Support your neighbourhood store

In shopping on October 19, 2011 at 2:16 am

Your friendly neighbourhood grocery store.

UPDATE 30 Oct 2011: I just found out that the two blocks of shops at Jalan Batai will make way for development. I don’t know where Hock Lee will move, or when. Some of the others affected the flower shop, magazine shop and the two coffesshops serving the best pork noodles, wan tan mee and yee thau mai. Neighbourhood institutions gone. Will miss you all.

One of the challenges I face in cooking is sourcing for ingredients. It’s difficult to find everything I from at a single place. Even a hypermarket like Carrefour doesn’t have everything. Some of the more traditional local local ingredients are available only in wet markets. If I need western ingredients like sundried tomatoes and anchovies, I would have to go to a high-end supermarket like Village Grocer or Cold Storage. But zipping around town from one place to another is out of the question as I don’t drive.

Which is why I love the Hock Lee mini market at Jalan Batai. It’s near my office in Damansara Heights and has been around since 1948 (so it says on the signboard). Since it’s in a posh area (we’re talking multi-million ringgit bungalows here), you’d find food catering to the old rich and expat community.

This means you could get old school stuff like Lea & Perrins Worcestershire  Sauce and frozen peas and western basics like cheese (something more than Kraft slices), cream (the whole works – full cream, sour cream, clotted cream…), fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, dill, rocket, thyme, etc.) and even pastries (pie crust, phyllo dough, puff pastry). It also stocks fancy items like risotto and yes, sundried tomatoes. World cuisine? There’s Vietnamese rice paper, couscous and hummus. Let’s not forget the basic local ingredients like bunga kantan, gula melaka, curry leaves, serai and daun limau purut. Sometimes the nearby Giant supermarket doesn’t even have these. Hock Lee is a small place, but it seems to have all the things I need.

Another surprising thing about Hock Lee is the prices. You would think that an independent store (not a big chain like Carrefour and Giant) in a posh neighbourhood would charge steep prices. On the contrary. I’m not sure about fresh items like meat and vege, but things like canned food and dairy products are 20 sen to RM2 cheaper than Giant, which is widely believed to offer more value. And Hock Lee is never on sale (except for the bread in the clearance basket).

Hock Lee also has good service. None of that ‘I don’t know’, ‘not my department’ or ‘you’re ruining my day’ attitude you would often face in the larger stores. I believe most of the staff have been there for many years.

The cashiers are very courteous.  If I don’t see a particular vege on the shelf, the lady in charge of that section would get it for me. I even found out that fresh herbs are delivered at lunch time on Fridays, so it would be best if I went there after lunch if I needed basil for pesto.

This mini market is also very clean. No icky things in the shopping basket or blood dripping in the meat section. And I didn’t detect any foul smell when I poked around at the back of the store looking for the vege lady. QC is good too. No wilting vege, rotting fruit, bruised meat, dented cans or expired items are ever put out for sale.

There you have it. Your friendly neighbourhood store. If there is one in your area, show your support, or it would soon be pushed out by the big guys. Even if I work somewhere else, I would probably take the bus to Hock Lee and do all my shopping in one go. Sure beats trekking up and down the length of Mid Valley and jostling with the crowd to look for pine nuts. At Hock Lee, I can shop in peace.

  1. Sounds like a place I must make a visit, need some cream for my pavlova. Hock Choon is too far and too jammed to go. Yes I completely agree, support your neighbourhood stores. Like everywhere else, they do get pushed out by the big guys. I actually prefer to shop in these little shops and markets than any of the hypermarket. I get all my veg from the Thursday night market and sometimes from a van that come round on Saturday afternoon. And I have never been disappointed with the quality.

  2. No, I haven’t seen any around here. It seems we only have the big guys! I used to go to Cold Storage in Solaris until 1Mont Kiara opens. I often get my tin tomatoes there. Occasionally they do have good deal for wine at their store in Ikano. According to some prices at 1Mont Kiara are much cheaper. As I don’t get meat and veg from supermarket, so can’t quite tell the difference. After many months of absence, I went to Cold Storage last week hoping to get some roast pork. But the whole floor now looks more like a storage area! The deli, Korean food section (maybe they have moved it downstairs), the lovely little cafe all gone! I think big guy might also be having survival problem.

  3. The Hock Lee’s in Damansara Heights opened in the early 70s. The original Hock Lee’s was in one of the old shophouses along Jalan Tun Perak. I remember my mother taking me there once or twice in the 60s. It is indeed an institution – but one that will be sacrificed to a developer’s quest for more profits. Aside from the fact that Damansara Heights is fast losing its charm, one wonders how the existing infrastructure can possibly support more high rise developments.

    • Hello Pedas Pedih. Your comment reminds me of Naafi. My mum took me to the one in Penang when I was a child. It was a store for the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) personnel. Great candies. When we moved to Kuching, the frozen chicken wings (they came in a flat box) was our treat for birthdays. When the Aussies left, the store was renamed Pernama and all the imported stuff gave way to barangan buatan Malaysia. It could not compete with other stores and now people go there for the tax-free beer (before you get excited, it’s only for armed forces personnel, present and ex) and Corningware.

      I’m sure you know that the Yut Kee kopi tiam at Jalan Dang Wangi will be moving out too. Took me 3 buses to get there yesterday but I got my fix!

      Yes, Damansara Heights is getting very crowded. As I travel from Mahameru, I see the land on my left bulldozed for development. Then there’s Twins, two block of 36-storey condos under construction. The parking here is already bad and traffic is at Jalan Damanlela during rush hour. I can’t imagine the chaos when all the development is ready. Hopefully the MRT will ease the commuter congestion. The Immigration Dept has also moved out from Pusat Bandar Damansara. I have no idea if the place will be redeveloped.

  4. I don’t shop at Hock Lee …well I don’t shop for groceries but I know that it has a great reputation and is one of Damansara Height’s notable landmarks. Yes, Hock Lee deserves to be called a landmark : ).

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