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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.

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