“I know this char siew is world-class because every tender morsel gently melts away in my mouth and every mouthful is an eye-closing moment”
~ Chopinand, on the BBQ pork belly at Restoran Soo Kee
This is the eighth blogpost in our series Singapore & Malaysia food trail 2013. Check out our previous blogposts in this series:
- Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, Singapore
- Teh tarik, Rafee’s Corner, Singapore
- Chinese New Year of the Snake 2013, Singapore
- The Scarlet, a boutique hotel, Singapore
- Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
- Imperial Treasure Fine Chinese Cuisine, Singapore
- Food Safari, Singapore
Mysaucepan and I are on a 3-week eating spree and will be blogging about our street food adventures with lots of photos and tweets about hawker favourites and local delights that will also cover Chinese New Year 2013 – The Year of the Snake.
We would love your feedback on which are the foods you love and would also welcome any suggestions and recommendations that we should try during our trip in Singapore and Malaysia.
In my last seven blogposts, I have covered what I believe to be some of Singapore’s best local cuisine. Mysaucepan and I have headed north from Singapore into Malaysia to continue our food trail. My next few blogposts will cover some of the awesome street food around Kuala Lumpur where I spent my childhood years.
In my mind, every good restaurant must have at least one signature dish ~ one that would linger in the minds of its customers and entice them to return over and over again. This signature dish must be like the sting of a champion boxer, the killer blow if you like, one that knocks ’em dead, without fail, every time.
Restoran Soo Kee (this spelling and grammar is the Bahasa version of its English equivalent, Soo Kee Restaurant) is one such restaurant.
Today, Mysaucepan and I are with my parents who enjoy dining at this restaurant because it has been serving good, honest food to locals for twenty years and is close to their home.
Speaking of signature dishes and killer blows, this restaurant has three killer blows on its menu which you simply MUST order when dining here.
“Do they have a menu at all?” I ask my mum.
“I don’t know because we never needed one since we always order the same dishes every time we are here” she explains.
“I suppose when they do our favourite dishes so darn well, there isn’t really a need to order anything else, is there?” I say in total concurrence.
A restaurant that has been built upon a reputation for good food may even get away without a menu. Indeed, when I asked the owner of the restaurant Mr. Yuen Yee Soo for a menu, he smiles broadly at me.
“Here’s a sample menu” he tells me in Cantonese as he hands me a business card.
The back of the business card lists a few dishes but it doesn’t even show the ones we came here for today when these dishes are legendary among locals.
In Malaysia, food lovers would drive the length of the West Malaysian peninsula (equivalent of a drive from Sydney to Melbourne) in search of a particular dish that might be reputed to be the best of its kind.
I am feeling a little under the weather since we got in from Singapore and mum tells me a cooling herbal tea is good for my sore throat and flu-like symptoms.
One thing I like about Asia is that norms are frequently broken or re-invented and I don’t see a problem sipping chilled herbal tea from a Carlsberg beer mug with a straw.
Char Siew or Malaysian style BBQ pork belly
Restoran Soo Kee is famous for its char siew.
Literally, char means fork and siew means to burn or to roast in Cantonese. So char siew describes a cooking method that implies roasting or to BBQ skewered meat over an open flame.
In South East Asia, char siew usually means Chinese style BBQ pork although chasu also refers to thin slices of BBQ pork in Japanese ramen.
The char siew that we normally see in Chinese restaurants in Australia are Hong Kong style BBQ pork. They are less fatty and the meat is usually firmer to the bite.
To me, when you have to chew on char siew like the Hong Kong style char siew, you are not experiencing the true essence of BBQ pork belly.
This char siew we are having for our entree is the first killer blow.
The outside has a “rocky” texture from the caramelized sugar but the inside is succulent and tender.
I know this char siew is world-class because every tender morsel gently melts away in my mouth and every mouthful is an eye-closing moment.
The char siew at this restaurant may be on the fatty side at times but the true essence of enjoying char siew cannot be without this very decadent pork belly fat.
Steamed Soon Hock or Marbled Goby fish
The steamed Soon Hock or Marbled Goby fish is one of the most popular fresh water fish in South East Asian restaurants.
This fish itself is not a pretty sight but when steamed or deep fried, this fish is one of the priciest in Chinese restaurants in Asia.
The texture of this Soon Hock fish is what most food lovers eat it for.
A cross between the flaky flesh of a coral trout and the succulent strands of meat of raw scallops, the texture of this fish is like no other that I have eaten before.
This fish is relatively expensive by local standards but it is one of the best fresh water fish experiences that you will have in Malaysia.
Sang Har Meen
Sang Har means fresh water prawns and Meen is egg noodles in Cantonese.
Restoran Soo Kee is famous for its Sang Har Meen or stir-fried fresh water king prawns with ginger, shallots and crispy egg noodles.
The price of this dish in Malaysian restaurants is usually calculated by the number of prawns one orders. Each fresh water king prawn costs approximately RM30 or A$9 and we order four king prawns today for our Sang Har Meen which equates to RM120 or A$37 for this dish.
Gigantic fresh water prawns are renown for its firm, sweet flesh while its large heads are packed with flavour.
The art in this dish is getting the egg noodles very crispy yet retaining a bit of chew to soak up the delectable egg sauce that is predominantly made from pork and prawn stock.
Now why aren’t any Chinese or Malaysian restaurants in Sydney trying to replicate this dish?
Although we do get very fresh king prawns in Sydney, I suspect it boils down to its popularity and price. It is also not easy to find giant fresh water prawns with such depth of flavour.
The combination of ginger, garlic and shallots is really the holy trinity of Chinese style cooking and this Sang Har Meen brings out the essence and flavour of these three ingredients beautifully.
The tail meat is firm, chunky and especially delicious when dunked into fresh red chilli and light soy sauce.
But how can you ignore a second helping of these fresh water prawn heads, hello?
The good thing about these giant fresh water prawns is they are less fiddly and the shells peel away quite easily especially when they have already been sliced into halves by the chef.
A connoisseur of Sang Har Meen would suck on the giant prawn heads to extract maximum flavour and taste and the remnants are proof of the prowess in enjoying an iconic Chinese Malaysian dish.
Stir-fried cos lettuce with garlic sauce
A stir-fried cos lettuce with garlic sauce is our obligatory vegetable dish but this is no ordinary stir-fry.
The fresh and sprightly lettuce is full of crunch but the skill of the chef is demonstrated by a good dash of Shao Xing wine searing in a fiery hot wok to created those smoky charred flavours.
The decor in this restaurant is modest to say the least but who cares when the food so good and honest.
To me, Restoran Soo Kee demonstrates the depth of home-style cooking at a very high level and there are literally hundreds of these restaurants dotted all around Kuala Lumpur.
The difficult part is to know what to order when navigating the maze of all these restaurants. Different restaurants are good at different things so it is always good to take word of mouth advice from local food lovers rather than blindly ordering off a menu.
The proprietors of Restoran Soo Kee, Mr Yuen Yee Soo and his wife are the front-of-house if at all they can be referred as such in their humble establishment.
Mr. Yuen is especially friendly when doing his PR with regular clientele. Their son is the man behind the wok burners in the kitchen churning out all these iconic dishes that have been in the forefront of Malaysian street food for generations.
My parents have known the owners for a long time because they enjoy the food at this restaurant and have been recommending their friends to dine here for many years.
I am beginning to realize that my food trails throughout Kuala Lumpur over the years are never quite complete without a visit to Restoran Soo Kee.
Indeed, we came here twice this trip, ordering the same dishes and came away happily satisfied on both occasions.
Mr. and Mrs Yuen, thank you and we shall return in due course.
So dear readers, do you have a favourite Malaysian dish to share with us?
Restoran Soo Kee
373- 1 4th Mile Jalan Ampang
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +603 4257 0767 Mobile +612 905 4607
Directions to Restoran Soo Kee:
If you are coming from KL city centre:
- Head down Ampang road until you see a fly-0ver in front of you (The tall Ampang City complex would be visible on your left).
- Bear left of the fly-over and do a U-turn underneath the fly-over (just before the traffic lights).
- Restoran Soo Kee would be approximately 50 metres on your left after the U-turn.
*Note: This restaurant is non-halal.
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