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.

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