Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Secret Ingredients

There's no doubt that the best things in life (to eat or otherwise) are those offered to you with love, kindness or plain generosity, where the term of barter is merely an unspoken understanding, or at most, a sincere word of thanks. Along with these wonderful gifts come the revelation of their secret ingredients that make the offerings exclusively and unmistakably theirs.

Mama Chow's Curry Chicken, a very special treat, yet predictable in its ability to uplift the soggiest homesick spirits. Her secret ingredient: A dollop of belacan! This was prepared and consumed at the tail end of my extremely short but gratifying weekend home in Penang.

Riz's Vegetarian Chilli. I was presented with this, thoughtfully packed by Riz and Hui when we met up at Sid's after a long day at work gone horribly wrong. I was swooning in gratitude, even more so when after downing 3 pints of cider, I had this to heat up and devour when I got home! His secret ingredient: Peanut butter! This provided the tomato-based stew with a lot more heart and body, coating each morsel of fresh diced vegetables, beans and mushroom. Ambrosia at midnight.

Beatrice brought to work on her last day an Apple Pie she'd baked. Her secret ingredient: Custard! The buttery, crumbly short crust pastry she made from scratch was the perfect accompaniment to the cinnamon explosion of the apple filling. Her baking prowess, along with her presence as part of the team, will be sorely missed.

In observation of Dumpling Festival today, Lee came to work armed with a truckload of his Mom's dumplings for everyone. He'd painstakingly taken pre-orders to make sure everyone got exactly the dumpling they wanted, from a list Mrs. Lee's choice ingredients: Belly pork, Chinese mushroom, Mung beans, Chestnut, Onions, dried shrimps and Preserved egg yolk. I had two, and they packed a mighty homemade punch! My Inner Dumpling is appeased for the year.

A thoughtful (albeit non-edible) gift from Mei Shean - my very own Breadou, looks like a bun, smells like a bun, feels like a bun, but a bun it ain't! It's a computer wrist-rest and stress-reliever made from foam, designed to be ergonomic and to whet the carbo appetites of those committed to spending pretty much every waking hour in front of the laptop. Mei Shean got this from Action City in Singapore; also comes in the shape of other baked confectionaries.

The best gift of all is to be let in on the secrets that lie embalmed at the heart of these offerings. I can only say thanks in so many ways and someday, I hope to be able to return all these wonderful favours.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Desperately Seeking Ah San

One fish head beehoon place that my parents used to frequent at an alarming rate was the one prepared by this legend of a man named Ah San. He used to operate out of one of the houses behind Convent Pulau Tikus, along Medan Maktab. Unfortunately, complaints from residential neighbours brought that era to a close. To this day, the whereabouts of Ah San remain a question mark. It was rumoured he had closed the business down to retire properly, only to reopen somewhere in town, Lorong Selamat, went the latest installment of said rumour.

So this fine morning, we went searching for it, but it was a fruitless hunt. Dejected, but still fixated, we headed to No. 7 at Parma Food Court, along Jalan Burmah. Mama Chow had tipped us off, saying that while it was no Ah San, it subscribed to Ah San's methods, i.e. the use of anchovies in the broth.

Alas, this brought my great Penang food streak to a screeching halt!

The picture says it all - one look and I couldn't even be bothered to attempt a better shot of it. The soup was bare, the ingredients were far and few in between - two pieces of fried fish head and four cubes of fried bean curd (Tau kua). Also, I didn't appreciate the gooey batter of the fried fish head pieces and the beehoon texture, which was a little too tough and dry. A poor student of Ah San's.

Breakfast was not a total loss, thankfully for No. 7's redemption came in the form its Fried Tau Chiam (soy noodle) with fish fillet, served with punchy sambal. This offered great relief from the lackadaisical fish head beehoon, plenty of bite from the noodles' unusual texture and the fresh fish pieces (gooey batter absent here) were utterly complementary and delightful!

I would definitely order the Tau Chiam again but to satisfy that nostalgic craving, the search for Ah San continues. If anyone out there has any clue where he has gone, please, please let me know, I will be eternally grateful!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cheapskates and Cheap Sake at Kin San Kichi, Desa Sri Hartamas

Kin San Kichi used to be THE place for a good cheap Japanese feed, kinda like the Hokano of yesteryears. I remember coming here when they still permitted smoking indoors, the place permeating a wonderful mix of odours from the BBQ tables and the open-air kitchen inside. It was often brimming with in-and-out diners, queues forming in the early evenings. Most of all, I remember how we'd constantly end up being pleasantly surprised by the tab at the end of the meal.

We were looking for a quick bite in the area before proceeding with the evening elsewhere and stumbled in here. Not much had changed after a number of years. The restaurant manager (now possibly part-owner), whom I remembered as a very friendly and efficient young lady, was still around, looking significantly wiser and more matronly. The menu's looking slightly spiffier, no longer those clumsy clear plastic folders but the prices remain pretty hard to beat.

Our orders were generic that evening but suffice to say, there are plenty of other goodies available on the menu, including a very affordable BBQ set, value-for-money sashimi sets and they do a decent version of my favourite grease trap, tonkatsu curry rice.

The customary Saba Set (RM16), generous enough to feed the unusually ravenous Hui.

Riz got the Ten Don (RM14). I forgot to get his take on it but there can't be much wrong with it, nor much great either, I suspect.

Kimuchi Ramen (RM18) - a steal with 2 x medium prawns, fresh fish, 3 x meaty chashu in a spicy broth. It was a tad salty I felt, and made me very thirsty. Also, the requisite bite from the ramen quickly deteriorated when left to sit in the broth a touch longer, a note of its quality.

Sake on the cheap! Left: My Ozeki Hana Awaka (Sparkling Sake) and Riz's Hakutsuru Nama. Ben's order of Shochu by the glass as well as Hui's Asahi were both a very moderate RM10++ each.

We probably didn't order the right things to truly render this a worthy revisit of Kin San Kichi but it's heartening to see the key cornerstones of this humble little restaurant remain solidly grounded. I should be back to give that nostalgic curry rice a go!

Kin San Kichi
16, Jalan 27/70A
Desa Sri Hartamas
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2300 3889

It's sandwiched between Aoyama and Cavells, diagonally opposite the open air carpark behind KK mini-mart, on the other end of the same row as Finnegan's.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Boss' Prawn Mee, Kam Heong, PJ State

Saturday AM: Pre-dawn lucid dreaming about Penang Hokkien mee (or Prawn Mee in KL). I wake up and realise waiting till my next visit back to the island is no longer an option; something here will have to do right now! I get a tip-off from Mel, Kam Heong in PJ State and recall reading about this over at Masak-masak's.

Kam Heong is on one of the rows of old shoplots surrounding the MPPJ building with no discernible English signboard except for the KTV outlet's on top of it...

The Boss... of Prawn Mee goodness is in the house!

The incarnate subject of my dream arrives, more real, more substantial, more edible! One sip of the soup confirms that this is not just any weedy stand-in for one of Penang's culinary luminaries. It is full-bodied, reflecting the hours, care and pride that flank its preparation.

Ingredients are unstinting and at RM4.50 per bowl, the serving is appropriately bigger than the standard Penang's. The soup is more pork than prawn though, which doesn't necessarily d0 justice to the Prawn Mee moniker for those who seek heavier notes of shellfish in the soup.

I also pick up curry puff from the Mon Kee siew pau stall for a snack later. The pastry is SWEET, the curry extra spicy, rendering this one weird concoction. I notice a lot of similar stalls using common pastry for both savoury & sweet fillings - am I the only one who has a problem with this? Would the two camps of fillings not require parallel ratios of sodium to lactose?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Back to Basics at Sid's Pub Bangsar

Reently learned that Sid's opened up another outlet in Bangsar South, much nearer to my workplace and home than the original outlet at TTDI so off we went to check it out one lazy, HOT Sunday afternoon. It'd been a while since I last ventured to the Pantai area and I was surprised to see how the Village (essentially UOA's Bangsar South showhouse) was already nicely inhabited by an Old Town, a Secret Recipe, a 7-11 and Sid's. All the basics to convince you this is going to be prime real estate! Investors, get your cheque books out!

The cool tranquil pub interior offers refuge from the blazing mid-May Malaysian sun. Entrez s'il vous plaît!!

Signature Sid's dark wooden furniture, paraphernalia-adorned walls, one very well-stocked bar. In addition to its proximity to home, this outlet has the advantage of more room, both indoors and out...

...and Strongbow Cider! Much preferred to Blackthorn's served at TTDI's. We have the pub all to ourselves for a delightful couple of hours.

On another visit on an uneventful Friday evening saw a more decent crowd, chugging back them pints. The very decent pub grub at Sid's did not fail us that evening.

Mel's Pork burger. Very meaty tasty patty, the plate flowing with fries. Despite the fact that this filled her up plenty, Mel thought the patty wasn't all that generous - "you just cannot compare this with Ramly's!"she wisely observed.

At this point, unexpected company burst through the door and joined us, lending further hilarity and stomach space for food sampling. Thank you for the pre-birthday surprise, folks!

Eevon's Bacon Butty - I should've snapped a pic of the last few mouthful of her sandwich, which looked like it held about 2 inches thick of bacon.

Vicky has mash and lamb sausages with baked beans. Mash tasted powdery, she proclaimed and left it pretty much untouched.

The pièce de résistance of the evening was the Nevis Burger - basically double-patty and all the add-ons you can handle. When this arrived, the whole table watched entranced as the glistening leaden fat dripped from the top of the grease tower languidly to form a mounting pool of sin at the base of the burger.


He collects it, he opens up his mouth wide, he brings it in and he scores! The evening's unquestionable hero for throwing frivolous table decorum out the window as he wiped his plate clean. For what are birthdays if not the most elementary reminders of our individual mortality in the larger scheme of things and the futility of denying ourselves enjoyment while we can?

And on that note, will be back, again and again!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Not Stupid, thanks to Pork Noodles at OUG

Having been strongly traumatized by my own ineptitude and missing my flight back to Penang this weekend to see Ollie, celebrate Mother's Day with the home crew and get my hometown food fixes, I had planned on getting my prawn mee fix at the famous stall in Taman Sri Sentosa but alas, did not make it out of bed in time.

You mean, you booked on the wrong flight route coming back to see me and realized only when you were checking in at the airport? And you're how OLD? Little Ollie gapes at the foolishness of the nitwit he's supposed to call Aunt.


I can't take the scrutiny any longer! Some other type of noodles will have to do, so I swing the car into OUG, park the car near the OUG wet market square and bundle out, sleep still in my eyes.
There are plenty of good eats around here, but I like the look of the Auntie who was serving up bowl after bowl of steaming noodles at Restoran Lucky.

Dry lou shu fun, slippery, cooked just right and finished with the nectar that is dark & light soy sauce and lard.

The accompanying storm in a blue plastic bowl arrived, murky liquid and flooded with minced meat, shredded pork meat, liver, one whole egg, vegetables and plenty of other unidentifiable wreckage from Auntie's fearless commandeering.

The broth is wonderfully sweet and concentrated on all flavours pork, instantly diffusing any self-doubt from this weekend's episode of ditz. The calm that follows the storm of this serving of Pork noodles (RM4.30) settles in. I forgive myself, and also decide that with the abundance of faith-restoring meals like this in KL, my Penang food cravings can wait a couple more weeks.

The stall is situated in Restoran Lucky, opposite the BHP station, for those seeking mercy in a bowl.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

One Ballad too many, Decanter Too, Desa Sri Hartamas

Following the string of posts about Decanter Too at Desa Sri Hartamas such as here and here, we visited to see if it lived up to the earlier Decanters' reputation for serving to generations cheap, comforting food & drinks.

Located on the same row as Fong Lye, street parking is relatively easy IF and only if you get here before 6PM. After that, it's best to just head straight to the open-air paid parking lot behind the KK mini-mart across the road. Decanter Too also neighbours the entrance to the pole-dancing studio on the first floor, so on evenings where we sat at one of the two tables outside, it was only a matter of time before the traffic of fit and fabulous pole-dancing class attendees made us somewhat conscious and sheepish of the boozy feast on our table.

Hainanese Chicken Chop - unrestrained portions and reassuring, but the batter could've been somewhat lighter. Also, this introduced me to my first and recurrent grouse to the food here - too healthy dosing of MSG!

Hui's Stir Fried Fish with Shallots & Spring Onion confirmed the MSG irritant, for she reacted immediately to it with a dull ache at the back of her neck.

Deals like 3 jugs of beer for the price of RM100 nett are too alluring so despite the parched throat in the middle of the night after that meal, I returned the same week.

One of the recommended whites by the bottle - Domaine Sur Lie (RM99++). This was too dry for my liking, should've gone for the other recommendation.

Chicken & Mushroom Pie (RM8) - Somewhat routine, but served its purpose of a light pairing with the wine.

Mel's Steak Pie (RM8) - good with her beer, generous chunks of meat a nod to Decanter's rep for offering value for money.

Cantonese Fried Noodle (RM9) - Meal owner N proclaimed it OK-lah, not the best he's had but certainly agreeable at that kind of price.

Oh, one more gripe - when we arrived at a little past six, the music playing was a Scorpions' greatest hits on repeat at a discomforting, piercing volume. The third time we heard the ominous whistling in the opening bar of Winds of Change, we requested for a change in music, only to be replaced by yet another equally nauseating greatest hits compilation. No music snub intended, but Scorpions at a dining outlet like Decanter's is akin to playing opera at a night club. Or K-pop at a cocktail reception. Or Wu Tang Clan at a wedding solemnization. Oh wait, that could work. Anyway, point is, given the cosy ambience, they ought to give the kind of music they play some thought.

I'm indifferent to the food, but the pricing's reasonable, drinks cheap, the service fast and attentive ('cept for the music, y'all), an outlet that I wouldn't mind coming back to.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Face to Face, Damansara Perdana

Weekend house-hunt continues, AM to PM: Getting really weary that the hours of the much too precious weekends pored into this aren't bearing any fruit. I may be veering down the path of making do with whatever's available because I want to wrap this long drawn out exercise soon.

Invariably, another Pan Mee craving is invoked. We head to Face to Face in Damansara Perdana, after yet another futile viewing in the neighbourhood.

Vicky is a happy clam when she sees Fu Chuk fritters at merely RM1.80 and orders it in a jiffy. It comes with a watery but complementary curry dipping.

Kampung wine chicken mee suah which turned out to be skinny pan mee in a clear soup. Nothing to shout about, as the texture of the noodles was all wrong to begin with.

My house Specialty Spicy Pan Mee. I am disappointed that they can only do the dry version with Thin or Thick pan mee, not "Pinch" which is my top pick of the three. It arrives to the table plain like this, but there's plenty of chilli in a huge jar on the table for you to help yourself.

I go crazy, naturally. Bring on the dripping nose!

The Ribena with Longan drink relieves the heat from the pan mee, although I find the Fanta grape colouring suspect.

We also share a bowl of dumplings, which came in a very hearty serving of six pieces with plenty of greens. We struggled a little with this towards the end but all props to the plump meat & shrimp filling.

Face to Face's decent prices and hearty meals (about RM30 for two) explain the crowds that build up during meal times, and its firm position as a neighbourhood favourite.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Deal or No Deal, Guzzle, Damansara Perdana

Guzzle used to be Bella Roma, an Italian joint famed for its 1-for-1 promotions. Once they stopped those deals, the crowds trickled to a stop. Basically they were driven out of business by the unrelenting Malaysian rigid obsession with promotions, and never paying full prices, unless they are advertised as some kind of deal or another.

Guzzle now serves the usual myriad of decently priced Western munchies, pizzas, pastas etc. alongside a decent selection of cocktails and beers. And picking up where its predecessor left off, Guzzle's deals are better than ever!

The 1-for-1s are back! We were there on Thursday night though so we got the complimentary cockails and the 4+1 imported bottled beers.

Lime Drop & Bloody Mary. Even though they're on the house, they make 'em strong. We like!

4+1 bucket - take your pick from a healthy list of imported beers. Our configuration for the evening: 3 x Stellas, 2 x Hoegaardens.

To eat, Hui has the Mushroom & Blue Cheese pizza. While the base was merely serviceable, the toppings were properly profuse and went very well with our beverages.

I get the Mafia - pepperoni (withheld here), smoked chicken ham, olives and the ultimate prize topping... quail egg!

I cannot sing enough arias to describe the composition of egg left to cook on an oven-fresh pizza, the runny yolk carelessly handled so it glides slowly but surely to fuse with the other toppings on the pizza. Just look at this work of art! I could barely wait a second longer to consume this in one swift movement, together with the rapidly coagulating golden yolk.

It was a good evening, the service friendly and the total bill a very gracious RM126. The place seemed awkwardly quiet though, next to the crowded Deutsches Gasthaus. Let's hope the deals are enough to draw back a respectable crowd soon.

Guzzle is located on the ground floor of Metropolitan Square in Damansara Perdana.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mr Ho's (Small) Big Breakfast & Mr. Pieman, Hartamas Shopping Centre

How great is this three-day weekend? I actually feel rested for the first time over a weekend in a long while. When will we ever see the four-day working week materialise??

Finally made it to brunch with Dianne after months and months of planning, navigating weekends away, work schedules and whatnot. We agreed on Plaza Damas with Fogal's protein extravagance in mind, but then detour to Mr. Ho's Fine Foods, one of the latest F&B entrant at Hartamas Shopping Centre.

Adena, aged 7, a bundle of precocious energy. I remember her vividly as an infant, then a sassy toddler like it was just yesterday!

All three of us get the Big Breakfast which comes with coffee or tea. Mr. Ho's brews Avanti - this is good, a strong and robust kickstart right before midday.

If you think there's nothing Big about this, you are spot on. Mr. Ho's serves its Big Breakfast in two sizes and in an attempt to exercise some balance on account of having missed my morning swim because of an accidental hangover, I go for the Small size. Two triangles of very thin wholemeal toast, a tablespoon of baked beans, one pork sausage, a SHRED of bacon and one egg, sunny-side up does not make for a very filling breakfast - it's almost like a tasting platter. The other Large size is apparently twice the portion of this, which would be about right. However, at a mere RM9.90 nett for the Small with good coffee, I'll admit that we get what we pay for.

With obviously room for more, I keep my eyes open as we walk around the mall a bit and spy Mr. Pieman, a kiosk in front of Mercato supermarket.

Mr. Pieman has four pie flavours - Rotorua Chicken, Waikato Beef, Tauranga Vegetable and Kaipaki Apple. I find the obvious NZ reference curious and a quick poke around the website reveals that the founder picked up pie-making from the Kiwis. The kiosk also sells a Potato Top version, in beef and chicken.

Rotorua Chicken (Small). I love that the pastry isn't puff and offers a lot more substance (and less mess!) when you bite into it. Also, the filling is generous - plenty of chicken in a peppery white sauce. While it tastes fine on its own, I do find that a little bit of Heinz ketchup went a long way with this. RM2 per piece or get 5+1 for RM10.

Potato Top - the potato crust is baked to a crumbly texture and melded well with the filling. I'd expected the filling to be different from the pie's, on account of its name but as both were very small servings, I don't find it too much and they filled me up very nicely.

The verdict? Mr. Pieman is certainly an interesting addition to Hartamas Shopping Centre and the general deficiency of good pies in KL; I would definitely venture back to try its other flavours.