Blast from the past at St Michael Canteen, an icon among Kuching eateries

The present location of St Michael cafe.

KUCHING, Oct 26: St Michael Canteen along Jalan Reservoir was once a favourite eatery among Kuchingites for three decades from the 1960s to the early 1990s before moving to their present location at Lorong Rock 2, Taman Timberland in 3rd Mile.

It was popular among Kuchingites and students from St Joseph, St Theresa and the surrounding schools.

St Mike Canteen, as it was fondly called, in those days did not only serve great food but functioned as a meeting place for many.

The eatery’s reputation made it a place to congregate among the youth of the time, and many who patronised the eatery remember the many local dishes served there, such as savoury laksa, kolo mee, satay, toasted bread and the famous dessert Ang Tau Peng (iced kacang) served there.

John holds up old and new photos of St Michael Canteen located along Jalan Reservoir and now at its present location at Taman Timberland.

The current proprietor of St Michael is 75-year-old John Chong Pak Sing, who recently shared enthusiastically with this writer a glimpse of what St Michael Canteen was back then, in the old days.

“The old St Michael Canteen operated by my late father started as a club canteen for the nearby St Michael Club, which belongs to St Joseph Church here in Kuching.

“I was only 12-years-old when I helped my father in the canteen in 1958 and made drinks for our patrons after school. Everybody who knew our family in those days had many fond memories of the eatery,” John said.

“When I grew up and studied at St Joseph, the eatery was very lively. There were students from my schools and other schools in the area coming to enjoy themselves,” he added.

“These beautiful scenes were amazing, and if we still operate at the same location, I believe it would be able to generate the same atmosphere, but all of it are just fond memories now,” he lamented.

John still keeps the defunct but legendary St Michael Canteen’s jukebox music. Photo courtesy of John Chong Pak Sing

John revealed that one of the attractions that drew crowds was their jukebox, which had numerous records of the hit songs of that era.

He enthused that the establishment was one of the few who had such a music jukebox in Kuching at the time.

“The jukebox played songs by pop singers in the 60s, with big hits songs by Bobby Vinton, Ricky Nelson, of course, and the King of Rock and Roll; Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, The Beatles, then the 70s and the 80s rock and pop stars to name a few,” he shared.

John further revealed that the jukebox at the canteen still exist to this day, and is kept in his home despite not working anymore.

“In its heyday, patrons slotted a ten sen coin and later a twenty sen coin to play their music of choice. Young people queued up to play their favourite songs. That was how popular the jukebox was in those days,” he said.

The eatery is famous for its delicious Ang Tau Peng dessert.

John added the other main attraction that pulled in patrons was their Ang Tau Peng, an ice kacang dessert which consists of shaved ice with toppings and sweet sauce.

“I admit that we were well known for that sweet dessert, and we still serve it to this day.”

On top of that, John recalled that during the confrontation in the 1960s between Sarawak and West Kalimantan, Indonesia, many British, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers frequented their eatery.

He said that the atmosphere the soldiers created further made St Michael Canteen more popular even after they left.

“Many who frequented us in those days are now well-known statesmen and professionals. They do come here at this present location to rekindle fond memories of those nostalgic days.

“I am happy they still remember me, and I hoped that many who grew up and patronised St Michael Canteen in those days will continue to come and brings their friends to this present establishment,” he said.

Out of curiosity, this writer asked John why St Michael now and then used the colour blue for their signboard, to which he replied that blue symbolised peace and harmony.

“It is a United Nations colour. It is depicted on their flag and has been their identity as it is a neutral organisation that reflects peace and harmony.

“Likewise, St Michael cafe is always a peaceful and harmonious eatery. We cannot have the good old St Michael Canteen atmosphere like the days of old but do come and stop by at our present locality to rekindle those nostalgic years. I am still here to serve you,” he enthused. — DayakDaily