On a budget

30-34, Queensborough Terrace,
London, W2 3ST

The Malaysian Students Department for the United Kingdom and Eire (MASDUKE) has a canteen hidden away in the basement of its headquarters. One would almost definitely walk right past the narrow steps leading down to it without even knowing it. It's almost like being a of student at Hogwarts and having to know exactly which part of the wall to push your trolley into to get to platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross Station.

In fact, it's somewhat similar to the fictional platform in a sense that it transports you to a different place altogether. As soon as you step through the narrow entrance of the canteen, the familiarity of tables covered in plastic wrap, Malaysians tucking into nasi lemak and mee goreng, the mak cik and the abangs behind the counter displaying various nasi campur dishes and the handwritten menu pasted on the walls hits you.

Most people head to the canteen for a quick nasi lemak fix. It's particularly popular among students as it serves (by far) the cheapest nasi lemak in London.

Nasi lemak with fried chicken and an add-on of kuah masak merah. The best part about the canteen is that you can request add-ons of gravy and sambal at no extra charge - something pretty rare in a city where they charge you for ketchup at fast food restaurants. I personally like the nasi lemak here as it reminds me of the simple nasi lemak you can get from a stall back home. Nothing fancy, but more importantly, nothing pretentious.

One can get different types of kuih from the canteen as well. I was really quite delighted at the sight of a childhood favourite, kuih bakar on one of my visits. Seri muka, ondeh ondeh, lepah pisang, karipap - words that are like music to our ears.

The options for nasi campur. At times, you hear the canteen operator patiently trying to explain what "masak lemak" or "masak merah" is to a non-Malaysian. I'd say it's a pretty well stocked counter with most of the usual suspects in sight. On all of my visits there, the ayam masak merah has always been in high demand with customers (this foodie included) constantly throwing a hopeful "ada masak merah tak hari ni?" at the canteen operators.

Like the mamak stalls back home, the counter is also lined with various canned drinks. Soy bean, chrysanthemum, Milo - drinks you never think you'd miss.

To satisfy those cravings, be it nasi lemak, teh tarik, roti canai or ayam masak merah on a tight budget, the MSD canteen is good place to go. I can't think of a cheaper or more Malaysian (having mak ciks behind the counter is really tough to beat) place to get your fix.

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