I have often thought about giving up coffee. Because as a traveller my life would be so much easier if I didn't need that first killer cup in the morning.
It's not as if I don't, or can't, consume other forms of caffeine. In fact it's not coffee but Diet Coke that delivers my wake-up jolt. There, I've written it for all to see: I wake up with Diet Coke. Every morning, whenever I'm home: half a can (I share one with Dave) to get me out the door and walking our dogs.
And sometimes, when we're on the road, half a can to get me out the door in search of ... coffee. Do I embarass myself by confessing that when we road-tripped in southeastern Turkey last June we hoarded Diet Cokes, scooping cans off convenience or grocery store shelves by the half dozen and stashing them on the floor behind our car seats so that we wouldn't have to go a single morning without? Our days in Gaziantep, Mardin, Midyat, Van, Kars, and Erzurum began with a muffled "thuup" as we opened our warm can of Diet Coke and passed it back and forth before hitting the streets. To look for coffee.
Because even after a Diet Coke I still need that cup of coffee, a good strong coffee, to set things right. Just one cup (well, a big cup) and I'm good to go. Most of the time I don't touch the stuff again for the rest of the day.
So we were in Kuching last week, and I had a problem. The local kopi wasn't doing it for me. I tipped back mug after mug (a Kuching-ism -- kopi is often served in mugs, Nescafe is in cups) to negligible effect. Asking for my kopi "gaeow" (which means "strong" and rhymes with "how") didn't do any good.
By our second morning in town I was seriously in need. And then we found Nam Seng.
It wasn't coffee that initially drew us into Nam Seng, but the shop itself. It is one of the loveliest old kopitiam we've ever seen -- wide and deep, with a red tiled floor and old wooden front counter ood and glass cabinets running its length along both walls.
Nam Seng is sited alongside an alley so one wall is pierced with windows. The coffee station occupies the shophouse's central airwell, which in fair weather is left open to the sky. Morning light loves its yellow walls.
The coffee is good, and if you ask for it to be made strong it will be.
Most of the coffee consumed in Sarawak (plantations in the state grow robusta and Liberica beans) is roasted without the addition of the butter/margarine and sugar that lends peninsular Malaysian kopitiam coffee it's beefy bitter edge. If it's not made strong enough all flavor disappears with the addition of sweetened condensed milk.
Not a worry at Nam Seng.
The kopitiam is run by a couple in their late sixties. They're not especially voluble but they're friendly enough, and he takes a quiet pride in the kolo mee and wonton mee he prepares at a stall parked at Nam Seng's entrance. The wonton mee alone justifies a visit.
Ordered "dry" it arrives graced with meaty slices of Hong Kong-style barbecued pork, thick-skinned wonton encasing a decent-sized plug of more pork, chopped, and perfectly al dente noodles dressed with nothing but cracklings and lard oil. Sliced chilies in white vinegar and clear broth are the only accompaniments.
Nam Seng has its regulars but it's sadly nowhere as busy as it once was. The same could be said for most of the businesses at this end of town, no doubt hit hard by the municipal government's lame-brained decision a few years ago to remove the Kuching's wonderful wet market from its riverfront.
Nam Seng, Jalan Market, Kuching, Sarawak. Closed Sunday.