makan Andri Masakan Mindang, Highway 1 (the old KL-Ipoh trunk road), Tanjung Malim. Take the N-S highway to the Tanjung Malim exit and turn left to Tj. Malim after the toll. Andri's is on the right, soon after the fourth traffic light, across from a small used car dealership. 1p till the food's sold out (usually 3p or so). Be there at opening on weekends to avoid disappointment - you have been warned. Closed Monday. Tel. 05-459-7944.