This famous sang har meen turns out a little disappointing.
Instead, the consolation is discovering one of the best hokkien mee in Kuala Lumpur.
“I need to go back there …” my long-time friend tells me.
I detect a sense of urgency in his voice though David is a confident and towering figure for as long as I have known him since our high school days at St. John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur.
He was a judo champion, a prefect and a tennis sparring buddy from school. These days, he’s more a dear friend for being an enthusiastic home cook just like I am. We often exchange ideas and cooking tips across the Australian continent where he lives in Perth with his family.
But tonight, his voice is wavering though I sense his intentions totally focused. It’s similar to the voice I heard so many years ago when we were chasing teenage girls in high school.
“You mean that place in Bukit Bintang where we had fantastic Thai massage?” I ask.
“Errrr … that too but not quite …” he says.
“What then, you want to look up that chick from high school?” I summoned. “What’s her name … Linda or was it … Vimala?” I try to recall.
“No, no … I meant Imbi’s Soo Kee Son” he explains. “I know we’ve already been there but I can’t get over how good the hokkien mee was and I want my wife to try Malaysian style sang har meen for the first time” he adds.
The name Soo Kee evokes images of smoky wok fried noodles and one of the most famous char siew in Kuala Lumpur.
This evening, we are back for a second time at Restoran New Imbi Garden more fondly known as Soo Kee’s Son among KL food lovers.
Restoran New Imbi Garden, Kuala Lumpur
Soo Kee’s Son (Meng Chuan) Prawn & Beef Noodles as a restaurant name might seem like a mouthful but that’s exactly what this place is so famous for.
Not prawn and beef noodles in one dish but what they mean is two signature dishes ~ prawn noodles or sang har meen in Cantonese and beef noodles.
As we walk towards the restaurant from Jalan Imbi, the footpath overlooks a sunken, open air kitchen. Wafting from the hot woks are tantalizing fumes so typical of a tai chow restaurant, literally “big fry” in Cantonese.
A couple of kitchen helpers are lining up food orders and fresh ingredients for a father and son tag team. These two chefs are stir-frying hokkien noodles, king prawns and vegetables using four woks at the same time.
David‘s wife Caroline is fascinated by the kitchen theatrics and so am I.
From an elevated position on the footpath, we observe the chef so expertly tossing our hokkien noodles over a fiery wok. The smoky fumes are making me salivate with anticipation and as I take this image, my hands tremble with excitement.
From a food safety, health and hygiene perspective, I do wonder if this kind of open air kitchen will ever pass our strict food regulations in Australia.
Cantonese style fried rice noodles with beef
The last time I was at this restaurant was back in 2007.
From that visit, I remember a Cantonese style fried rice noodles with beef to be one of the very best in KL for its smokiness, rich eggy sauce and impossibly tender slices of meat.
There is a good level of wok hei tonight though not as intense as I remember it to be. Beef slices are tender but need more smoky caramelization to match the flavours of ginger and shallots. I hazard a guess baking soda is used to tenderize the beef to the extent its texture is a little “unnatural” for my liking.
As I tuck in, I think about the wafer-thin slices of Aussie beef in Asian supermarkets back in Australia that would sear more intensely without the need for artificial enhancers.
Portion size is relatively large though a medium size for RM22 (A$7.70) from the menu is a good feed for two (See portion size menu at the bottom of this blog post).
I would have ate the same beef during my last visit so many years ago but to say the least, I am disappointed with this dish today.
Note: In Malaysia, a large majority of beef is imported from India. Unless otherwise stated by Indian curry leaf restaurants selling beef curry, street food vendors selling beef satay, beef rendang, sup buntut (oxtail soup) or supermarkets selling raw beef, I assume I am consuming beef from India.
Higher-priced Western restaurants and steakhouses will specify in their menu the origins of their beef, most of which originate from Australia, New Zealand or the USA.
Stir-fried garlic chives with seafood
When you eat at a tai chow restaurant in KL, you would check out the kitchen kung fu of its chef by ordering one or two of its signature stir-fry dishes. In hindsight, I ought to have ordered a fried rice here.
But a stir-fried garlic chives with slices of pork, prawns and squid is incredibly smoky with wok hei. Bits of garlic, ginger and Shao Xing wine make this my favourite dish thus far.
Stir-fried frog with ginger and shallots
I have not eaten frog for quite some time now and like David, I am pining for that luscious, succulent frog meat.
Stir-fried with ginger, shallots and rice wine, these chunky pieces of frog are firmer than the ones I have eaten in Kuala Lumpur in the past. Apparently, the texture of wild-caught frogs are firmer than cultivated ones. Each frog costs RM20 / A$7 and there is a minimum order of two frogs.
Still, it’s a good dish with steamed rice and one you could write home about.
Cantonese style fried vermicelli and rice noodles
One has the option of ordering crispy style rice vermicelli, rice noodles or even yee meen for Cantonese style noodles.
The noodles in a Cantonese style fried vermicelli and rice noodle (or yin yeong meaning mix of noodles) are crisp and crunchy with slices of pork and prawns. Drenched in thick egg sauce, the noodles become softer as we dig deeper with each additional serve.
Cantonese style noodles go exceptionally well with pickled green chillies and light soy on the side but again, this dish is lacking strong wok hei that I have been spoiled with from good tai chow restaurants in KL.
Sang har meen or freshwater king prawn noodles
David‘s on a mission tonight, and a commendable one too.
He wants his wife to experience Malaysian style sang har meen. The price of this dish is dictated by the size of the prawns you order to accompany the noodles. The price tonight is RM85 (or A$29.80) per large king prawn or RM65 (or A$22.80) per small king prawn.
One large king prawn is sliced lengthwise into half and piled over noodles in a pool of eggy Cantonese style sauce.
The noodles are crisp but I find the sauce almost soupy, lacking in richness and a little too watery for my liking. This huge fresh water prawn is cultivated locally and at RM85 each, I think it’s rather pricey dish. The meat is firm though I prefer the smaller prawns as they are more succulent and tender.
Malaysian style hokkien mee
We did not come to Soo Kee’s Son for Malaysian style hokkien mee.
This rendition is impressive with a greasy dark sauce and generous bits of crispy pork lard. The wok hei hits me right in the face and I’m not complaining either.
Dipped into belachan and diced raw garlic, slices of pork, liver, squid and Chinese cabbage make this hokkien mee truly one of the best in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s KL food culture to eat up to midnight and beyond.
Tonight, the famous sang har meen at this restaurant turns out a little disappointing. Instead, the consolation is discovering one of the best hokkien mee in Kuala Lumpur.
And being a fellow food lover, I feel confident to be speaking for David too.
So dear readers, in your opinion, can you share your thoughts on which is the best sang har meen and hokkien fried noodles in Kuala Lumpur?
Restoran New Garden Imbi
(also known as Soo Kee’s Son (Meng Chuan) Prawn & Beef Noodles
Medan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur
Opening hours: Thursdays to Tuesdays 12 – 3pm, 5pm – 12am. Closed on Wednesdays.