Friday, January 28, 2011

F4 Fish Head

We had a call from my wife's sister one Saturday suggesting dinner in Subang Jaya. We drove to her place and then followed in separate cars to USJ2. We drove pass some factories, workshops and warehouses, on a really bad bumpy road; made a right turn and we were in front of a big makan place that I would never imagine would be.

The place was F4 Fish Head Restaurant. It is located in the industrial area of Subang Jaya - along an unnamed road off Jalan Subang 4 in USJ2. The GPS co-ordinates are N3 02.805 E101 35.774. I have to provide the co-ordinates because it is hidden in the USJ2 industrial area and is not so easy to find.

The place was as huge as a factory. It probably was one. It had the setting not of a restaurant but that of a factory - the lights, the fans, the ceiling and the floor. And it was very well patronized. The place could easily accommodate a hundred tables. That evening we arrived not long after 6, and the place was already jammed. We just managed to find a table at one corner of the place.

The place claimed to serve Chan Sow Lin fish head - written in Chinese on the wall. It is a claim made by numerous fish head places in the Klang Valley. Whether or not there was any authenticity in this claim, I really could not tell. I still believe the real Chan Sow Lin fish head is here.

As my brother-in-law ordered the food, I walked around with my camera taking pictures for this blog. Soon after our first sips of the Chinese tea, the food began to appear. I was a little awed how the kitchen coped with the huge crowd, coming out with food so soon after we arrived. I guessed that was the only factory in that whole building now, churning out dishes after dishes like a manufacturing plant.

Our first dish was the gu lou yuk (咕噜肉 - sweet & sour pork). This dish was ordered for Fei Fei, the youngest member of our dining group that evening. The deep fried meat was crunchy but that was the only good point I could find in this dish. The sauce and other condiments were rather ordinary. Not a great dish.

The deep fried sotong (squid) was good. It was fried in a batter with some curry leaves. The squid was fresh and succulent and not over done. It tasted delicious.

The curry fish head to me was a disappointment. The pieces of fish head, though fresh, was quite devoid of meat; more of bones. The curry was pale and did not have the faintest aroma of curry. If this was the type of fish head they serve here, that Chan Sow Lin claim was baloney.

Our vege dish was lo hon jai (羅漢菜). It was good. The cooking was simple. The ingredients were fresh. I liked it.

The serving of the sambal prawn was rather small. I wished it was bigger because it was good. The dish had some long beans and okra (ladies finger) in it. The sambal was very aromatic. The prawns were cooked just right. It was juicy and also not over-done.

The final dish was the steamed tilapia in minced ginger. The fish was very fresh. It was probably swimming when we ordered it. Poor fish, giving up its life because of us. The chef perhaps used an overdose of minced ginger, but I didn't mind it. The freshness of the fish compensated for any shortcoming. Any fish that fresh cannot be wrong.

All in all, it was a good meal. The F4 factory was nothing fanciful. It was good for a simple meal. My brother-in-law rushed to pay the bill and I had no idea if the damage was just as simple.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Over-priced Du Viet

This Vietnamese restaurant was recommended by a family member. Apparently it served very good food. I don't know if it was really that "very good" but it certainly burnt a big hole in my pocket. The place we went to was Du Viet. It is a swanky place on Jalan SS21/37 in PJ Uptown, not far from where defunct Fajar Supermarket used to be.

The entrance up a flight of stairs was rather impressive - even grand. It was tastefully adorned and led us into an equally impressive dining hall. The decor was contemporary and nicely done. The tables and chairs were comfortable and there were even a couple of sofas for easy relaxed dining.

But the place was devoid of patrons. We walked into a big nice restaurant and we were the only people there. It should had been a nice feeling having the whole place to ourselves (kinda like having booked the whole restaurant for our exclusive dining) but it was not. I didn't like the void. Any restaurant so empty cannot be good. It was after awhile that a few other customers started to walk in.

We were attended by a Myanmese lady who spoke Cantonese. We made our orders which I thought was quite sufficient for the 3 of us. But she kept insisting that we did not have enough - that their servings were small and that we should have the big orders instead of the small ones. We ended having more food than we could eat.

Our starter was a mixed grill platter. In it were spring rolls, sugarcane prawns, roast beef, chicken and various types of salads. It was served with some rice papers which were used like a popiah skin to wrap the goodies in. There were 2 types of sauces. The plate was very pleasant. The roast beef was particularly delicious. I liked the assortment of veges that went very well with the meats in the rice paper.

We had the beef stew with white radish. It was chunks of meat in a spicy gravy. The white radish (lobak putih) tasted better. But there was not much of it. The gravy was nice. I guess it was not a bad dish. But we didn't really enjoy it. Perhaps we were put off by too much of the meat.

Next was the braised duck in a nutty sauce. Again, it was chunks of meat. This was one time we were really meat-saturated. The gravy was very oily. The duck was over-cooked and had lost its texture. It wasn't a very happy dish.

The chef's tofu was rather ordinary. It was in a spicy tomato sauce. The taste was rather strong. I was neutral to this dish.

Finally the fish... It was a deep fried haruan (snakehead or 生鱼). The fish was fried with its scales to a nice crisp. It was served with various types of salads and 2 sauces. The ugly fish did not look very appetizing. The skin was crispy but the meat was rather flat and tasteless. Nevertheless I still enjoyed it. Eaten with the salads and the sauces, the fish was really quite good. 

I ordered a cup of Vietnamese drip coffee with my meal. It was a tiny cup and came in the typical Vietnamese coffee making container. It would be more appropriate as an after-meal. But it was served before the food, so it was rather cold by the time I got to it. The coffee was was smooth and strong. I enjoyed it. 

The damage of the meal was close to 200 ringgit. The fish was about RM50. The coffee was RM7. We asked for some water and we were billed RM1.20 for a small cup of "mineral water". I do know if it was indeed mineral. If it was, they should had served it in its original bottle instead of pouring it into small cups like below. We had 4 cups of those and I felt cheated paying RM4.80 for them. Our daughter asked me not to make a scene and I left it as that.

Du Viet has 4 outlets. Beside PJ Uptown, they are also in KLCC, Pavilion and Sunway. However, it is very unlikely that we will be back there any time soon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ravi's Apom

After our bowls of Penang Hokkein prawn mee in Jalan Burmah, we headed to Pulau Tikus - for some apoms. For the uninitiated, apoms are sweet pan cakes made popular by Malaysians of Indian origin. They are normally quite small with a thick core and crispy fringes. When I was a kid, I used to enjoy them in my home town, but sadly I cannot find any of them in PJ, KL or Subang Jaya any more.

The stall we visited was in a rather run-down coffee shop called Swee Kong. The shop is located at the junction of Jalan Pulau Tikus and Solok Moulmein (Moulmein Close), directly opposite the Pulau Tikus police station. This coffee shop apparently also has a Hokkein prawn mee stall that is said to be very good, but that would have to wait another day. We were there for the apom.

The stall was operated by an Indian gentleman named Ravi. He was totally fluent in Penang Hokkein, spoke it like a true blue local and you wouldn't know that he was not Chinese just hearing him talk. Apparently his apom is very popular in Penang. I had seen him interviewed by a popular food personality on Astro AEC. His first words to us were "Bo liao!" - no more! It was hardly 9am and he was already sold out? My brother-in-law pleaded with him - we drove all the way here, surely you can make some for us. Ravi reluctantly agreed. So we stood there and waited.

He made his apoms with Indian earthen pots over charcoal fires. Perhaps that made his apom so very good. He had a unique way of making his apoms. He poured his flour mix into the pots and move them around, stacking the pots over each other, apparently to get the right heat.

We waited perhaps about 15 minutes and finally our apoms were ready for us. As we paid, I noted that that we were given only 6 pieces. "Only 6 apoms?" I asked Ravi. "You should be happy you get 6 pieces", Ravi replied smilingly in Hokkein. One thing I didn't understand. It was only about 9am in the morning. He obviously was doing a roaring business. His charcoal was still burning hot. Why couldn't he mix some more flour and sell more apoms?

The 6 pieces did not last very long. We tucked on them almost immediately as we were walking back to our car. They were delicious. Top notch apoms. They were smooth and sweet (perhaps a little too sweet) and the flavor was rich with eggs and coconut. We were perhaps a little hasty. The edges of the apoms were still soft. We should had waited for the fringes to harden and be crispy. By the time we reached our car, our 6 apoms were gone.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Super Hokkien Mee

Penang Hokkein prawn mee is absolutely unique to Malaysia. You don't find it in any other country - not even Singapore. Indeed we can proudly claim undisputedly that this wonderful soup noodle is Malaysian true and true. The noodle is known by various names - Hokkein mee, prawn mee and mee yoke. I have tasted quite a few good prawn mees in KL and PJ. However, I believe Hokkein prawn mee originated from Penang and to get the real thing, I needed to go north.

On a recent visit to the island, my brother-in-law SL suggested a Hokkein prawn stall which he said was very good and famous. But he cautioned that we would have to be there very early as they sell out very quickly, and that we have to be willing to wait. For the sake of a good bowl of prawn mee, we left SL's place just after 7.30am one morning and drove about half an hour to Burmah Road. The place we ended in was the One Corner Cafe (和喜茶室), directly behind the Royal Hotel (formerly the Sheraton). It is a coffee shop cum mini hawker centre with stalls selling the various Penang food.

The Super Hokkein Mee (雲福 建麵) is one of many stalls in this place. Soon as we arrived, we quickly headed for the stall. A lady with a clipboard took our orders. But before that, she tersely told us "45 minutes" - the time we needed to wait. We had pulled ourselves up before 7am that morning and drove all the way here. What was another 45 minutes? We resignedly ordered our coffee and sat down to wait.

We were not the only people waiting. In that early hour, the place was already crowded. Many were sipping their beverages or reading their papers. Most were probably like us, crazily waiting for a bowl of Penang prawn noodles. While waiting, I could see more people making their orders. All of them were greeted with the brusque "45 minutes" from the unfriendly lady.

We did not have to wait the full 45 minutes. Our noodles arrived after about half an hour. The bowls of prawn mee looked no different from those we get in PJ and KL. Each came with a spoonful of chili sauce. I mixed the sauce into the soup and took a slurp of it. It was good. I liked the rich flavor of prawn. The accompanying ingredients were no different from any prawn mee stall. There were slices of boiled pork, boiled prawn and a generous sprinkling of fried shallots. Some stalls provide boiled egg, but there was no egg here. I also noted a conspicuous absence of kangkong.

SL approached the stall keeper and got a small plate of chu yaw char (猪油渣). It added more flavor to the noodles.

The essence of any prawn noodle is in the soup. And the soup I slurped was rich, aromatic, fully prawn-flavored and very delicious. The stall owner obviously put a lot of effort in it. I enjoyed the bowl of prawn noodle very much. I wished I had an egg. I personally like the yolk in the soup to make it even richer and tastier.

Was Super Hokkein Mee great? Was it the ultimate "holy grail" of all Penang prawn noodles? Unfortunately, I do not think it was. I think there is one stall in PJ that perhaps cooks a better bowl of Hokkein prawn mee. Perhaps I will blog about that one day. Would I drag myself up again before dawn and drive all the way for the same bowl of noodles? I think I would need greater incentive than that.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Saba or Sheba was an ancient kingdom mentioned in both the Old Testament and the Quran. This was the realm of the famed Queen of Sheba. Its actual location is not precisely known, but is believed to be in southern Arabia somewhere near the present day Yemen.

It is also the name of a Yemeni restaurant that my wife had mentioned many times. On one rainy Saturday evening we drove all 50 km to Cyberjaya, and finally had a taste of what Yemeni food was all about.

The diner is located on the ground floor of Block A1 of CDB Perdana in Jalan Perdana, Cyberjaya - GPS N-2 55.370, E-101 39.070. It was a rather ordinary kind of makan place with plastic chairs and glaring bright lights and was devoid of the dining ambiance that I had earlier imagined an exotic middle-eastern restaurant to be. In spite of its Cyberjaya remoteness, it was surprising well patronized. The place is big with an outdoor dining area and most of the tables were taken up.

We started our meal sharing a mutton soup. I naively thought that the soup would be like the mamak soup kambing. But it was not anything like that. And it was not any inferior. The flavor of the soup was not as strong as the mamak variety. It was rather light and still tasted good. I savored the full flavor of the mutton in the soup. However it was served rather cold. I have always prefer my soup hot.

The kabsah lamb was our first entree. It was a piece of stewed meat marinated in various spices, served with basmati rice. The meat was tender and flavorful, but I actually enjoyed the rice more. The rice looked like briyani but it was not as oily. The fragrant and texture of the rice was excellent.

Next was the hanith chicken. The chicken arrived wrapped in a metal foil. It was prepared with 10 types of herbs and served with the same basmati rice. The chicken was succulent and tasted better than the lamb. Again, I enjoyed the basmati more.

The chicken kebab was marvelous. I liked aromatic meat preparation. It was served with french fries, some salad and pita bread. There was also some pickled tomato that was to be eaten as a sauce. Wrapped in the pita, the kebab with the salad and sauce was simply delicious.

We ordered a cream caramel and a rice pudding for dessert. The cream caramel was excellent. My only complaint was that the portion was too small. We hardly had a spoonful each.

The rice pudding was somewhat wanting. The pudding itself wasn't too bad. The problem was that they had some silly colourful sweetener on the surface - like some out-of-place birthday cakes. That totally spoiled the pudding. They should had used a syrup to sweeten the pudding instead.

The place serves an Arabic non-alcoholic beer. It is a bottled drink branded as Barbican. The drinks come in different flavours - apple, strawberry, pineapple, raspberry, etc. The one I prefer is the original beer (malt) flavor - not unlike our normal beer, only minus the alcohol. As RM3 a shot, it is worthwhile to sample how non-alcoholic beer tastes like.

Some people may find the food in Saba rather bland. But really, Malaysians like tasty and flavorful foods - most times, too flavorful. We have too much spices, sugar, salt and other flavors in what we eat. Often these flavors mask out the true essence of their food. Other cultures may prefer the actual taste the meat, fish, vegetable or grains in their food. I believe this to be true of middle-eastern cuisines. My experiences with the 3 middle-eastern places so far - here, the Iranian and the Lebanese places - seem to be consistent on this point. And by the way... of the 3, I think I prefer Saba most.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Pasta Zanmai

When we decided on Pasta Zanmai for dinner one Saturday evening, I seriously thought that it was a western makan place. But as we entered the restaurant, we were greeted in Japanese and I began to wonder. It was only when I looked into the menu that I realise this was a fusion Japanese eatery serving pasta, pizza and other western food.

Zanmai is chain of Japanese restaurants offering sushi and fusion fares. It has about 10 outlets  in Sunway, The Gardens, Low Yat, 1U, Mid Valley, etc. The place we went to was in the newly opened Empire Shopping Gallery in Subang Jaya. It is situated on the ground floor of the shopping complex. It has a nice contemporary decor and has a separate store within the outlet selling various Japanese foods.

We perused the menu in great detail and decided on a combination of Japanese, pasta and pizza. But we were hugely disappointed when the waiter apologetically told us that their oven was broken and we could not have pizza for dinner that evening. We altered our selection and then settled down to sipping our tea.

The potato croquette was delicious. It was mashed potato deep fried in bread crumbs with a filling of parmesan cheese. It was served with some salad. I enjoyed the crispy skin and the creamy filling.

The deep fried soft shell crab was another delightful starter. It was served with a nice sweet sauce. It was crispy outside with the flavor of nice crab meat inside. Soft shell crabs have always been one of my favorites. They are eaten when they are in the process of moulding - changing their shells. Poor crabs.

Our entree selection started with the unagi (Japanese eel preparation) pasta. It was served with some salad and a miso soup. What a fusion it was. And very nicely done too. The pasta was cooked with some mushroom and the unagi complemented it fantastically. It was a real culinary innovation.

Next was the terriyaki chicken gratin. The gratin was potato based and the terriyaki chicken was served on top of it. Another great Japanese-western fusion. The combination of tastes did not clash. Compliments to the innovator.

They were all we initially ordered. But we were not sated. We wanted more. This potato salad was added on. It was creamy and smooth. Not bad at all for an afterthought.

This meat sauce omelet rice was also an added-on. It was a kind of tomato rice covered with a plain omelet, served with a tomato based meat sauce. I did not fancy this too much. I felt that there was too much tomato in it. It was rather sweet which was not my type of savory food.

Dessert was green tea tiramisu. It was served with a spoonful of red bean paste. Another great fusion idea. But sadly it did not turn out to be that great for me. I did not quite like the green tea flavor in tiramisu. But my wife liked it. So ignore my preference and go ahead and try it if you are ever there.

Pasta Zanmai is a great fusion novelty. The people there must be really creative to come up with great tasting food from the merging of two very popular tastes - Japanese and western. There are a lot of items in the menu that we have not tried. Going by what we had, I think we will going back.