A distasteful time at Hameediyah’s
An early briyani dinner at an old favourite turned into something quite distasteful on Monday evening. Hameediyah was fairly quiet at about 7pm, just one person at the table downstairs and one couple upstairs: there is a different feel to the place nowadays, with kitchen and serving crew almost all foreign workers, many of them recent arrivals.
They seemed to be different from the crew present when the restaurant reopened just before Hari Raya last year.
The Nepali boy upstairs brought a teh ais, following up with two chicken briyanis from the dumb waiter, then seemed a little confused when asked to pour away some of the too-milky tea and top it off afresh, to lessen the awful sweetness. After a little explaining, he said in English, “You want less sugar?” He clattered away downstairs, reappearing with a full glass. It was a little less awful but had been watered down.
A slim Tamil-speaker came clattering up the stairs, exchanged sentences in Hindi with the Nepali, then shouted noisily in Tamil down the stairwell to someone below.
The sudden clamour almost brought back some of the atmosphere of the plain old noisy Hameediyah, but only for a moment, as we tucked in: the chicken briyani was up to the usual standards but the dalcha in a combined serving was hardly enough for two, though the requisite potatoes and brinjals rose above the waterline. The timun, though, had a little extra “kick” from the chilli-vinegar sauce.
The couple behind us moved off, another couple took a nearby table, ordering roti telur and a pair of men noisily took the long table by the window to await their friends.
The meal over, we stepped carefully down the stairs, one stair board already loose nine months after the shop renovations, to settle the bill, now with added GST for extra flavour.
A couple of hours later at home, my companion complains of not being to find her four-day-old pair of glasses, realising after a futile rummage through her bag that she must have left it behind.
Several attempts at phoning up in the morning merely result in the petulant whine of a faxmodem before an annoyed human voice comes on the line. They’ll check and let me know, she says, taking down the number.
Later in the afternoon, we drop by while on our way to attend to other chores. The boss is at the table next to the casher, and shouts out to his workers. Check with the staff upstairs, he tells us. Halfway up the stairs, we meet the Nepali boy who had served us: but he shakes his head and says he didn’t see anything on the table. We have a look around and at the serving counter. The Tamil-speaker with the blue apron comes up and recognises us. Again, a negative response. As we turn around to leave, he says, loudly and firmly, “Kalau says jumpa, saya tentu simpan.”
It’s quite ambiguous. He could have meant he would have put it away safely — or that he would have just taken it and kept it.
The boss is nonchalant, unlike on previous visits; the serving staff indifferent and perhaps a little sullen.
I decide it’s time to end half a century of patronage, dating back to the rare murtabak treat in schoolboy days to a time when curry kapitan at Hameediyah was almost a weekly affair, with the added spice of chance meetings with Penang emigrés home on holiday, or some familiar old-timers, including twice encountering Towkay Loh Boon Siew buying his mee goreng.
No more of that.
Hameediyah is firmly crossed off the list of old favourites.