Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Big D: Degustation Makan Session

with the ieaters, organized by Holybro

ieat has blogged about Damien D'Silva and his Big D'Grill when he was still in Bedok South...but this year, Damien moved his stall into another coffee shop, but this time in Holland the very same coffee shop, and almost right next door to Ricky of the XO Fish Bee Hoon Cze Char fame.

A group of 14 ieaters gathered by Holybro decended on the coffeeshop one Monday evening, and did what ieaters do

We started with a trio of Italian inspired dishes...all pasta.

First, Crab meat linguini

The pasta is home made, and fresh. I would have preferred the pasta to be al dente, and firmer to the bite, like they serve it in Italy. In one of my conversations with chefs in Italy, they told me that in fresh pasta was only used for the dumplings like gnocci, et al, and for the traditionalist never for spaggetti, fetucinni, linguini, because in order for the firmness required to qualify as al dente, the pasta needed to have been dessicated, and rehydrated only just so. As with canned tomatos, the method originally intended only to preserve and lengthen the shelf life of food, adds and enhances the flavour and quality of the food. Canned tomatos, and dried pasta is indeed superior in taste and texture than their fresh cousins.

Circuiteously, this is my way of saying that the linguini was too soft. The tomato crab sauce was very showed off the subtle taste of the crab meat very well.

Next pasta was the bacon carbonara

This was the winner. A favourite in our table (actually it tied with the crabmeat linguini)...we had 2 tables joined together like a figure of 8, and had two sets of each dish. The carbonara sauce was thick, rich, flavourful. The eggy flavour was well infused with the cream, and the sauce was just enough to cling onto the spagetti. My Italian friends - the el Professories Landi - Massi and Francesca, often lament that because of the typical Singaporean kiasu attitude, we demand too much sauce in our pasta. Its called sauce and not gravy for a reason, so the Italians demand not too much of it. The test is that when you pick up the pasta, and finish off the plate, the plate should be clean...rather dry of sauce, and not have gravy that you then drink up like a soup.

The spagetti was again the same texture...too soft, but the sauce was magic. The pieces of bacon was generous in size and number, and added a further dimension to this dish.

Tagliatale Ragu was next.

Ragu is the quintessential Italian pasta sauce. What many of us know as Spagetti Bolognaise is known as ragu in Italy. Tomato based, it is cooked with ground beef (or another meat, but the Italians prefer beef). Damien's version had ground beef and veal.

On our table, this was received with mixed reviews. Some felt it was wonderful, I thought it was rather ordinary.

Next up, the Western...two of the piéce de resistance the kurobuta pork chops and the wagyu.

The kurobuta drew ooos and ahha from the table as it was served. It had already been sliced, and one can see the pink insides peeking out fromt he nicely browned exterior.

Sink your teeth into it, and you know why the Japanese and the world now come and pay homage to the humble Berkshire pigs...the meat was sublime. Tender to a fault, it was flavourful, each bite bursting with umami sending small torrent after torrent of pleasure to the brain. This was comfort food.

My slice shown above...note the generous fat, and the wonderfully cooked lean part of the meat. This was my absolute favourite of the evening.

Next up, Blackmoore Fullblood wagyu, intercostal cut:

The Blackmoore farm in Australia was one of the original wagyu farms. David and Julie Blackmoore, who own the farm are obsessed with their beef. They only produce full blood wagyu. Wagyu are Japanese cattle - wa meaning traditional Japanese, and gyu meaning beef. Traditional strains in Japan are the Black breed's famous breeding strains: Tajima from Hyogo Prefecture, Itozakura from Shimane Prefecture, and Kedaka from Tottori Prefecture are selected and bred in Australia by the Blackmoores. Fullblood wagyu means that both parents are wagyu. Thouroughbred means that only the steer (father) is wagyu. The sperm of the wagyu is inseminated into Angus or Hereford, and the offspring is known as thouroughbred. See their website for more info.

The wagyu presented for tasting by Damien was from the intercostal of the cattle...I am not sure if this is the superior cut or not, but I am impressed by a chef who is obsessed enough to know and describe his meat by the cut. The intercostals are the muscles between the ribs, and I guess not used for hard work, but only to expand and contract the ribcage. I would imagine it to be very tender.

It was not clear if the meat had been aged, but tasting the meat, I suspect not, and if it had some form of aging, was wet aged. See my earlier blog on beef aging.

The meat was very tender, but did not have any nutty taste that is characteristic of dry aging. The flavour of the wagyu was strong and sufficient, and there was no trace of an overpowering beefy taste. The cut was done medium rare, and the outsides midly brown. I would have preferred medium all the way through inside, and charred crisp on the outside.

I enjoyed the wagyu, but preferred the pork.

We also had a fish dish...but all of us were fussing over the pork and beef to pay much attention to the fish. I did taste it, and found it unremarkable.

Next round, we had Peranakan...this was not typical peranakan, but Damien I guess this is Eurasian rather than peranakan. The Eurasians have developed their own cuisine, mixing western dishes with strong powerful spices and making the cuisine east meets west, like the people.

Some in the table found the beef rendang and buah keluak to be fascinating. I never fancied buah keluak - a difficult dish, where the buah keluak is rigrously cleaned, cooked, cracked and stewed for some 3 days. Damien puts in his special sambal for extra kick.

The beef rendang was quite tender, the spices ok. But frankly, my mom's beef rendang is superior.

We also had an intresting dish - the belimbing shrimps...belimbing is a fruit much like a small starfruit. Damien picks this from his mom's garden, and creates this dish...sour, a bit bitter. I didn't quite fancy it as well.

The only dish I had some feeling about in this round was the Bang Bang Chicken:

This was a chicken chop, but with a spicy twist. The crisply pan fried chicken, was done just right, and smothered with a special sauce which was so spicy and hot, that it even got me going...I would describe the spicy taste as peppery spicy and not chilli spicy. The effect was a numbing bite on the lips and tongue...what the Chinese would call ma la. I liked the dish, but this was not a dish to eat on its own...but to savour with a bowl of rice.

Finally dessert. Damien is famous for his bonet...

A chocolate pudding with caramel sauce. Whilst some found it to be wonderful, I found the dessert to be a bit one dimensional. The pudding was a bit overpowering in the dark chocolate. Not my preferred dessert.

Overall, the kurobuta and even the wagyu is worth a return visit. I also liked the carbonara pasta and the Bang Bang chicken. Interesting hawker western store, this one...quality ingredients, cooked with passion.

Read the reactions from the makan kakis who ate there, and oters at ieat forum

Big D's Grill
Block 46 Holland Drive
Singapore 270046

Open daily from 12pm-2.30pm and 6pm-9.30pm, except Thursdays which is dinner only from 5.30pm till 9.30pm

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cafe de Hong Kong: Chinese New Year Feast

Lo Hei lunch with office colleagues

Chinese New Year..15 days of feasting, even in the 2009's depressed economic climate, there is just too much imbibing for good health. My makan kakis from the office decided we need to lift our spirits with the traditional Lo Hei...I called up Francis Mak - the owner of CdHK...and we were set. I had celebrated my family Christmas dinner at Cafe de Hong Kong, so it is rather appropriate to add Chinese New Year as well.

The Yu Sheng dish got the ball rolling:

strips of raw salmon, mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments. Yusheng literally means "raw fish" but since "fish (鱼)" is commonly conflated with its homophone "abundance (余)", Yúshēng (鱼生) is interpreted as a homophone for Yúshēng (余升) meaning an increase in abundance. Therefore, yusheng is considered a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigor.

Each ingredient has its own symbolism, repeated by the waitress at the table, but I forget.

After the toss:

As an appetiser, we had deep fried fish skin

Interestingly, not a single bit of oil or grease was to be detected on the fish skin, even though it is quite apparent that it had been deep fried. Very crispy, good flavour, no fishy smell. We almost inhaled the entire basket as soon as it was set on the table. Nods all round, signifying enjoyment.

Mongolian pork ribs were up next. Succulent meat, encrusted in a thin, rather crispy outer, and smothered with mongolian sauce. Very good. The meat was more tender and flavourful than the dish of the same name in Siang Hee. I prefer Francis' version.

We ordered braised lamb brisket as an experiment...

It came in a claypot, served over a camphor fire. Bubbling, boiling...whiffs of herbal fragrance lifts from the pot. A quick sampling revealed that the lamb had only the slightest bit of game taste, and was rather mild.

The soup was very refreshing, not unlike the Mamak soup kambing, but way more refined in taste. The subtle hints of lamb was ably supported by the herbs, mushroom and other ingredients. I found it to be rather good, though one of kakis thought the lamb to be slightly more gamey than she would have liked, but another thought it was fine.

I had to introduce the Fortune Seafood Roll - with the symbolism of fortune for the year of the ox, and that I enjoyed it very much during previous visits.

Vegetables in the form of brocolli and scallops:

A pet peeve of mine of this dish is how frequent the chef's inability to control the fire and timing overcooks the brocolli...leaving it in a mushy mess. But not this chef. The brocolli was full of flavour, crunchy even. The scallops were seared and medium raw...wonderful.

I also had to let my colleagues taste the wonderful roast chicken I had already blogged about in the earlier CdHK report..

Francis recommended the Lap Mei Fan...

This was a fabulous dish. All present heartily approved. Chinese sausage, diced, and fried with rice. Delectable. Very fragrant. The rice was done right...not too sticky, but enough to be slightly starchy, richly covered with sauce, eggs. Accompanied by shredded vegetables which provided the right amount of crunch. It seems simple, but the masterful balance between sausage, vegetables, tampered with soy sauce, and a testament to the chef's ability to control and tame the forceful fire was evident. Wok hei was strong.

We also had the famous French Toast. This was no ordinary toast.

Note the expression on the ladies' faces when presented with this GIANT piece of egg encrusted bread. The slice of bread must have been at least 2 inches thick. It had been sliced open, insides generously filled with peanut butter. And coated with egg. Pan fried till golden perfection, and served with a generous piece of butter and syrup. Not for the faint hearted, and certainly not for one who is not hungry.

Excellent. The egg was cooked to a crisp, still bursting with eggy flavour. The peanut butter provided a nice intresting taste, as was the syrup and butter.

Cafe De HongKong 新天地小厨/茶餐厅
586 Balestier Road
#01-01 Eastpac Building
Tel: 62553865
Contact: Francis Mak
Parking on premises


Shot with Panasonic DMC-FX55, on autoexposure, autoISO (mostly 400 but some 200). Needless to say, compared to my usual Canon EOS 1Dmkiii with 17-40 f/4L, details were lacking. And due to the small sensor size, depth of field was rather large, even though all of the shots were done at f/2.8.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wantan mee: KL Style in Singapore?

with family

Malaysia and Singapore may be brothers (or sisters?), and we share history, culture. Food which are present and enjoyed in one country is usually also enjoyed in the other. But with a twist...a different style, emphasis, or ingredient often makes the geographical variations very interesting.

Wanton mee, a wheat and egg flour noodles, in soup or dry with a little gravy is one. Probably invented in Hong Kong, where the standard is the soupy version I blogged about here, this is a mainstay either as a snack, breakfast food, or main meal. Even in Hong Kong, the dry version - known as kon lo is available. And in Singapore and Malaysia, the kon lo is indeed preferred.

The main difference between HK and SEA is the noodles. In HK, many shops, at least the traditional ones like Mak's and Kau Kee, make their own noodles. The noodles are thin, springy, and have a kind of tough consistency. In KL, the noodles are fatter...sometimes almost flat - wider than it is thick. And many of the best, when cooked al-dente have a tough-ish, springy consistency. In Singapore, where most of the noodles are supplied by possibly one factory, they are thin, and a bit powdery.

But more than just the difference in noodles, KL wanton mee is drenched in a black soy sauce, and heaped with fragrant pork lard...both in liquid form as well as bits of crunchy crisps. Chilli is never added as a paste to the noodles, and if desired, pickled green chilli, sliced into pieces and accompanied with light soy sauce is prescribed. Whereas in Singapore, we favour some chilli in the noodles, or tomato ketchup. And the appearance of the noodle is pale - showing the real colour of the wheat and egg base.

I have come to enjoy both varieties for what they are. But growing up in Penang, eating KL style (wanton mee is a Cantonese dish, and Penang being predominantly Hokkien lacks the cultural sensitivity to develop its own, but to borrow from KL), I often long for the black wanton mee. None in Singapore serve this variety well, but some get quite close.

Lucky Wanton Noodles in Tanjong Pagar Food Centre is one example.

The black noodles, and the wonderful fragrance of the pork lard whifts into the nostrils...sending nostalgia to my brain...the char siew looked pale, insipid even - a dry, lean mess. In taste, the char siew leaves much to be desired - it was dry, and insipring. I wish to combine some Alex's char siew. If you remember...Alex serves a mean char siew, but his noodles are Singapore style, complete with chilli paste. Not bad, but a different style.

The wanton is very nice. I detected pork and bits of flounder within. This version does not come with shrimps, just pork and flounder. Mak's in HK is also similar, but comes with a succulent piece of fresh prawn. Lucky's wanton skin was light, soft, delecate. Mak's was a bit springy, had a nice smooth texture, and firm-ish.

Despite the misadventure with the char siew, the wanton mee is quite enjoyable.

The deep fried version was just that. The same wanton wrapped tighter, and deep fried. The skin was crispy, but just so. I would have preferred crispier skin, and more punchy flavour in the filling. In contrast, the deep fried wanton typical in a tim sum stall in HK was lighter, and very crispy. I suspect in HK, they use a different skin when deep frying than when in soup.

To wash this down, we had some ice kachang with peanuts.

Annie's version was covered with bits of ground peanuts. Dig inside, and one is rewarded with a fairly generous helping of jelly, red bean and other bits. The jelly was of the right consistency, though I think different pieces of different consistency and chewiness would have added one more dimension to the dish. the red bean was de rigeur, and I wish they could use Japanese type red bean...though I guess the cost of the Ice Kachang would easily triple. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would also be interesting. I looked in vain for the atap seeds, a favourite of mine, but in vain. No attap seeds! This is an outrage. There should be a law to ensure that Ice Kachang come with atap seeds. Overall, despite this ommission, the Ice Kachang was quite nice.

Read ieat's view of Annie's Ice Kachang.

Lucky Wanton Noodles

Annie's Peanut Ice Kachang
10.30am to 7.15pm Weekdays
10.30am to 6pm Weekends

Blk 6 Tanjong Pagar Plaza
Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market & Food Centre
Singapore 081006

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recipe: my mom's Curry Chicken

My mother is a great cook. She can concoct anything in her kitchen, and it tastes fantastic. I know...everybody says that about their mother, but I say this not only because I grew up eating her food, but also as a seasoned gourmet..traveling the world over for work, but always taking time to sample the gastronomic as varied as sous vide in France, all manner of cooked and un-cooked food in Japan, spicy stuff in Thailand, fragrant and spicy biryanis and currys in India, fresh seafood and al dente pasta in Italy, huge steaks in the US, et al.

My mother grew up in a traditional Khek household, her grandfather walked (yes on foot!!) from China...a journey that must have taken years...and married into a 10 generation peranakan family must have been tough.

My father's sisters and aunts were wonderful cooks themselves, each lording over their kitchens, and each with some special dish which was mind-blowing in its excellence. But each jealously guarding their recipes, never telling more than 90% of the technique or ingredients. During family gatherings, always a great opportunity to feast, they would bring their specialities as pot luck, and impress everybody. My mom, had to learn peranakan cooking, by piecing together bits and pieces from the secretive family, and experimenting on her own.

I am introducing a series of articles now, to capture some of her recipes. The measurements are never exact, her sense of taste prevails.

1 chicken, about 1.5 kg
about 6 tablespoons of oil. We usually use peanut oil, but any vegetable oil is fine. For a richer but less healthy alternative, ghee can be used
1 stalk of lemongrass
1 shallots 500g
1 belachan
1 thumb sized lengkuas (galangal)
1 thumb sized kunyit (tumeric)
2 packets of Alagappa curry. We used to live next to an Indian family who grind their own fresh spices. I would run over and purchase 20cents for curry. They use a grinding stone to make the curry paste from scratch. See here for a description.
3 sprigs of curry leaves
1 table spoon of chilli sauce
100g dried chilli, scald with boiling water, remove seeds, ground till powder, fry with a little oil till dry…use 1 table spoon
1 coconut two pressings for santan. 1 bowl first pressing – dilute with half bowl of water, 1 bowl second pressing dilute 1 bowl of water

Cut chicken into size, about 2" a piece is good
Boil and peel potatoes. Cut to rough cubes about 2" across

Curry gravy

Grind lemongrass, with shallots, lengkuas, kunyit with food processor till it reaches consistency of a paste
Saute in oil till golden brown
Curry powder mix with water to paste
Add paste, chilli
Add chicken, add second pressing of santan and cook till tender
Add curry leaves,
Add the boiled potatoes, skin peeled earlier
Simmer till potatoes tender
Add first pressing of santan
Salt to taste

Serve with basmati rice.

Please let me know, post a comment, if you would like to read more of these recipes or just regular restaurant and hawker reviews.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Race for best char siew: Singapore fights back: Alex Eating House

with Prof. Horolographer, Prof. Massi, Dr. Mycroft and SJX

I have written about Meng Kee...the superb char siew from KL, and the recent revisit. Meng Kee is still king in my eyes and tastebuds. But a recent revisit with some good friends to Alex restores faith in Singapore.

Roasted to a bright red exterior, the initial reaction is mixed...the red suggests that the meat is not caramalised or Maillarded sufficiently, but the glistening fat shows promise. But on closer examination, there appears to be parts of the char siew which exhibit charred, crisp sides. And tasting those parts, brings my mind back to Meng Kee. Close. There were sufficient fats, well browned, caramelised, Maillard reactants. But just a bit held back. I suspect this is because Meng Kee, in Malaysia has access to fresh pork, whilst Alex has to settle for chilled pork. I didn't ask where the pork originates, but in an earlier discussion with Fatty Cheong, he said his pork was frozen from Brasil, and fresh pork was impossible to get in Singapore. I would suspect Alex uses Indonesian chilled pork, because it taste a bit sweeter than Fatry's.

The roast pork...siew yoke, was also something to behold.

The skin was scored/scoured, very very crispy. Dr. Mycroft approves. As one bites into the pork, the crisp skin delights, and the layer of fat just below explodes, releasing flavours into the mouth. Superb.

The roast duck was also a significant achievement.

Prof. Horolographer loved the duck. Crisp skin, almost no fat below the skin, and nice, juicy tender meat. The meat has a powdery mouth feel...this is how roast duck is supposed to taste like. No gamey taste, as some duck is apt to be like. Mycroft, of course was less than orgasmic because of lack of fat, but generally approves. I loved the taste...soft, tender meat, counterpointed with a crisp skin. Nice.

We ate with noodles.

The noodles were not as good as those found in KL...Malaysian noodles, and Hong Kong ones are probably hand made, and have a texture and springiness that the factory made Singaporean noodles lack. The spectacular roast meats were let down by a mediocre, pedestrian noodle.

We also had a bowl of sui kow.

The dumplings were plump, sweet. The filling was tasty enough, as was the broth. But the skin of th sui kao, lacks the texture and elasticity found in those in Hong Kong. The HK varieties are so much better. I don't know why this is so, but no local version even compares.

This certainly puts Singapore on the map again for roast meats. Fatty Cheong and Kay Lee were the only challengers, and I had placed both below Meng Kee and Overseas in KL. Now Alex joins the fray. Still a bit behind in the taste, but I think the trio of Kay Lee, Alex and Fatty Cheong (my ranking), Singapore should be proud of our roast meats. I will blog about Kay Lee soon as a revisit is in the works.

Alex Eating House
87 Beach Road

Tel: 6334 0268
Open: 9am till 6pm (or until they are sold out)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Meng Kee Char Siew: Revisit

with Kenn, Shashi, Ray
Dedicated to wahcow, who introduced me to Meng Kee

Still as good! This time, the Glenmarie branch. A bit difficult to find without a GPS...the restaurant is a typical shophouse lot deep in an industrial area.

Roasted meats hanging on the stall. The dark, caramalised, Maillard-ised, fatty meats hanging is enticing...bekons even...the floor is greasy, slippery...the win no Michelin stars...but the meat! KAPOW!!

The meat is glistening...but the fat generous.

An absolute delight. The meat is encrusted in the caramel/Maillard exterior, covered with a sticky sauce engulfing the entire outsides. The sauce even sticks to one's teeth a bit...but quite easily washed down with a swirl of tea. The sauce, which seasons the meat, provides a sweetness which is coy and robust at the same time...a crispy crunch. A veritable masterpiece.

The meat is oh-melt in your mouth tender...full of fat, bursting with umami...and beautifully flavoured. Each bite, and taste sensation feels almost like one has died and gone to heaven...which might as well be true...the amounts of fat and cholesterol can immediately induce a heart eat in moderation.

Meng Kee Char Siew
GPS: N3 04.891 E101 33.605
20 (Ground), Jalan Pekedai U1/36
Hicom Glenmarie Industrial Park Shah Alam
Tel No: 019 - 379 3629

Photonote: Shot with Canon Ixus 40

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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

KL Black Hokkien Mee

with Kennard, Shashi and Ray

Kuala Lumpur - foodie paradise. And some foods are unique to KL...the essential eats in the Malaysian capital include two magnificent hawker dishes - the Fukkien Chow, and the Kongfu Chow...the Hokkien Fried (Black hokkien mee) and the Cantonese Fried (the ying yang wide hor fun/kway teow and beehoon in wat tan sauce). Quintessential.

Fried on a high power, compressed air and gas fire stove, hot enough to render a wok red hot in seconds, the cooking is an art in itself...tossing, agitating, turning, flicking, stirring.

The firepower of the very hot stove provides the essential wok hei...breath of the wok...essential controlled micro-charring of the ingredients, creating a smokey flavour, a hint of burnt meat and wheat, and the beginings of a Maillard reaction on the meats.

The black hokkien mee is served:

Fat yellow noodles are used. The noodles are so fat, they look like elongated udon, but yellow from the kee and possibly eggs used to make the noodles. The black sauce is is the right balance of sweet (very slight), and salty, and crustacean flavours from the stock. Fried in pork lard, the fat supports the mouth feel very well...but the taste is not one which is greasy, but rather one of extreme smoothness, allowing the noodles to slither into the mouth. Powerful wok hei is abundant.

Crispy pork lard is sprinkled generously, ably providing crunch and texture. This particular version comes with fresh prawns, and cuts of sliced fish cake, and sliced pork. A special belachan chilli sauce provides the oomph to get an extra kick.

All in a bed of raw cabbage...which by the time one finishes the noodles, has become cooked by the heat of the noodles, and has absorbed the flavours from the sauce...Scrumptious.

This concoction, provides an impact beyond the taste. It speaks to all the senses, and engages the diner...coyly encouraging you to explore the complex, beguilling, seductive taste...the superb fragrance. As one puts a chopstick full of gravy embalmed noodles into one's mouth, the mouthfeel, the taste sensation is extraordinary. Emotionally it satisfies some hidden taste sensors...blowing the mind. Physically it satisfies...but not till one have had one's fill...this was not a dish to eat tasting portions, but a full sized portion is mandatory.

We also had the wat tan hor...or Kongfu chow.

Wat tan, meaning broken egg is stirred into the hot gravy mixture of pork, seafood and corn starch, allowing it to cook as it is being stirred...making egg strips...a beautiful thing to behold, but also packs eggy flavour to the sauce. The sauce is poured over a mixture of pre-fried hor fun...a thickly sliced fresh kway teow, and a deep fried, crispy bee hoon. As one cuts into the wat tan hor...the chop sticks meet with the crunchy, crispy bee hoon on one side, and the smooth, soft, flabby hor fun on the other. Tasty. Special for this store was the addition of huge chunks of cuttle fish. This provided a very nice touch...crunchy, springy, beautiful texture contrast to the soft kway teow, and crisp bee hoon.

There are many stores serving this combination of Fried Hokkiens and Cantonese...but not all are up to the mark. This one is quite up there amongst the stars. I do remember a store in Petaling Steet which serves up an even more delectable Hokkien Mee, and one in PJ somewhere. But most pale....and this one is easier to find for the casual visitor to KL, especially if you stay in the Golden Triangle area.

Kedai Kopi dan Makanan Weng Hing
183 Jalan Imbi
Corner of Jalan Imbi and Jalan Barat
Kuala Lumpur
GPS: lat 3.14541
long 101.714869

Photo notes: taken without flash in the evening, inside the coffee was dark. Shot with Kennard's Canon Ixus 40 at autoISO...for some reason, the ISO is not recorded in the camera's exif. Apologies for less than usual standard of pictures.