As we strode in, his eyes lit up further in excitement and anticipation. He knew we were not the regular locals that patronize this popular eatery, but out of towners descending upon their quiet but amiable surroundings.
It was late in the afternoon and they were near the tail end of their operations, and there was little food save for the lei cha dish that they are famous for.
Grandma had a beaming grin from cheek to cheek, happy to welcome new customers to their well furnished shop.
|Cheeky Smiles and Adorable Eyes|
The little boy's younger brother was a bit too young to understand the commotion of strangers, but was just as handsomely adorable as his older sibling. Both were equally shy, yet eager to interact with this bunch of Singaporean tummies, yearning for a good tummy fill.
Before long, the cameras were out. Not focusing on the food, mind you. But on the little ones. The little boy also had an elder sister, and all were scampering around, waiting for our next move.
|Smiling Grandma and her Lovely Family|
Grandma was already preparing our single bowl of lei cha, as her daughter was also preparing to close for the day. This family run business is more family than business. You can see all 3 generations in action here.
Grandma directing, the 2nd gen working and the youngest generation playing. Never has there been a better example of a family working together and playing together than right there. I can only suggest you have a heart of stone if you do not see this picture and not feel happy within.
Lei Cha, or thunder tea/rice is actually a vegetarian dish. Grandma Lew and her family will wake up before dawn to prepare this dish for service around 5am. It is an energy dish, especially for workers who need this pick-me-up to travel to Singapore.
It is mainly made up of long beans, sayur manis, pickled radish, egg and cabbages (info courtesy of Johor Kaki blog). All of these are placed on top of steamed rice before the infusion of the beautiful green broth, or tea as the name of the dish suggests.
To consume, the broth is poured into the vegetables and rice and it becomes like a porridge of sorts. When everything is immersed, there is this amazing combination of flavors and texture that will explode in your mouth.
It is hearty, yet complex, yet earnest, yet comforting, all at once. The broth is savory, with a hint of mint and goo lei sim, that herbal flavor you get from liang teh. It is flavorsome and rewarding. It is also made with a lot of effort. It is also made by family goodness.
|Infused Lei Cha|
Finished off with a sprinkle of fresh nuts, it is the perfect food for people facing a long day at work. It is also a dish that I think, will make people think of home as they travel so far away. A dish that will remind them that there is the reward of family bonding and care when they return home.
And looking at the family that makes this dish at Volcano, one can really appreciate the warmth of family contentment. The daughters work hard everyday in tandem with their mum and dad to run the business, and look perfectly contented doing so. If only more family run business are like this in Singapore.
|The Smiling Lews|
Grandma was so happy to see us enjoy our solitary bowl of Lei Cha, that she did not hesitate to bring out some extras for us. We were generously treated to the goo lei sim tea, which was refreshing and palate cleansing at the same time.
|Goo Lei Sim Tea|
All this while, they were just as obliging with our constant interviewing and photo taking. Never shy, never unwilling, just happy to share our time with them.
Life may be straightforward, and the kampung scene may lack the bright city lights. But something tells me they are not less satisfied with what they have. Less is indeed more, sometimes. Contentment should be easy, not unending.
Grandpa was hiding behind, peeling vegetables for the next day. He reminds me of the gentlest grandpa that you can ever imagine. That look of kindness, etched with a subtle touch of family passion.
And yes, the kids stole the limelight, as they posed like runway models in New York and Paris. The youngest one still grumpy after all the photo shoot, looking for a sense of what's going on. The elder brother knew though, that it's not everyday that out of town folks pass here. And so, he was relishing every moment of it.
Coming here, the abundance of joy will literally make you forget about the food. For, how can anything else be better than the wholesome love of a family being together for a common purpose? Life should always be this good. Families should always be this delightful and happy.
|"Are my eyes big? Are they?"|
Hours later, when I was telling my wife about the little boy with his big eyes and I showed her the above picture. She retorted "His eyes are big, but mine are bigger."
Yeah, I can't argue with that. But you know something? I won't forget Little Big Eyes for a long time.
Volcano Coffee House
Jalan Sri Paya
Kampung Sri Paya
Kelapa Sawit, Kulaijaya
Click here to read Johor Kaki's excellent account of this place too.