In the cool highlands of Tanarimba in Janda Baik, Purple Cane Tea Restaurant’s lush surrounds complement satisfyingly healthy food and relaxed conversations with good company.
The 45-minute drive to the restaurant is a pleasant one where most of the traffic are riders on big motorbikes and cyclists on skinny road bikes. As the tall pine trees and the sloping gables of the restaurant come into view, the scenery changes and it feels as if I’m in a Swedish forest.
And what a lovely place it is for a breather. The restaurant’s open-air pinewood structure rises from the ground on solid columns and slatted flooring – sturdy but welcoming. Exposed beams support a steep tile roof sweeping close to the ground but letting enough natural light in.
As it was a public holiday, the restaurant was quickly filled with families from KL almost as soon as it opened. Fortunately, I arrived early and found a table facing the forest and the pond, which count turtles and fishes among its inhabitants.
Purple Cane Tea Restaurant takes pride in its tea and tea-infused food. Every item on the menu contains tea, but it never steals the limelight or leaves a bitter aftertaste. Here in Tanarimba, the menu is doubly special, as most of the ingredients are sourced from nearby farms.
Purple Cane debunks the notion that healthy food is bland and unappealing. Though low in fat, salt and seasoning, the snacks and dishes I sampled were tasty and came in different textures and a range of flavours. It’s truly guilt-free eating, being MSG-free and pork-free as well. Majority of the items on the menu are suitable for vegetarians, and those that are not can be made vegetarian by request.
There is one not-so-secret ingredient behind the food here: NeuVida cooking oil, which comes from specially bred (non-GMO) sunflower seeds. Rich in the good fat Omega-9, it has the lowest saturated (bad) fat among edible oils. So yes, fried rice need not be bad for you.
Tea figures in many of the beverages, but there are fruit juices, too. I had Good Old Days, Purple Cane’s virgin margarita. Its lemon-y kick made me think of old-fashioned lemonade, only more concentrated. The sweetness kept the acidity at bay. Best with lots of ice.
My favourite dish is the Handmade Noodle with Minced Meat in Oolong Tea. It is deceptively simple but delightfully savoury because of the minced meat. It’s a must-try.
Aside from the antioxidant properties of tea, it also aids digestion. I was sceptical about this when I first heard of it. But after the meal, I felt full but not heavy or bloated. Now I’m a believer.
The lower temperature in the hills makes Vietnamese drip coffee a good idea. Mine was served with small heart-shaped peanut cookies. A variety of desserts is also available, such as tea pudding, tea jelly, and fruity ice cream, but that’s for another visit.
After my meal, I circled the mossy stone path around the pond, hoping to spot a monkey or a wild boar between the branches and the bamboo. Although I wasn’t that lucky, I still saw squirrels and birds on my little walk.
It’s easy to see why the restaurant is popular amongst city dwellers on weekends. The place lets kids run around the gently sloping lawn. It’s like going for a picnic at the park minus the need to pack a blanket and a basket.
These days, when being outdoors is a luxury and eating healthy is not easy because of the speed of urban living, we need more places where we can slow down and spend time with the people who matter most to us. And I’m glad to have found one such place here amidst the lofty pines.
Purple Cane Tea Restaurant Tanarimba Janda Baik is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 7pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. www.facebook.com/tearestaurant.jandabaik