Friday, February 6, 2009

Yut Kee: Roti Babi and Malaysian Cze Char

with Shashi, Kenn, Ray

Mention Yut Kee, and many KLians will conjure up an image of a very traditional place...white marble table-tops, creaky wooden chairs, fan slowly turning on the ceiling. Serving up traditional dishes that your grandmother would do. Nostalgia! Except when one steps into the shophouse in Jalan Dang Wangi, one is confronted with a busy, slightly chaotic coffee shop, where everything happens at the same time...crowds swelling during meal times, and the owner Jack Lee fussing at each table.

The menu lists all the specialities of the shop...long, one might can any chef specialize in everything? I believe, a good chef, with a powerful fire, ability to control that fire, good ingredients will have the essential feel to concoct anything within his genre well. If one examines the list, this is typical Hainanese fare...when the Hainanese were employed by the colonial masters as cooks, had to adapt their natural cooking senses to dish out western dishes. Pork Chops, Chicken Chops, fried rice and noodles of every description...and Roti Babi!

Roti Babi...what a name! Meaning Pork Bread, this is a typical Baba (peranakan dish)...usually done inhouse by Nyonyas.

My great-aunt, God bless her soul, made a mean Roti Babi...from a family secret secret that she would only teach her own daughter, but sadly she only had sons. The recipe was so secret that she even refused to pass on to the daughters-in-law. So sadly, the recipe died with her. But such was the competition level amongst Nyonyas in those days...each recipe jealously guarded. This aunt was a specialist in satay babi, another in kueh angku, yet another in lam mee, and so on. Each Chinese New Year, each would bring their prized dish to the family reunion, and show off.

My mother, being Khek herself but married into a peranakan family, had to beg, borrow, steal recipes...but eventually, her great sense of taste and touch enabled her to be an accomplished cook herself, commanding her own kitchen. Anyway, back to Yut Kee's Roti Babi.

A seeming innocent piece of bread, looked like its pan fried to golden brown. Pull the bread open, and immediately the nostrils are confronted with the fragrant aroma. Pork, crab meat, caramelised onions, Chinese sausage, and whatever else was in the secret recipe...Georgous! Magnificent...As I tasted the roti babi...grabbing a spoonful of filling with some of the fluffy white bread, I feel duty bound to stand and belt out an aria. Thankfully, some good sense prevailed, and I didn't. Even thinking of the roti babi makes me salivate, and desire to return to KL. Bellisimo!

We also ordered some fried bee hoon.

Another winner. Expertly fried, with tons of wok hei, the bee hoon had a springy, tough texture, perhaps crunchy even...and the savoury sauce it was fried, and the fresh ingredients - prawns, fishcake, vegetables were wonderful.

We also had a two plates of the wonderful belachan fried rice.

The fragrance of the belachan (fermented prawn paste) hits the nose...fragrant, pungent, aromatic. A taste of the rice, which was miraculously free of grease of any kind...even though it was tossed in a super hot wok with pork lard) was superb...each grain fluffly, and coated with egg, soy sauce. Crunchy bits of bean sprouts (tau geh), carrots and peas provide variety in texture. The topping of smokey pork floss and squid and prawns was the crowning glory. A powerful sambal belachan underwrites the whole dish...providing a very spicy base. Ray pronounced this dish as "happening"...his way of saying that this was a fantastic fried rice. I am in agreement.

We also tried the toasted bread with kaya and butter...another colonial favourite, adapted for local taste.

A very light slice of bread...this was bread which was very well aearated by the yeast...which was allowed to rise, giving large bubbles within. Lightly toasted on a charcoal fire. And served with home made kaya and butter. The kaya was a bit lumpy...and was the greenish type. My mother's diagnosis would have been that the kaya needed more sugar, which would caramalise in the steaming process, and provide the brownish colour typical of peranakan kaya. And perhaps a bit more eggs to provide the binding necessary for smooth texture. The kaya was passable, and the great Singapore establishments of Killiney Kopi Tiam (only Killiney Road branch) and Ya Kun exceeds the standard.

The coffee, sorry no pic...was traditional baba kopi was also very good. This is no espresso...but an equal amount of love and care is put into each cup resulting in a thick, rich, bitter but smothered with sweetened condensed milk becomes sweet...creamy, buttery (margerin is actually used in the roast of a mix of Malaysian and Indonesian robusta with maize for the thick mouth feel).

Sometimes, I lament...simple home styled food, cooked well, and brought to this level of art seemed to have been lost in Singapore...where we are pre-occupied to chase material gains. But a small, shop in KL, stops time, causes one to reflect, and savour the traditional tastes.

My late father-in-law was a great foodie...and he spent his life looking for the best traditional hawker foods in the Klang Valley. He introduced me to Yut Kee some 12 years ago, with the Jack's signature Hainanese Pork Chops, and Roti Babi. He was right, "Chiak si hock"...he used to say to me. Even though he spoke good English, some phrases are best described in one's own dialect. In this case, in Hokkien meaning..."eating is prosperity". At the level of cooking afforded by the likes of Yut Kee...being able to eat well certainly is great prosperity. And best of all, it is not expensive.

Yut Kee Restaurant,
GPS: N3 09.371 E101 42.003
35 Jalan Dang Wangi.
Tel. 03-2698-8108.
8am-5pm, closed Mondays and last Sunday of the month.
Public transport: monorail to Dang Wangi stop. Exit the monorail station and turn right, then right up Dang Wangi. Cross the bridge and Yut Kee will be 1 1/2 blocks on your right (about a 10-15 minute walk).

Photo note: shot hand held with Canon Ixus 40.
Roti Babi pictures shot with 1Dmkiii. Originals shot onsite with Ixus40, but reshot with some tapau RB on another visit for more detailed pics.
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