This sixth blog post is part of Food Safari Kuala Lumpur 2014 – a series of ten mouth-watering blog posts of the best eats during my 9-day trip to the city.
“I told them not to slaughter the live fish until you get there” my cousin KK says.
“Great, I’ll make sure my camera is ready” I reply. “We don’t get to see this in Australia.”
My food safari in Kuala Lumpur continues and today, I bring you to Kam Kee Seafood Restaurant in Petaling Jaya where a specialty on their menu is a ferocious, predatory fish called snakehead.
Members of the perciform fish family called Channidae which is native to Africa and Asia, the name of this fish is derived presumably from the appearance of its snake-like head.
The body of this fish is elongated with distinctively long dorsal fin, large mouth and shiny sharp teeth. Snakeheads are thrust-feeders that prey on smaller fish, frogs and in rare cases, small mammals such as rodents, rats and even squirrel.
Because of their strong and aggressive nature, preparing a live snakehead for the cooking pot is a little different from regular live fish.
In the rear area of the restaurant’s kitchen, I observe a live snakehead being retrieved from a tank containing at least half a dozen of them. Then, this robust fish is thrown onto the floor. You know the fish is alive when it’s wriggling ferociously trying to find its way back into water.
In comes the kitchen helper wielding a heavy wooden stick and with a couple of swift, heavy blows to its head, he pummels the snakehead into submission.
As he places the fish on the weighing scale, shivering movements from the fish momentarily distort the reading on the scale and remind me it’s still alive.
This particular snakehead weighs in at a hefty 1.2 kilograms.
The cleaning process for this snakehead is more tedious than regular fish.
Because of the slippery and slimy skin on its elongated body, a long wooden stick is inserted into the snakehead’s mouth right through the entire length of the fish. This is to keep the fish’s body straight and firm when scaling.
Being a predatory fish, I observe there is a lot of large, firm scales on its body. The determination on the kitchen helper’s face shows that it’s definitely not a walk in the park when scaling this snakehead.
Once the fish has been scaled and cleaned, another worker begins to fillet the fish, carefully removing its backbone, small pinbones and sinew.
Meanwhile, the dining room is almost full with this weekday lunch crowd, many of whom are also here for snakefish.
The price of this snakefish is approximately RM60 or A$21 per kilogram which includes preparing the fish in three contrasting styles of cooking as recommended by the restaurant.
The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the contents of this soup – the fish was swimming and got thumped in the head just twenty minutes ago!!
The first dish is a white, soupy broth made from the fish head and bones which appear to have been deep fried to bring out its flavours. Soft white tofu, bittergourd, ginger and tomato are added to the soup which is eaten with rice vermicelli.
The milky, gingery taste is warming and with the rice vermicelli, this first dish could be a meal in its own right.
Our second dish is thinly sliced snakehead fillets steamed with ginger, black beans and special soy sauce, then drizzled with crispy bits of deep fried garlic and oil.
Garnished with coriander and fresh red chillies, this dish is quintessential Chinese style steamed fish with its savoury black beans and special soy sauce.
Crispy bits of deep-fried garlic and coriander are the crowning glories in giving the fish its toasty edge.
Our third dish is stir-fried snakehead with ginger, garlic and shallots. Personally I like this dish the best because of its good wok hei.
The holy trinity of Chinese cooking – ginger, garlic and shallots work their glorious fragrance into thin slices of snakehead which has been seared and caramelized.
Fresh beansprouts and carrot add crunch to the aromas of Chinese shao xing wine.
In Chinese folklore, snakehead has medicinal qualities and healing powers and is reputed to be especially good for healing wounds sustained from injuries or after surgical procedures. Whether you believe this folklore is one thing and looking around the dining room today, I think people are eating snakehead because it’s delicious.
The see tow por or ‘lady boss’ Helen is affable and she comes around to our table to chat and joke with us.
“Why you no come here so long??” she asks my cousin KK, who eats here regularly.
Snakehead is one of many varieties of fish and seafood served at this restaurant that includes barramundi, pomfret and soon hock fish. Kitchen helpers have their work all cut out with food orders lining up during busy lunch hour.
Salted egg yolks have become prized, golden nuggets in Chinese style cooking in recent times.
They go into so many dishes such as zongzi, mudcrabs, vegetables and this restaurant is preparing these yolks for their dinner session tonight.
This restaurant also has a few words of wisdom as well as wifi free of charge while you dine. Is this a trend I see happening in the future?
So dear readers, would you be game to try this snakehead and what do you think of free wifi in a full service restaurant?
Here’s some of my tips when planning a food safari in KL:
- Do some basic research on eat streets, hawkers and restaurants which are known for particular Malaysian style dishes to get some idea about whether the food actually suits your tastes.
- Local weather can be warm and humid, so do wear loose and comfortable clothing.
- Comfortable footwear is important if you are planning to walk the streets of KL.
- Carry bottled water and lots of face tissues for those deliciously greasy noodles.
- Pace yourself and avoid snacking on all sorts of foods as calories do add up quickly.
- Be very certain about what’s in your food if you have food allergies.
- Carry medication for diarrhoea and food-poisoning, especially if you are consuming street food for the first time or have even built up resistance.
- Be vigilant on the streets as some areas of KL are notorious for petty crimes such as snatch thieves and pickpockets. Avoid carrying loose handbags, large amounts of cash, important travel documents, credit cards and elaborate jewellery.
Kam Kee Seafood Restaurant
10, Jalan 5/44 Bukit Gasing (off Jalan Gasing)
Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Tel: +60 3-7783 8843
Opening hours: Lunch 11.30am to 3.30pm Dinner 5.30pm to 22.30pm