Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pao Xiang BKT

A lot of people cook their meat tied in strings. It is mainly done for roasts. I have not heard of anybody boiling their meat this manner. Except a Bak Kut Teh chain of restaurants. We chanced upon this place in Glenmarie, Shah Alam. We have been frequenting this area for food recently. The area hosts many makan outlets - coffee shops, noodle houses, famous Meng Kee char siew from Jalan Alor, and many more. We had tried a noodle shop there and quite liked the place. On a Sunday morning, we decided to revisit it. But the place was closed. So we kicked in plan B, and walked next door into the Pao Xiang (香) Bak Kut Teh Restautrant.

The restaurant is located on Jalan Jurureka U1/40, Section U1 in Glenmarie, Shah Alam (N03* 04.874' E101* 34.936'). It is off the Glenmarie main road, Persiaran Kerjaya; on the left hand side if you drive from the Subang Airport road towards Batu Tiga and the Shah Alam stadium. But if you cannot find this place, no worries. For there are nearly 20 Pao Xiang outlets in the Klang Valley, Penang and even Singapore. Visit their website to find one nearest to you.

The place in Glenmarie was tastefully set up - with a contemporary Chinese aura. A very friendly man took our orders. And as we considered the various choices of meat for our breakfast, he went on to explain why they tie the meat with strings. Apparently, tying the meat prevents the inner sections of the meat from "dissolving" into the soup and that in turn retains its flavor and makes it firmer in texture. I am no expert in string-tie cooking. I guess it is plausible.

They serve 2 types of BKT - Klang style and Teochew style. The Klang style is in thick dark gravy while the Teochew is in light clear soup. The BKT were very nicely presented. They came in nice porcelain bowls on a matching porcelain stand that housed a small wax flame. This kept the BKT nice and hot.

Our first bowl was the lean meat. It was Klang style. The meat was not extraordinary in spite of the strings and what not. I did not detect any enhanced flavor nor the texture any better. But the gravy was very good. It was almost like the BKT we had under the Klang bridge. I think they come quite close to the "original". As we tucked in, it certainly reminded me of the bridge experience.

The same was true of the knuckles. This bowl had a lot more fat in it. It was in the same Klang style gravy. Again the meat was good but not extraordinary. I enjoyed the soup more.

This was a bowl of pork ligaments. I like the texture. I don't think they could tie these ligaments.

We didn't like the straw mushrooms. They tasted kind of stale. I didn't think they were entirely fresh.

Four bowls seemed like a lot for 3 people. But we didn't have enough. It wasn't that we were very hungry. The bowls were just very shallow. There was not very much BKT in each. We decided to add on another bowl. We opted for the Teochew style. It was a much bigger bowl of mixed stuffs. In it was ribs, meat, tofu and button mushrooms. The Teochew was much lighter that the Klang. The taste wasn't bad at all. I enjoyed it. But I preferred the Klang style.

The thing I like best in Pao Xiang was their yew char kueh (油炸鬼). For BKT, yew char kueh is a must. Pao Xiang make their own YCK. The YCKs were short and stubby. And they were freshly fried when served. They were crispy yet soft inside. Truly great stuff. We had 2 servings of it.

Finally, we had this plate of choy sum (菜心) to accompany all the meats.

The Pao Xiang is worth a visit wherever you are. But be prepared to dig into your pocket a little. For they are not cheap. Like I mentioned, the bowls are small. You may have to order a few more. And they are pricey. Our damage that morning was nearly a hundred bucks. My wife was somewhat amused when I paid the bill. It was the first time she saw me use my credit card for a breakfast.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Basin Food & Vertical Chicken in LYJ

盆菜, pronounced 'poon choy' is literally translated as basin food. It is believed to be Hakka in origin, where they apparently cook a potpourri of various foods in big wash basins, to be shared by large groups of people. Wikipedia has a different story of its origin. According to its write-up, it originated in Guangdong province, where the locals gathered all their best food to serve their fleeing emperor from invading Mongols in the late Song Dynasty. They apparently did so in basins for lack of proper containers and dishes. 

My wife told me about this restaurant in Sungei Buloh that serves very good 'poon choy'. I had never tried this strange cooking before. So we invited SP, his wife and Van to our home and went to Sungei Buloh to tar pau (打包 - take away) the 'poon choy' back. The restaurant that serves this dish (or basin) is the Restoran LYJ, located on Jalan Perkhidmatan in Sungei Buloh New Village. It is not an easy place to find. So here are the co-ordinates - N 03* 11.817' E 101* 34.147'. 

They sell 2 versions of 'poon choy'. The normal basin is priced at RM288, while the more expensive one is at a whopping RM550. I asked the boss lady on the differences between the two. Apparently the 550 basin comes with additional abalone, shark fin, fresh scallops and other goodies. I wasn't that rich and generous and opted for the 288. If you take it away, they charge a deposit of RM30 for the container which is refundable. It is recommended that you make advance reservation (at least 1 day ahead) for your 'poon choy'. Apparently the restaurant sells a lot of it. The boss lady told me they dispose more than 300 basins on Chinese New Year eve. Wow!

The food actually is not served in a basin. Rather, it is in a large tray. When you tar pau (take away), they wrap the food in metal foils and in plastics with specific instructions to unwrap the foils as soon as you reach home. The tray was piping hot. A worker help carry it to our car. We hastily drove home, eager and curious to find out what we were in for.

Below the metal foils was a sight to behold. On the surface were half a free-range chicken, half a roast duck, about a dozen large prawns, a baked fish and some broccoli and cauliflower. They provided 3 different type of sauces. We supplemented the tray with some vegetables and a soup and sat down for the feast. 

Under the top layer were a lot more goodies. There was braised pork and knuckle, fish maw, dried oyster, 2 types of mushrooms, clams, chicken feet, chestnut, dried scallops (conpoy) and perhaps other stuffs that I cannot remember or get to taste. The flavor was very good. There was a lot of gravy in the bottom layer. It was not salty nor too strong in flavor. I felt the taste was soothing and just right. With so much meat, it was naturally rather too oily. 

The tray was good for 10 people. And there was a lot more food in it than we thought. There were only 6 of us, including 4 small eating ladies. So however hard we tried, we could not even finish half of it. There was plenty of leftovers. A week later, it was time for us to return the tray and reclaim our RM30. The tray, although of good quality, was so stained and scratched that it was not worth 30 bucks to keep. In any case, we wanted to have dinner in the restaurant.

There was this chicken that I saw a week earlier when I picked up the 'poon choy' that captured my curiosity and wanted to try. When we got to the restaurant, it was packed. There were people waiting outside. We got a queue number and waited a short while for our table.

Our table was outside the restaurant, which was good as it was away from the noisy crowd inside. The place we dined in was the older part of the restaurant. A few doors away is a newer section, which the boss lady told me was exclusively for 'poon choy' diners. 

They proudly display pictures and newspapers cutting on their entrances. Among the faces I recognized were food critics and badminton stars.

The chicken that I wanted to try was the vertical chicken (栋笃鸡). I had never seen anything like this. It was a whole chicken mounted vertically on a metal pole that was attached to a plate. It looked so very appetizing. 

They provided a pair of scissors to snip at the meat. The meat that came off was superb. The skin was absolutely crispy and the meat was soft and succulent. The flavor was exquisite. It was chicken done to perfection. Crystal said it was the best chicken ever. I couldn't tell if it was roasted or deep fried. So again I consulted the boss lady. She said it was 70% roasted and then deep fried to get the crispy skin. That was the secret for the succulent meat and crispy skin? 

In the end, the scissors was of no use, and we had to extract the meat with our fingers. For that, they very considerately provided gloves by the box.

The chicken was the highlight of our dinner that evening. The other dishes - a vege and a fish soup - were totally over-shadowed. Just as well, for they were very ordinary.

LYJ is an easy name to remember. But getting there is not so simple. I looked at Google Maps and it was a bit hazy. You will need a GPS. This is one place you will need to visit at least twice - first for the 'poon choy' and then for the vertical chicken. For the 'poon choy', remember to bring along a crowd. Whatever efforts it takes to get there... believe me, it is all going to worth your while.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Uno Pizza

We were itching for some pizzas one weekend evening. Pizza Hut and Domino were too mundane. So we drove to Centre Point in Bandar Utama and revisited a place that we had not been for quite a long time.

Uno Pizza is Malaysian "chain" of restaurants offering Italian meals. I inverted comma "chain" because they only have 3 restaurants - all in the Klang Valley. We have visited 2 of them - the one at Centre point and another in USJ Taipan, Subang Jaya. Their 3rd outlet is in Bandar Puteri Puchong. Our last experience was probably about 5 years ago. I remembered Uno as a simple and relatively inexpensive place that offered good pizza, nice fried chicken and a fabulous tiramisu. But I think things have changed. Well, at least the prices did.

The Uno outlet in Centre Point is on the ground floor, facing the main entrance. It is quaint small place, with tables spilling to the corridor walkway. The decor was red and rather drab. But it was comfortable although a bit squeezed for room.

It was the fasting month. When we arrived, the place was almost packed. Some already had food on their tables waiting for Maghrib. The service was friendly and efficient. A number of their staff were obviously Muslim, but they continued to actively serve the customers even after the fasting hours, apparently making sure that the customers had their food first before they eat.

The menu was typically Italian. They had antipasti (appetizers), salads, soups, lasagnas, pastas, meat dishes, seafoods and of course pizzas. Interestingly, they also had some Spanish tapas and paella. 

We started our meal sharing a Caesar salad. It was embellished with some beef bacon, eggs and croutons. I didn't know beef bacon can be so crispy and nice. But the serving was not that big. They were a bit stingy on the greens. For 16 bucks, surely they could add in a few more leaves.

These were the golden cheese balls with a  napolitana sauce. They had some chicken ham inside. They were not bad but I wasn't crazy about them. Too dry for my liking.

These garlic bread was very nice. Superbly toasted with some fresh rosemary. 

Our first entree was the Boscaiola. It was spaghetti in a cream sauce with mushrooms. The pasta was very well done and the sauce was great. Simple yet so very nice. 

I remembered the very nice deep fried chicken we used to enjoy in Uno. So we ordered it again. Our chicken was a thigh with some french fries, salad, in a garlic sauce. It was pretty good. The chicken was very nicely fried. The skin was a crisp. But somehow it did not taste the same. Something was different. I cannot say what it was. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

And finally the pizza. We had the Uno Special. It had chicken ham, mushrooms, olives, pineapple and roasted cherry tomatoes. The pizza was delicious. The cheese was generous. This place lived up to its pizza name.

Dessert was their hallmark tiramisu and a nice cup of coffee. The tiramisu remained fabulously unchanged. It was cup shaped and deliciously soft and creamy with a generous sprinkling of chocolate and a tinge of rum. 

My wife took this picture. It was the iced lemon tea. She put her i-phone beside it for comparison. It was so miserly small. And no, it wasn't bottomless. And not even full. Like the salad, they were so stingy over small things.  

All in all, we enjoyed our meal at Uno. In spite of a few peculiarities, I found the place revisitable. The food was good and the service friendly. The next time we have a hunger for Italian, Uno would probably be it.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Chong Thoong Kee Taugeh Chicken

My quest for good taugeh chicken (芽菜雞) is still on-going. Somehow, Hainanese chicken rice and taugeh (bean sprouts) appeal to me. My previous experiences at the Ipoh Lou Wong and Jalan Gasing were not the greatest. There is this place in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) in Kuala Lumpur that serves a credible chicken rice. I rate it a lot better than Ipoh Lou Wong and Jalan Gasing. It may not be the holy grail, but has not fail to sate me each time I am there.

The name of this place is Restoran Chong Thoong Kee. It is located along Jalan Wan Kadir 1, directly opposite the TTDI wet market car park. It is along the row of shops where Dewan Bandaraya KL has some offices. Parking is the area can be a problem in spite of its proximity to the wet market car park. DBKL has some designated parking lots along the road which are most times empty. I usually curi-curi and park in these lots while I nip in for a quick meal. I know one day I am going to be caught and slammed with a summon or something...

The place is modest and basic. Furnishings comprise of simple tables and plastic chairs. At the front is the chicken rice stall and at the back is where they prepare the drinks. The menu is equally basic - chicken, taugeh (bean sprouts), prawn wantan (生蝦雲吞) and Ipoh sar for fun (沙河粉). The chicken they serve is the genuine Hainanese pak cham kai (白斬雞) - they don't have the so-called roast chicken that you find in coffee shop chicken rice stalls.

The chicken they serve is smooth and tender. It is so very pleasant to the palate. It is not often I come across such delicious pak cham kai. It is covered in a rich oyster based sauce. However, I do find the oyster part of the sauce a little too heavy. I would prefer a milder sauce. But it is not a big complaint. With this style of chicken, small glitches are easily forgotten.

The taugeh (bean sprouts) are fat and stubby - just like those we find in Ipoh. We seldom get this type of taugeh in KL and PJ. I wonder if they get their supply from the north. They are lightly blanched and served with a light soy sauce and sprinkling of fried shallot and spring onion. Good taugeh.

The prawn wanton (生蝦雲吞) is delicious. The portions of prawn in the wanton is generous. And the soup is rich and sweet.

And so is the sar hor fun (沙河粉). It is prepared Ipoh style. The noodles are fine and smooth. The soup (same as that in prawn wanton) is rich and sweet. I usually opt for this noodle whenever I am there.

It does imply that the rice is any push-over. In fact the rice is quite genuinely Hainanese - unlike the greasy yellowish so-called Hainanese chicken rice we get in coffee shops. It has a mild chicken rice flavor. Good enough for me.

My favorite drink in this shop is the boiled sugar cane juice. I like its genuineness. And it is not too sweet. Taken cold, it is very refreshing.

Up to now, Chong Thoong Kee is my favorite place for Hainanese chicken rice and taugeh. I think it is one notch above Ipoh Lou Wong and Jalan Gasing. However I have been told that there is another chicken rice place in Ampang where the chicken is so good that "it melts in the mouth". It is rather far from my place, but I will make a pilgrimage there. The search for the ultimate continues...