Friday, December 31, 2010

Original Guo Lou

As things turn out, Guo Lou (高佬) fish head restaurant in Uptown PJ has become our favorite fish head noodle place. We go there quite often - perhaps too often. We like the freshness of the fish there, the soup that comes with the noodle and the bigger variety of its menu compared to other fish head joints.

I had been aware that this shop is a scion of a fish head shop in Jalan Alor, KL. With such a good off-spring, I had imagined that the original fish head shop would be one heck of a place. We finally got to get there one Saturday afternoon. The original Guo Lou is in Shui Kee (水记) restaurant in Jalan Alor, KL. Actually Shui Kee and Guo Lou are the same - same shop, same owner - and they sell nothing else.

It is old, somewhat dilapidated and the environment is a far cry from its off-spring in Uptown PJ. The shop is long and narrow and was rather disorganized and messy. I could see a couple of air conditioning units but I could not feel much cold air. Outside the shops were several tables sheltered by big umbrellas. 

The place was packed - both inside and out. All the tables were taken up. We co-incidentally bumped into KP and his wife - coincidental because it was KP who introduced me to Gou Lou in Uptown PJ. They were just finishing their meal and we took over their table. Even then, we had to share it with 2 ladies, one of whom was incessantly yakking away the whole time and was quite annoying as we ate.

At the front of the shop was the stall or kitchen where the food was prepared. There were pots and pans and stoves and gas tanks and things all over the place. Another messy state of affair. Heaps of fish meat and noodles and veges provided an indication of the volume of business they did.

Gou Lou Choy (高佬财), the boss man who gave his name to the 2 eateries in KL and PJ, did not prepare the food. He was walking around taking orders and collecting monies. He did not look as tall as the wall picture we saw in the PJ outlet. When I made the comment to him, he said he married a short wife who made him look tall beside her.

The task of food preparation fell on his wife and a number of foreign workers. Indeed, she was a short lady. In spite of her busy work, she managed a big smile for me.

Like its off-spring in Uptown PJ, this parent shop offered fresh and fried fish head; in soup with or without evaporated milk. They also had tom yam noodles with seafood and curry noodles with chicken. But they did not have side dishes offered in Uptown.

The bowl of fish head noodles in clear soup (without milk) I had looked very much the same as that in the Uptown PJ branch. The fish was very fresh and had absolutely no trace of mud. There were the same hum choy (咸菜) and tofu in the noodles. It was delicious and I enjoyed it. But somehow, I liked the flavor in PJ better. The soup in PJ had more oomph. The PJ branch was also more generous in the portions of fish and noodles. If I was not mistaken, the prices for the bowls of noodles in both parent and off-spring were about the same. If there was a difference, it was minimum. Thus value for money, PJ was better.

I did not taste the fish noodle with milk - not in Uptown PJ, and not in Jalan Alor. My preference had always been without milk. Thus I cannot compare the milk noodles. But, I don't think the assessment would deviate very far from my experience on the non milky kind.

This was the bowl of fish paste (鱼滑), without noodles that we shared in Jalan Alor. The fish paste were in a bowl of clear soup with some spinach. I could not tell the difference from the fish paste we had in the PJ branch. They were equally good. Again, I felt the PJ branch was more generous in portions.

The verdict? My wife and I did not disagree. The off-spring in PJ Uptown served better bowls of fish head noodles. We were surprised. The off-spring was better in all respects - ambiance, taste, generosity of serving and menu variety. Gou Lou in Uptown PJ remains our favorite place for fish head noodles.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Anson Coffee Shop

After a disastrous hometown experience in Section 17, I was rather skeptical when my sister told us of another Teluk Intan (Anson) eatery in Subang Jaya. Still like a true blue Teluk Ansonian, I was very eager to try. With the same kins, we made our way to Jalan SS 15/4B one Sunday morning and without any problem, located Anson Coffee Shop (安顺茶室).

To die-hards like us who grew up in this small Perak sleepy hollow, our hometown was, is and will always be Anson (or TA), not Intan. So coming into this place named Anson and being immediately greeted by a large picture of our iconic clock tower, made me feel very at home indeed.

The leaning tower was not the only familiar face. I bumped into an old classmate and another Ansonian friend. And the proprietors Elmo and his wife Jessy were no strangers to us. It was like a mini hometown reunion.

After the catching-up with the old friends, we settled down to eat. The menu was so nostalgic - chee cheong fun (猪肠粉), loh mai fan (糯米飯 - glutinous rice), rice noodles or lai fun (平叔粉), curry mee ala Teluk Anson. It is difficult to explain why such simple things excite us - you need to be from TA to understand.

The TA chee cheong fun (猪肠粉) is one of a kind. It is chee cheong fun wrapped with an ingredient of fried mangkuang (jicama), dry shrimps and others. It is very popular in our hometown. I have seen small home "factories" churning out this chee cheong fun on conveyor belt steamers, working all night to meet early morning demands. The chee cheong fun in this shop was very authentic. It was eaten with pickled chili, like how we did in TA, and it tasted so very good. We had 4 servings of it.

The loh mai fun (糯米飯) is another Teluk Anson original. It is glutinous rice served with char siew (叉烧) and/or prawns with a dry curry sauce. The serving in Anson Coffee Shop was very authentic. The aromatic curry and char siew reminded me so much when I was small and used to eat this rice out of newspaper and banana leave packets that used to cost only 10 cents. Served with a bowl of curry and prawns, the loh mai fun here was absolutely delicious.

The bowl of curry noodles may looked a bit odd, but that was how we used to have it in TA. The curry was aromatic and had very little santan (coconut milk). It was served with siew yoke (烧肉, roast pork), see hum (鲜蚶, cockles) and some mint leaves.

The yam cake or woo tau ko (芋头糕) was not extraordinary. It is not a TA specialty. The serving was somewhat small.

The popiah looked rather dry and lonely. There was not enough to go around and I did not have a taste of it.

Finally, we shared a plate of mee jawa. The reason it looked rather messy was that someone had a go at it before I managed to get this picture. Anyway, this was not fantastic. The sauce was too curry-ful. it was also rather dry. In TA there used to be a mamak place called Mastan Ghani. I do not know if it still exists. This place used to serve an awesome mee jawa. The mee jawa here was nothing like Mastan Ghani's.

It's been nearly 10 years now since I made a return to my home town. I missed the chee cheong fun and lo mai fun. Fortunately now there is Anson Coffee Shop. It is like TA coming to me. To those who do not understand what the ga-ga is all about, you should go there and try - at least once. Teluk Anson is still after all, the small town with a big taste.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fu Kua Restaurant

As a kid, what was the food you detested most? In general most youngster do not like greens. I had my share of hating vegetables. Top on my list was the disgusting bitter gourd or fu kua (苦瓜). I could not understand why anyone would want to eat such a bitter unpalatable thing. But as I grew up, I began to tolerate it and eventually even liking the "pleasant" bitter flavor. I am sure most kids, past and present, share my disgust for this gourd. Some perhaps carry this hatred right up to adulthood.

So, how do you fancy a restaurant that centres on bitter gourd? There is one in PJ, Taman SEA. The name of the shop is Restoran Fu Kua (苦瓜潮州菜馆 - translated as Bitter Gourd Teochew Restaurant). It is located on 19, Jalan SS23/15 - co-ordinates N3 06.931 E101 36.748.

In spite of the infamous gourd that it specializes on, it is really quite popular. The restaurant occupies 2 shop lots - one is air-conditioned and in the other, you have to sweat a little. The decor, from the wall to the tables and chairs, are in yellow and green - the colour of bitter gourd. There are tables spilling to the 5-foot walkway and even to the road. On the day we were there, the air conditioned section was full and we had to settle to being fan cooled.

The restaurant has a dazzling selection of bitter gourd servings. They have bitter gourd cooked with chicken, fish, beef, pork, venison, seafood and so on and so on. The selection is displayed on a huge board on the wall. For people who cannot stand the taste of bitter gourd and who have been dragged along by their parents, spouses or friends, mercifully they also have a good selection of non bitter gourd dishes. The menu printed on yellow cards, was so compact with so much selections; it was too difficult to read and absorb. I had to put it down and asked the waiting lady for her recommendations.

The place is famous for it bitter gourd soup (苦瓜汤). So we naturally had to have that. It turned out to look like any bitter gourd soup. But it tasted very good. There were pieces of pork in the soup that were smooth and tender. The soup had the tingling bitter flavor that I liked very much. Highly recommended.

Next was the bitter gourd omelet. I had tried making this omelet at home but it did not turn up to be good. The bitter gourd omelet in this restaurant had a very nice bitter taste.

Our daughter was one who was dragged there. So we ordered a venison in black pepper for her. The meat was very tender. The black pepper sauce was good. We liked it.

Our final dish was a red snapper steamed with choy po (菜甫). It is apparently a Teochew preparation. The choy po was chopped into tiny bits. I had never tried fish steamed with choy po. And I did not quite like it. I found the choy po too strong for the fish. The dish was also too salty. We should had order a plain steam instead.

The o-ni (芋泥 - Teochew yam paste) we had for dessert was rather different from those we had in other places. It was water based rather than oil. O-ni in most places are cooked in a lot of oil but here, it was cooked in a watery sugar syrup. It had some some gingko and a reddish (I believe was pumpkin) condiment on the surface. It wasn't bad. Perhaps the oily o-ni tasted better. Still, after a meal some thing sweet was welcome. 

The meal was rather pleasant. It certainly wasn't a nightmare. Unfortunately there were only 3 of us, and our daughter was not a fu kua fan. So we did not get to taste many of their bitter gourd dishes. Perhaps next time. I will have to get a few bitter gourd die-hards and have a fu kua orgy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chan Sow Lin Fish Head

I had often heard about the famous Chan Sow Lin steamed fish head. But I had never got to taste it. To start with, I had no idea where was Jalan Chan Sow Lin. I googled "Chan Sow Lin fish head" and there were so many makan shops claiming to serve the original CSL fish head - especially around Jalan Chan Sow Lin and Sungei Besi area - that it was hard to tell where to get the authentic one.

I was with my brother-in-law in Kampong Pandan one day,  and on our way back to PJ he suggested CSL fish head for lunch. He said he knew the place where the CSL fish head originated. I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me, but my mobile phone sufficed and took some pretty good pictures.

We drove along Jalan Sungei Besi heading south. Just before the Sungei Besi airfield, he made a left turn into Jalan 3 Chan Sow Lin. About 300 meters from the junction, we were in front of a small run-down makan place. In Kuala Lumpur, this place could not be any more rustic...

The name of the place is 壮源蒸鱼头饭档 - Chong Yen Steam Fish Head Food Stall. It was so humble that the proprietor did not even claim it to be a restaurant.

But I liked the place. It obviously was very old. It was simple, unpretentious and had the most rustic charm. You don't find many such places in KL anymore. The "food stall" was actually quite big. There were several eating areas - each with zinc roofs, cement floors, simple tables and stools and some fans to keep cool.

And it was very well patronized. We were lucky to get a table that had just been vacated.

Like many restaurants that specialize, this place offered a limited selection of dishes. They offered 3 different types of steam fish head, pak cham kai (白切雞), steam tofu (油豆腐) and vegetables. That was the complete menu - nothing else.

We ordered a fish head steamed in dark bean sauce (酱蒸). It was a carp (松鱼) head. The fish was very very fresh - like it was just out of the pond. There wasn't the slightest taste of mud. The sauce used was excellent. Complemented the fish perfectly. I enjoyed the freshness totally.

My brother-in-law asked for fish maw with the fish head. It was fresh fish maw. I had never tasted fresh fish maw before and it was out of this world. It had such great texture - crunchy yet soft. So delicious in the mouth. It looked like fresh sotong (squid) but tasted a lot better. I don't see other makan places serving this delicacy. I wonder why.

We also had a plate of Hongkong choy sum (香港菜心). It was good. I enjoyed it too, but it was definitely overshadowed by the wonderful steamed fish head.

We did not go for the pak cham kai (白切雞) or the tofu. It would had been too much for the 2 of us. And we really did not need them. The steamed fish head was a complete meal that I enjoyed thoroughly. After the meal, I had no doubt that this was the birth place of the original CSL steam fish head.

As we paid the bill, the boss lady told us that the place would soon be gone. They would be moving to a new place in Jalan 6 Chan Sow Lin (very nearby) by end of December 2010. Apparently the place had been acquired for development. I will be sorry to see such a charming and rustic place making way for some new fanciful "development".

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy Birthday

One year ago today, gila makan made its debut into cyberspace...

Picture credit - Google

Thank you for dropping by over this past year.

Also... Happy Birthday Bob.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Malaysian food in Geelong

Geelong is a small relaxing city about an hour drive from Melbourne. It has a beautiful water front along Port Philip Bay. It is also the place where Alan and Joyce set up home, raising a delightful family of five boisterous kids.

In the Geelong suburb of Highton very near to the Crosbies' home, is a small Malaysian restaurant that has perhaps made Alan and the nearby Malaysian community very sated. He was visibly excited when he told me about it, and I can understand why.

Rich Maha is a Malaysian thoroughbred. Coming into the place would certainly make any Malaysian feel very at home, perhaps even a little home sick. The sight, the sound and the smell in the restaurant were all Malaysian. The man who managed the place was a Malaysian name Kalia. He obviously knew Alan very well.

Half the premise comprised the kitchen, with counters displaying an array of curries and other good stuffs.

The other half had tables and chairs where we ate. There were Malaysian tourism posters on the wall as well as pictures and even a map of our country.

The restaurant served a wide variety of Malaysian fares not just Indian tastes. Kalia was soon to come out with a most pleasant surprise.

The masala thosai was my choice. It was gem of an Indian preparation. The thosai was crispy and the potato masala filling was thick and smooth. It was served with dhall and 2 types of coconut chutney. The sauces were rich and complemented the thosai very well. This thosai was better than any I had tasted in Malaysia.

The banana roti canai was truly Malaysian. Where else in the world would you find banana in a roti canai but in Malaysia. I did not taste the roti but it certainly look like the ones we have at home - only a lot bigger.

Finally, it was Kalia's surprise. It was wat tan hor fun (形蛋河粉) or koay teow Cantonese style. We will never find this dish in our Indian restaurants in Malaysia. When Alan ordered this dish, likewise by my wife, I was most skeptical. My skepticism persisted even when the plates of noodles were brought to the table. But when I had a taste of it, I was amazed. It was so very good. It was better than a lot of wat tan hor fun cooked by Chinese in Malaysia. The gravy was smooth and delicious. The hor fan (noodles) was soft. They was real prawns in the dish - not the silly "plastic" ones in some Melbourne restaurants.  It was prepared by Kalia himself. Apparently he learned to cook this on one of his trips home to Malaysia.

All the foods we had were washed down with good old cups of teh tarik. 

Of all the Malaysian makan places we visited during our holidays, this was perhaps the most authentic. And Aussie Malaysians don't need to be in Geelong to enjoy this home away from home. They have branches in Melbourne and Vermont. Check out their website