It takes a careful eye to find Lao Hoe, a mom-and-pop laksa eatery with a 40-year-old history. The Kalimati alley beside Toko Tian Long in Glodok is packed with shoppers, colourful hues reflected from tarp covers and distractingly varied offerings that range from fruits and traditional medicines to karaoke CDs. But once you spot the distinctive turquoise accents that frame the eatery, there’s no mistaking you’re in the right place.
Once a terrace and living room, a prominent old-school Peranakan charm dominates the place—and it’s not just because the cashier still uses an abacus to count. Worn white tile walls meet antique wooden furniture, while newspaper clippings and photographs commemorating Lao Hoe’s milestones decorate the compact space.
Owner of the house and co-founder of Lao Hoe, 81-year-old Lie Po Sen mans the floor alongside relatives, taking care of orders with a practised ease that showcases his warm personality and years of experience without revealing his age. The culinary expertise, however, belongs to his fellow co-founder and wife, the 74-year-old Linda Aliadi.
Shy and reserved, Linda mostly keeps to herself in the kitchen, where she cooks up her signature Laksa Bogor, a recipe she has developed since the ’80s when she first began selling the dish. A simple, fragrant combination of rice noodles topped with shredded chicken and egg, the sweetness of the yellow broth stands out upon first bite, balanced with sour notes from lime and further refreshed with bay leaves and basil. It’s a strong flavour that can be polarising, but those who favour it would easily find themselves slurping in quick succession until their bowl is clean.
Apart from the main pull, there’s only Mie Belitung, in which thick, udon-like noodles join together with tofu, bean sprouts as well as shrimp meat and crackers inside a clear brown broth. Sweetness dominates here too, and it can be hard not to feel tempted to order both bowls of noodles with just two items on the menu—that is, if one can stomach the filling portions.
Even if there’s a noticeable criterion of age group among the people running Lao Hoe, such a distinction doesn’t exist among its regulars. In one corner, a family carrying numerous red plastic bags replenish their energy after new year’s shopping with bowls of laksa. On another table, a group of 20-somethings try to battle the day’s heat with multiple glasses of iced Liang Teh. And next to them, civil servants are having a reunion over a meal.
Located just a few steps away from LIT Bakehouse, if the artisan community bakery carries the neighbourhood’s youthful passion, then Lao Hoe is a case for the relentless drive of its seniors. It forms an interesting dynamic that reflects Glodok’s unceasing charm, one that is kindred with a sense of kinship amongst the community where each generation plays a unique role of its own.