The Damansara Utama landscape in Petaling Jaya, Selangor has had enough facelifts for one to easily lose track of the sweeping changes progress and modernisation has exerted.

With a spanking new mall in place, the area has certainly kept up with the Joneses, too. However, some constants remain ….

For those heading to the residential area while traversing the Lebuhraya Damansara-Puchong stretch leading to the 1Utama Shopping Centre in PJ, lies a cottage industry that is an institution.

Mohd Zain sits underneath a weather-beaten umbrella and tarpaulin that has seen better days, but his genial personality is gleaming, as always.

Cheese banana fritters are his forte, though the standard pisang goreng, cekodok pisang and keropok lekor also make up his wares. The trader from Seremban, Negri Sembilan has been peddling his perishable items for nearly four years, having left the timber trade years ago.

“I used to drive timber lorries from Jengka (Pahang) to deliver logs to Kuala Lumpur when I was younger,” shared the 58-year-old Zain. When the arduous, long-haul journeys began to take their toll, the writing was on the wall for him to switch industries.

Secret recipe

Zain’s banana fritters are made from pisang nangka while his cekodok pisang are the product of pisang berangan, and while it might seem productive for him to have his own orchard, his fruits are, in fact, purchased.

His batter, like Colonel Sanders’ recipe for KFC, is a trade secret that he is not willing to divulge.

“If I tell you, then everyone will use it and use it for their own benefit,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

“But what I’d really like for people to know is, I use much more bananas than batter. See, look at my pisang goreng and cekodok … they’re much softer when there’s less batter. Try them,” he beckoned, as this writer duly obliged, only to be bowled over.

Zain isn’t a numbers man – it’s not about selling the most fritters, but earning the faith and appreciation of his clients. But he has a glaring statistic to his name – he is the father of 14 children, courtesy of two wives.

Taking care of a family that large requires some nifty survival skills, but the humble man believes that as long as he has a shirt on his back and the good grace of his customers, life will always prevail … like it has all these years for him.

The Paper’s People is a weekly column which introduces Malaysia-based everyday folk, doing what they love. If you have any person to recommend, e-mail us at