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Nora's Seremban Parlour l'amour

                                                              

                                                                                                                             The Parlour coffee and Macaroons 

 

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 You could say Nora Baharuddin opened her Tea Parlour café because she has a love of good food, and that is true, but if you dig a little deeper and read between the lines of her menu, you will also see large servings of love was a major ingredient to her success.

 

If the English style Tea Parlour and Luncheonette had opened around 1860,on what is now Jalan Kong Sang, it would have been challenging, considering the nefarious goings on at that time. 

 

Back then the street was called River Road and was a hub of activity for hundreds of Chinese labourers working in the tin mine industry. It was also a district with plenty of gang warfare activity going on and home to the infamous Sheng Ming Li, Kapitan of secret society group Hai San who died in one of the skirmishes with arch rival group Ghee Hin. 

 

It's likely back then that no-one had time to stop loading the valuable tin and tuck into some scones and jam, then sip on an Earl Greyand there was probably not a lot of love around on the hard edged industrial street.

                                         Nora Baharuddin, second from right, with some of her young staff from Mambau school.

 

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Fast forward to 2018 and the street is still busy and Nora’s decision to open her eclectic, shabby, chic Tea Parlour and luncheonette on one of the oldest, most notorious roads in Seremban was a good one.

 

The reaction to the mood and the food on offer at The Parlour since Nora opened in June 2014  has been nothing but positive, and it all begins when you open the door.

 

Inside the Parlour you feel comfortable, safe, and welcome, like you are entering your best friends house.

The walls and floor are adorned with retro items, paintings, photographs and knick-knacks, record LP’s and old style coffee table books, trinkets, and hundred year old China teapots and cups, sitting atop vintage cabinets.  

 

An old blackboard with newly chalked words, freshly written every day, says: 

 

"If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him... the people who give you their food give you their heart." 

 

So said American labour leader Cesar Chavez, a man who helped thousands of poor Mexican workers in the USA and the comment is both relevant to the Parlour and Nora‘s motto and ethos with her staff.

 

There is a “whole lotta” love going on in here and we’ll get to the food soon, but first, who is Nora Baharuddin and why an English Café in a predominantly Chinese area of town?

 

NORA’S STORY

 

Nora’s story began a long way back to a time before the Parlour  when she was working from home.  Nora was teaching vulnerable single mums how to make cookies and cakes in a safe environment and learn how to become more independent.

 

“The mums would bring their children with them and feel comfortable, not threatened, as some were in abusive relationships and such.”

 

“I would market the cookies to corporate companies in KL and around Seremban which helped give them a small income,” she said.

 

So what encouraged her to open up her family home to women less fortunate?

 

Nora’s social work helping others had been going on for a while and hadn’t gone unnoticed by various political parties and socially responsible groups who wanted to encourage her passion to help others and asked her to apply for a scholarship. 

 

“I’m not really one for politics but a tremendous opportunity to learn opened up for me,” she said.  

 

Nora was enticed to apply for a Friedrich Naumann scholarship in Gummersbach, Germany. 

 

It is a foundation that is based on principles of liberalism, educating and helping others in need, and an entirely non-profit foundation that is partly sponsored by the German government. 

                                                                                                     Nora's painting entry

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“To gain a place there was an online test and I had to do a project - I didn’t know what to do so I did a painting,” she laughs, “they liked it, called me and I was off to Germany for a month.”

 

It was a time like no other for Nora.

 

“It was the single best experience of my life. I was the oldest there, it was mostly young kids, a lot of who I am still in touch with, and one of the promises entered into by all attendees was that we do something for others on our return home, so I chose my topic as women and children in need.”

 

So that’s how she came to help mums and kids gain a footing in life, by teaching them to cook and bake in her backyard kitchen.

 

Nora had to move to NZ for a while soon after as her three girls were being educated there.

It was here she worked in various refugee centres, firstly as a volunteer and then in the NZ Immigration department, helping Afghan and Somalian refugees get jobs.

 

“It was tough - I was a migrant myself, I am Asian, a Muslim and I had to convince Kiwi employers to take on my refugees.” 

 

On return to Malaysia most of the mums from the home-based kitchen had  moved on to other jobs and shelters in KL so Nora’s focus on helping turned to children, in particular poor children from kampung origins: this is where The Parlour comes into the picture.

 

A friend who worked at Mambau school recommended some children, who had no opportunity to further studies after leaving school, to help staff The Parlour, which was Nora's new business in the making.  

 

“These kids had no opportunity and were very, very, poor with sad backgrounds: a lot of orphans and some parents not bothered about helping their kids,” said Nora.

 

“I taught them barista skills, front and rear of shop skills, how to interact with the customers, how to cook, I taught them from scratch, even educating them in basic accounts.” 

 

Education for the Mambau kids didn’t stop in The Parlour either.

 

“I took them up to KL and exposed them to restaurants up there to show them how a café in KL does their work.”

 

“Over three years I’ve had more than twenty kids come and go, so I help them out and some get into employment. Some are nice, some not so, but all the kids who come can take the opportunity to learn if they want.

 

One of the girls, Zati Imam, blossomed in the environment and is now a junior chef in The Grand Hyatt in KL,” said a smiling Nora.

 

 

 

The education of helping each other spread both ways. 

 

Nora decided to put her youngest child into the Mambau kampong school for one or two years, before sending her to New Zealand for higher education. She hoped her daughter would learn humility and see that not every child has equal opportunity and therefore be grateful for opportunity that does not always come to everyone.

 

Nora joined the schools’ teachers and parents association that kick-started a program called Porridge of Love when they noticed many children would not have food or water whilst at school, especially on the longer days when participating in extra-curriculum activities after normal hours.  

 

They identified 20 very poor children, all who were very small sized, undernourished, and as Nora says, “you could see in their eyes, they were so hungry”, so the teachers and some parents cooked porridge in the afternoon and gave them a bottle of clean water.

 

Nora almost lost her eldest daughter Edoria to dengue when she was eight years old and said it was a deciding factor why she left her first job as a practising lawyer in the firm that she had set up herelf. 

 

“Then and there I decided to devote my life to my children after that.”  

 

She admits her husband Ridzmann, also a lawyer, once quipped that he needed to trim her (angel) wings but she says Ridzmann fully supports the social work she is passionate about.

 

“He is just like me. When he sees children now, poor kids, he will buy them ice cream or something, just random kids, especially if he sees boys as we have three girls,” she laughs.

 

 “I just love it, it’s just me.”

 

 

 THE TEA PARLOUR 

 

The Tea Parlour will certainly not disappoint you if you are a  dedicated foodie or just someone who wants a nice tea or coffee and perhaps tuck into a slice of her yummy moist carrot cake, or a crispy cookie.

 

 Want a three course meal, or four, no problem, as Nora can cater  for those special occasions where  courses are desired and offers soups, entree’s, real Italian pasta’s, pizza’s, beef stroganoff, Roasts, Mediterranean, homemade desserts and, ……well you get the picture, pretty much anything. 

 

All the daily dishes are handpicked by Nora with the menu varying everyday from Asian to Western dishes, depending on the freshness of produce available each day.

 

 

All the ingredients used in the baking and cooking, from oils to flours and meat to vegetables are top quality, the best and healthiest that Nora sources fresh every day.

 

The Tea Parlour is rated #1 on Trip Advisor in the cafe section in Seremban for a few good reasons: one of those is the delectable selection of cakes and biscuits, including macaroons, available daily. Just looking at them through the glass is not enough.

 

 

The Parlour also has an incredible selection of home-made gourmet products for  sale including Mooncakes, gift packs and hampers. Plus the most popular, and her most sought after, bottled spicy salted fish, which is only found and sold here in Seremban.

 

Get down there soon to  Jalan Kong Sang and indulge yourself, you won’t regret it and you also won't have to lineup behind some hungry tin miners on a break. 

 

The Parlour is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30am-5.30pm and will  open this Sunday 10.30 am - 2.30pm for the first time. 

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