It's easy to fall into a routine with your lunches - most of us tend to find ourselves in the same place once it gets to one o'clock and after a while, you narrow down your go-to spots according to taste and price, and then you're in a lunch-rut. In my case, it's been Taza's kabsa, in the MGM foodcourt; double patty cheeseburger with extra cheese at Kiwi Cafe; and everything and anything from Begum's. Now we've made this new discovery, Cafe Malaysia.
Something about the set-up of this place, viewed from the road, really appeals to me. It looks like it might be an authentic Malaysian restaurant run by Malaysians for Malaysians. I do accept that people can cook food from countries other than their own, but it's pleasing to think, especially when you're relatively unfamiliar with a kind of food, that you're getting a meal that's truly representative. It's a bit of an imaginary holiday, too. (Authenticity is not my only criteria for visiting a place. The restaurant next door to this looks very 'real' too - it has a signboard hanging off by the hinges and a Christmas tree still up, and I'm giving it a miss. Cafe Malaysia stands out as cheerful and well-kept, as well as authentic.)
There was a movie playing on the screen. I am a big fan of this, for those meals when you arrive too hungry to speak to each other. We moved our chairs to face the telly and sat back contented, happy of an excuse for silence, before we even started the meal. The place is cheerful and clean and the service is very efficient. When we were first there, every table apart from ours was occupied by Malaysian guests, another good sign I reckon, but the staff were happy to explain the dishes on the menu and the specials board to us, the uninitiated.
I like the specials board. A couple of choices every day and it apparently it changes weekly. (Cafe Malaysia is active on Facebook if you want to check ahead.) We went for both specials to share - soto ayam begedil, and lontong - and both were fantastic, salty and tasty and slurpably moreish. Being ignorant, all the ingredients were a happy surprise to me; look, I found peanuts under the garnish! There's a little fried potato ball over here! Well-cooked and flavoursome ingredients, some I didn't recognise, heaped onto one another; it's fun to eat. Boiled eggs, on noodles, on chunks of fresh ginger. Flash-fried noodles, on chicken, on herbs, on rice, on gravy. I was ladling satay sauce onto flat surfaces in my soup...no idea if that's what you're supposed to do.
We paid 4.8 OMR for the food. Soft drinks are hugely marked-up as they are everywhere, but those profits probably pay the rent, so I'm happy to cough up the extra for my Diet Coke. Lastly, for those to whom this might make a difference, Cafe Malaysia leaves food and water outside for stray cats and this (along with their food) just won them a customer for life in me. You can find Cafe Malaysia on this little slip-road by the last traffic lights before Muscat Grand Mall, if you're coming from the Zakher Mall side of Al Khuwair.