Thursday, July 24, 2008

The best beef balls by far - The Star


CECIL Street – or See See Kai in Cantonese – is a name you will not find on today's map because it has been renamed Jalan Hang Lekiu.

It is one place in the city centre that is rich and colourful with history. Many of the buildings here were built at the turn of the last century and certain parts of it are still standing – a legacy of the migrant Chinese architecture of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Its association with Chee Cheong Kai or Petaling Street in Chinatown made it a tourist attraction, which is heavily promoted abroad.

So, when it comes to food, Cecil Street would hardly disappoint you. As for me, the street brings back many sweet memories of school days in my teenage years.

Tourist trap: Cecil Street, which is now known as Jalan Hang Lekiu, is an endearing destination for tourists from all over the world

I remember my aunt Lorraine used to pack lunch from some of the makan places here back in the mid-70s – and some of the well-known eateries in the city centre are found here.

So, first off, I would like to start with the much-hyped and talked-about Koon Kee noodle shop. It is not hard to locate this eatery because it was widely publicised by the local and foreign media.

To give you a better picture, the shop is in the centre row opposite Petaling Street's Hong Leong Bank. Now, this particular makan place is said to be pricey.

I found the allegations baseless because the bad rap was made good by the shop's offering of excellent food. For RM4 a plate, you can hardly complain.

So, to sample the legendary Koon Kee wantan noodles, I roped in my regular makan kaki C.M. Khor, who is familiar with the history of Cecil Street.

“Eh, Sam, this place still hasn't lost its touch lah! The char siew is as good as I first tasted it back in the mid-60s,” he said. The shop, he added, is now in the hands of the second-generation.

As for the generous portion and the juicy and succulent char siew, I recall my aunt packing mar meen (double helping) from Koon Kee as her lunch treat for the whole Cheong clan back when she was working in a multinational company in Brickfields.

Apart from wantan noodles, Koon Kee also serves rice and its famed swey kow (meat dumplings). But, since I had plans to sample another legendary food stall in the neighbourhood, I gave that a pass.

For RM11.40 (two single-helping plates of wantan noodles and two drinks), the Koon Kee experience was money well spent. My follow-up trip would be a session to sample its swey kow.

Now, many of the good makan places in Cecil Street have relocated. One of them was Lee Thong Kee chicken hor fun that shifted to Jalan Tun H.S. Lee.

If you love lorng-yuk (barbecued pork jerky), the Kiew brothers are found here. They occupy a pre-war shop house and if you follow your sense of smell, it would lead you right to it.

One of my favourite Chinese confectionery shops here is Fung Wong biscuit, which is well known among the old-school city dwellers.

Here, you can find some of the best Chinese pastries like the char siew sou, tan tart (egg tart) and kaya kok (kaya puff). Prices are also very reasonable and folks who know this place would usually pack plenty of biscuits and pastries for takeaway.

Moving on, one of my favourite beef noodles stalls is found here in Cecil Street. Housed in what was previously a pre-war shop house, Kiew Yee ngau chap fun is a makan place that has stood the test of time.

Healthy business: The late breakfast crowd at Koon Kee noodle shop in Cecil Street.

As I recall, my aunt used to take me for lunch in this particular outlet back in the mid-70s. Now it is manned by the owner's son, who can be seen preparing his orders at a stall at the far left corner in Tang's food centre.

It is no mistake that the same fella, who is in his mid-50s, is now the man in charge. You can savour the ngau chap meen (beef offal noodles) either in soup or in dry gravy.

At RM6 a bowl, prices were inflated but the saving grace here is the good taste and reasonable portion. Kiew Yee noodle stall is one of the very few beef noodle sellers in the city that can give you a good portion of tender beef fillet with your order.

Now, if I may add, the stall's hand-made beef balls are so springy, I would say that they are the best I have ever tasted and so far, no makan place has come close.

Here in Cecil Street, you can find food from dawn to dusk. There is simply too much to cover and well, it seems that I may have left out the famous porridge next to Koon Kee and the Hokkien mee seller next to it.

But rest assured, I will cover these, especially for you, my readers out there, in my next “Samo super supper special food trail”.

To get there, hop onto an LRT and get off at the Pasar Seni station. Cecil Street is about a 10-minute walk from there. And, for those who have a cell-phone navigate by voice GPS system, key in the following coordinates: Koon Kee (Long N 03 08” 669', Lat E 101 41” 879'), Tang's Food Centre – Kiew Yee beef noodles (Long N 03 08” 669', Lat E 101 41” 880').

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sample European cuisine with emphasis on Croatian treats - The Star


WALKING into the Dubrovnik restaurant is like entering the historical city itself.

The restaurant at Solaris Mont Kiara is owner Zoran Djumic's memory of Croatia as the family replicated the famed city by emphasising some of its charm, notably the white walls.

His daughter Dina, who is the general manager, says the family hoped to introduce Croatia and promote her people, culture and food to their customers.

Mouth-watering: The Lamb Croatia, a lamb steak dish lavish with green pepper sauce accompanied by mint flavoured green peas and pommes dauphine.

The republic's patron, St. Blaise or Sveti Vlaho as referred to by the locals is visible on the glass panels that front the outlet with the crest of Dubrovnik sharing a spot. The crest is also stamped on the cover of the plum red menu.

Dubrovnik has been called a Croatian restaurant but Dina corrects this perception, saying it serves European food with emphasis on Croatian favourites.

Not knowing what to expect at a Croatian-European outlet, we asked Dina and her friend Bruna Kobescak to walk us through the dishes.

White charm: Dubrovnik is elegant in white serving European and Croatian favourites.

On the menu, the appetiser section lists out a variety of soup and cheese offerings.

We had the Appetiser Platter that consisted of Strukli, Suppli and Palacinke, which are traditionally Croatian.

The Strukli is a likeable starter – a fresh cheese dumpling pan fried with breadcrumbs and served with sour cream while the Palacinke is crepes filled with cream cheese and baked.

The cheese for both these appetisers are made at the outlet so it is guaranteed to be fresh and flavourful.

There’s an Italian influence in the brown and round Suppli as these fried rice balls have mozzarella as an added ingredient.

With Italy, a close neighbour across the Adriatic Sea, it became evident why some of the dishes that rolled out of the kitchen looked very familiar.

The Calzone – the huge folded pizza was our first main course.

Packed with either beef or chicken salami, the calzone is handsomely flavoured with tomato, mushrooms, mozzarella and oregano.

Quickly looking through the menu, I caught sight of a list of pastas – Gnocchi alla Gorgonzola, Gnocchi Pomodoro, Pasta Spalato, Seafood Fettucini, Tagliatelle al’amatriciana and Carbonara.

“All the pastas here are freshly made and served with our homemade sauces,” Dina said.

Then Dina pointed to the wood-burning oven in the kitchen where the outlet's famed pizzas were baked.

Apple treat: The Apple Pita (creamy apple filling in thin crispy dough) is a traditional Croatian favourite.

She explained that the food of the Italians was also familiar to Croatians, as pastas, pizzas and breads had become part of their lifestyle.

A typical Croatian meal would be the Cevapi and Djuvedj, which translates to mean grilled meat with fragrant rice.

The Cevapi (meat) is styled like a kebab, only that the meat is not fashioned unto skewers but moulded by hand to look like sausages.

This simple grilled meat seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper is dished up with a lovely serving of rice, with eggplant, tomato, capsicum, celery and onions offering a good combination of taste and colour.

On the side, a spicy Croatian vegetable salsa accompanies the rice and meat presentation.

Authentic: The Appetiser Platter that consisted of Strukli, Suppli and Palacinke is traditionally Croatian.

Another Croatian dish is the Chicken Agram with chicken breast filled with scrambled eggs and fresh spices, served with chips and mixed salad.

The Lamb Croatia, a lamb steak dish lavish with green pepper sauce accompanied by mint flavoured green peas and pommes dauphine is appropriate for the not so adventurous as it borders on familiarity. It is after all, a steak!

Dina said some of the Croatian dishes required a day’s advance notice for preparation like Peka, Tartar Beefsteak and Sarma.

The Peka is described as a preparation of meat, seafood and vegetables under an iron bell, cooked in a wood-burning oven while the Tartar Beefsteak is grated raw beef that gets tossed with 12 spices at your table. Interesting!

The Sarma lends a little sour taste on the palate as minced beef with rice, rolled in sour cabbage leaf is served with gravy and mashed potatoes.

Dig in: A typical Croatian meal would be the Cevapi and Djuvedj with flavourful rice and minced meat sausages relished with Croatian vegetable salsa.

Once the Croatian chef’s creations have been dealt with, the French chef works his spell rolling out mouth-watering desserts to entice customers.

The traditional Croatian favourite Ragusa Caramelo (layered caramel cake) is a delightful introduction to Croatian sweets while the traditional Apple Pita (creamy apple filling in thin crispy dough) teases the palate further.

The Stef’s Chocolate Cake – chocolate mousse cake perfectly combined with amarena cherry is another satisfying end.

RESTAURANT DUBROVNIK, J-OG-14, Solaris Mont Kiara, 2, Jalan Solaris, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel: 03-6203 6780). Business hours: 11.30am to 11pm daily except Mondays.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Honeymoon bliss - The Star

Jul 6 - Compiled by FARIDAH BEGUM

Honeymooning domestically is just as good as doing so abroad.

Bukit Tinggi, Pahang

None can compare to the French influenced Colmar Tropicale, which is only about an hour’s drive from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and boasts of not just a setting but the ambience is not unlike the real towns of France that it emulates. Perfect for a weekend or just a short honeymoon, it is sure to appeal to the hearts of newly-weds for a repeated honeymoon trip.

Cameron Highlands, Pahang

The highlands offer honeymooning couples a great English setting. Not having to fork out thousands to get to the outskirts of London, you can enjoy afternoon tea, cool weather and many cold evenings together with good steamboats and Continental meals at most restaurants here.

The Andaman, Langkawi, Kedah

Situated in the picturesque Datai Bay, honeymooning couples will find the tranquillity a great help in keeping the romance burning. Lots to do with the natural setting such as bird watching, sunsets and even a round of golf if either one or both are enthusiasts.

Serai di Lanjut, Pahang

If a timeless holiday is on the cards, then this place is just right. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life coupled with the slow and easy pace here, one can just stretch out on the white sandy beaches for hours on end or play a round of golf or even go river fishing.

Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu

Many couples have met on scuba diving trips and this can account for quite a percentage of marriages. It is only right and perhaps understandable if they choose to go on a scuba diving honeymoon, especially where they first met. Pulau Perhentian may be the place or even a good alternative. Known as one of the best diving posts in the country, Pulau Perhentian is actually made up of two islands, namely Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil.

Pangkor Island Resort, Pangkor, Perak

Look forward to sunset cruises, traditional Malay massages and lots of time together in the beautiful resort that was voted the best in the West Coast. With a private beach exclusively for guests of the resort, you can plan many outdoor activities such as jungle trekking, archery, parasailing and cycling.

Permai Rainforest Resort, Kuching, Sarawak

If your wish is to have a taste of everything, then this is the perfect getaway for you. You get a package of the sun, sea, beach, mountains, waterfalls and modern facilities all in one place. Just 30 minutes from Kuching, you will want for nothing except more time to do all the things you want together as a couple, and more.

Tanjong Jara, Terengganu

Noted for its pristine turquoise waters and its hidden location, there are lots that a honeymooning couple can do here. For one, it boasts of a good spa, just right for a couple that has gone through the mill with the preparation of the wedding and the crush of relatives. It also provides the couple a chance to be just by themselves and enjoy their newly entwined lives together.

Pulai Springs Desaru, Johor

Designed like an ancient Malay palace, Pulai Springs is on one of the unspoilt beaches south of the East Coast in the peninsula. Like most resorts, it promises the excitement of a beach resort yet maintains a calm and serene atmosphere that is conducive for honeymooning and gives couples time to acquaint themselves further besides enjoying the array of activities available here such as golf and jungle trekking, and with an untouched forest that casts a romantic glow in the evenings.

Nexus Resort Karambunai, Sabah

Winner of many prestigious awards, this place has been described as heaven on earth with its natural setting and the numerous activities that come with it. A lagoon park fulfils one’s desires of water games and the 30ha nature park within the resort gives honeymooning couples hours of trekking together.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Beef noodles, just as you like it - The Star

Jul 3, 2008

THREE things come to mind when I recall the good old days of Foch Avenue, which has been renamed Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, after the founding father of the Malayan Chinese Association (now the Malaysian Chinese Association).

Still made by hand: Shin Kee is one of the few makan places around the business district that offers hand-made noodles.

First, the “Wild West” era, when phai kia (bad hats) roamed freely along the five-foot-way, terrorising secondary school students by mugging them in broad daylight.

A few of my schoolmates fell victim to such muggers and it was not until the late 80s that crime prevention rounds were intensified by the cops to deter the rising crime rate.

Kids were fearful of getting mugged while they waited for their buses at the bus stand located in front of the old Standard Chartered Bank in this area.

Thugs and misadventures aside, the next thing that came to mind was the second-hand bookstores that dotted this busy main road.
Busy area: The intersection of Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Jalan Tun H.S. Lee.

I used to sell my old Beano, Dandy and 2000AD comics for pocket money to a newsvendor who set up shop next to the Standard Chartered Bank here.

It justified spending 30 sen on the bus ride and a trip to the Rex cinema at Jalan Sultan where, for RM1.60, one could enjoy a movie in the comfort of a first-class seat.

But, it was the third and most memorable thing that got me coming back to Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock – the good food – and this can be found at Lai Foong coffee shop.

If you grew up in the city, this is one makan place that needs no introduction. Lai Foong began its business more than half a century ago.

Today, it is still going strong. What I like about eating in this coffee shop is the no-frills selection of rice and noodle dishes. And one of the most famous stalls in this eatery is the ngau chap meen (beef noodles).

After 51 years, the quality and portion is still as good. When it comes to pricing, I would say that the fare is decent and the portion, generous.

Tasty and unique: Shin Kee's beef noodles.

A bowl of beef noodles costs RM5 for a small helping and RM6 for a bigger helping, for those with a large appetite. Now, if you ask the seasoned folks who eat here, they would recommend a “customised” bowl of beef noodles.

For me, the thrill here is to ask for the ngau peen or bull's penis. This special dish can cost RM12 or more, depending on the choice morsels that you add.

And, since the “extra” special ingredient is not always available, not every beef noodle lover would get an order of bull's penis. I was told that you have to go early or call the stall owner to book your additional serving of the bull's pride.

So, how does it compare with the mamak's sup torpedo? Well, there are differences. The sup torpedo version is rather crunchy while Lai Foong's ngau peen is tender.

No drop in quality: Lai Foong's beef koay teow has retained its quality and taste after all these years.

Whichever way you look at it, it will take plenty of guts to munch down an exotic dish such as this. Bull's penis aside, there are some really good stalls at Lai Foong.

But, before you embark on your journey to this coffee shop, let me remind you that parking lots around this central business district are limited.

Not only that; the makan place is usually packed during lunch hour – so, if you want to enjoy your noodles, the best thing to do is to get there early.

The kai fan (chicken rice) came highly recommended and if you love Chinese confectionery and pastries, there is the Tong Kee stall that sells them.

For your late tea session, my recommendation would be the sesame crackers and butter buns. You cannot go wrong with this combination.

And, while we are on the subject of beef noodles, there is another makan place opposite Lai Foong coffee shop called Shin Kee beef noodle specialist.

It is easy to locate this eatery because it is a corner lot and it is perpetually crowded. I discovered this noodle shop when I made my way to a bank here to pay the instalment on my car loan.

I learnt that the noodles at this shop are hand-made and each bowl costs RM6 (small) and RM8 (large). You can ask for beef balls or ngau chap (beef offal).

Service is prompt and with the good tasting noodles, the makan experience here is pretty pleasant. The shop is open from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Wednesdays.

To get to Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, you can take an LRT ride to the Pasar Seni station and take an eight–minute walk. Major bus companies also ply this route and the nearest stops are at the Central Market and Kota Raya complex.