Monday, January 27, 2014

Sek Yuen

This is one of the oldest Chinese restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Sek Yuen is located along Jalan Pudu - about 5 minutes drive from the demolished Pudu Prison. The restaurant has 2 premises. The original restaurant is housed in its own single storey building. It was established in 1948. At 65 years old, this is truly the grand old man of KL.

This single storey building is a relic by itself although it is now decked with bright colourful neon lights. There are not many such buildings in KL anymore. Walking into it was like walking into a time capsule. I do not know how much had changed in its 65 years of existence. It seemed like nothing had. The ambiance was old and run-down. The tables and chairs could had been the originals from day one. There was no air conditioning. Cooling was from ceiling fans.

The place was noisy and totally not conducive. It was a place to go to eat, not to dine. I remembered being there a long long time ago. Must had been 20 to 25 years ago - perhaps more. And I was so eager to come back again.

On this occasion, we did not eat in the old Sek Yuen. Next door, separated by a lane, is the newer Sek Yuen. This one is a double storey shop lot. The new Sek Yuen occupies both the floors.

According to the restaurant staffs, this newer Sek Yuen is 40-something years old. It was slightly more comfortable with air cond and comparatively newer furnishings. Still, the place looked old and had seen its better days. Like the old Sek Yuen, the owners would probably let the place run for another 40 years without refurbishment.

We got a table in the upper floor. The place was not as noisy as the old Sek Yuen. Service was basic - the typical red table cloths and plastic eating utensils.

Both Sek Yuens are owned by the same management. There are kitchens in both premises. The kitchens apparently cook for both restaurants and dishes are brought across the lane to the other side. The kitchen in the old premise is apparently so old and unchanged, they still use firewood for their stoves.

The ambiance of the restaurant is not the only thing that remained unchanged. I believe the menu too. I remembered some of these dishes from my last visit 20 - 25 years ago. Like this starter plate. It comprised of chicken in a cold jelly, baby octopus, pseudo-abalone slices, clams, jelly fish and boiled prawns. We don't get starter plates with so much varieties any more. I enjoyed all of them.

This was the whole pork trotter. The bones had been removed and stuffed with a combination of lotus seeds, mushrooms, chestnuts and other what-nots. The trotter was then braised and served with a thick sauce. The stuffings complemented the meat beautifully especially the fatty parts. It was a most delicious dish.

The duck also had its bones removed and stuffed. The stuffing was glutinous rice with mushrooms, dried shrimps and others. The glutinous rice stuffing was perfectly cooked. The whole duck was then deep fried. The outcome was another delicious meaty treat.

This was a traditional vegetarian dish (素菜). It looked very colourful and appetising. Lots of various ingredients. Ad tasted very good too.

The prawns were wrapped with a yam paste and then deep fried. The prawns were fresh and succulent. Prawn actually goes very well with yam. This was no exception.

This plate looked like char siew (叉烧). It was actually a very well marinated fried pork. The taste was so-so. I detected a strong flavour of Chinese five spices powder. It dominated the flavour.

Dessert was home made. It was a cheese sponge cake made by my cousin Fong. She makes an awesome cheese sponge which I have always liked. The texture was fluffy, with a layer of baked cheese on top and in the middle.

Sek Yuen somehow reminded me of the Coliseum. They are like two grand old men in Kuala Lumpur that refused to die, They had managed to maintain their original auras, their traditions and their menus. And yet attract their customers through the generations. These two old die-hards did not even fade away.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Two Fish Street Food Stalls in Sungei Petani

My wife and my in-laws are probably going to disagree with me. After the lost-count number of visits that I have made to this charming laid-back town, I have to say that in general, the street foods in Sungei Petani are not great in spite of its proximity to Penang. Except perhaps two. Both, coincidentally are fish noodles.

Along Jalan Kampung Baru in the middle of Sungei Petani town, is a coffee shop named Sin Her Pian (新河邊 - New River Side). Indeed the shop is beside a water way. But I wouldn't call it a river. Perhaps a stream. If I was less generous, I would even call it a big dirty longkang (drain).

A better landmark of this shop is that it is directly opposite the d'Vista Hotel.

In the extension of this corner shop is a fish noodle stall. It is opened only in the morning. At night, the coffee shop is kind of a mini hawker centre. But the fish noodle is not available then.

It is very popular, especially during weekends. When you get there you do not approach them to make your orders. You just find a table and settle down. When it is your turn, the boss lady would come to your table to take your orders. She remembers everything you want - no pen, no paper.

The food is prepared by this  boss man. He does so in individual pots over blazing stoves. He is super efficient. The food arrives within minutes of your order.

The fish noodle is delicious. Th soup is clear and flavourful. It is not at all like the fish head noodles we have in the Klang Valley. Here the soup is without hum choy (咸菜- salted vegetable) and without tomato. Thus the soup is not at all sourish. The fish is super fresh. It is cooked with some sawi (菜心- chou sum). You taste the freshness of the fish and the clear sweetness of the soup. It is a wonderful combination.

Most times, I go for the fresh fish. But you could also ask for the fried fish or the combination of both. The boss man is very generous with the serving of fish - a very sizeable portion.

You could also opt for the dry noodle - kon-lo (干捞). It apparently taste good with a spoonful of chilli sauce. The fish is served in a soup with your kon-lo noodles. The next time when I am back in S.P., I think I will give this kon-lo a try.

They also serve porridge. Fish porridge of course. But I do not like the look of the broth. More like rice in the fish soup.

Across town, it the northern end of Sungei Petani is a large hawker centre. It is known as Eupe Food Court.

It is a very popular makan place. They are many food stalls in this place offering a big variety of makan makan. The place is clean and conducive.

In the corner of the food court is this curry noodle stall. It is simple named Mee Kari.

This is the place where many local residents are willing to wait a long time for their fix of a good bowl of curry noodles. There is a always a long queue. When I took this shot, I was number 14 in the queue. It took me more than half an hour to reach the front. The queue actually can move quite fast if not for people who order large numbers of tar paus (打包- takeaways). 

This busy man is really quite a friendly fellow. When you get to the front, you make your order. He makes your bowl of noodles in a jiffy. He has a couple of ladies to assist him.

He has newspaper cuttings to attest to his popularity.

You have a choice of meat (curry pork ribs) or fresh fish to go with your noodles. I usually go for the fish. The curry is northern (Penang) style - clear gravy with minimum santan (coconut milk). For spiciness and colour, they give you a chilli paste. They normally give you a spoonful, but you can help yourself to as much as you wish.

The curry is superb. The pale listless colour of the curry belies it true flavour. It is really very good. I am a curry mee lover and I have tasted curry mee in a lot of places. This is definitely one of the better ones. The fish is very fresh and generous in portion. Fish is not a common accompaniment for curry mee. This one works very well.

Street food in Sungei Petani is still relatively cheap. The bowls of noodles with all the fresh fish was just RM5.00 each. For the same price, we cannot expect this in the Klang Valley. These 2 stalls are real good value for money.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thai Street Food

I was really not sure what the name of this Thai restaurant was. It was variously known as Thai Street Food or BBQ Thai. Both names were prominently displayed on an old fibreglass water tank that was the branding signboard of the restaurant.

Located in Old Klang Road, KL, this Thai eatery occupied a big area of land, offering both outdoor alfresco dining and indoor compartmentalised air conditioned comfort. Since the Old Klang Road is such a long one - this is the exact address - 17, Lorong Jugra, Off Batu 3 1/3, Jalan Klang Lama, Kuala Lumpur.

Everything in the restaurant seemed to be built out of re-cycled material - the old fibreglass water tank for the main signboard, tables, chairs, the toilet fittings, dining cabins - all made from re-used wooden planks, zinc sheets, old water basins, etc. Seemed like a darn good idea. Recycling is the way to go. It is so much cheaper. And if done properly, can be quite charming. The whole place looked very rustic. Everything was in good working order.

Except perhaps this old Fiat 500 on display.

The alfresco dining area was in the centre of a big compound. Surrounding it were individual dining cabins. 

There were many of these cabins, and since they were made from recycled material, no two were quite alike. They looked very comfortable, cosy and air-conditioned. Some of the cabins were small, with single dining tables. Others were bigger with multiple tables.

We opted to dine in the open, even though it was aftermath of a shower. The tables and chairs were wet. I personally liked the outdoor. It was a reunion of sort from our European tour. In the party were Eddy, Bee, Benson and Nelly. My poor wife was could not make it because of work.

The BBQ pit was large and busy - and definitely hot. They were doing fish, prawns, squids, chicken, pork and all the usual stuffs. These were apparently very popular here.

Benson had always been the man in charge of F&B. He made the menu selection.

I guess BBQ was a must in this place. Benson ordered the pork. It was very well done. The meat was succulent. The flavour was delicious. It was served with a green sambal sauce. Very nice.

The kangkong was most ordinary. 

The seafood tom yam was served in a steamboat pot. I wondered why they did that. It served no purpose. They was no fire to keep the soup warm. Anyway, the tom yum was not great. There were some good size prawns, fish and squid. It was rather sour and spicy - not to my personal liking. 

I did not find the fish fantastic as well. It was a siakap (barramundi) steamed in a spicy Thai soup - not very dissimilar from the tom yam. The fish was fresh. But the flavour was not my favourite.

I like this plate of cockles (鲜蚶 - see hum). It was plainly boiled and not overdone. It was served with the same green sambal sauce. I liked opening them with my fingers. Messy, but finger licking good (apologies to KFC).

And of course, rice that came in a pot.

We had 2 types of desserts. The first was the "tub tim grob". It was red rubies (water chestnut covered with flour), with mango strips in coconut milk and shaved iced. Not bad at all. 

The other dessert was the local favourite - cendol, served with red beans and leong fun (凉粉 - grass jelly). Another good dessert. 

I would not rate the dinner very highly. I thought it was a very everyday sort of meal. The flavour of the food did not match the uniqueness of the place. And I really did not know why they call themselves Thai Street Food. They was nothing "street" about it - just normal Thai restaurant stuffs. I probably would had enjoyed more if there was some authentic Thai street fare. I was so looking forward to some deep fried grasshoppers.