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Kuala Lumpur - Old Chinatown Eats

Visited a couple of old eats in KL's bustling Chinatown or, as it's commonly called in Cantonese (the lingua franca of KL's Chinese populace) "Chee Cheung Kai" (茨廠街) today.

First stop was Kim Lian Kee, more than a century old, and which claimed to have invented the famous KL-style black-colored Hokkien fried noodles. Its version is still the best I'd tried in the short time (2 months plus) I'd been in KL thus far: the Hokkien noodles were fat & yielding, blanketed in the trademark dark soysauce and, I suspect, coated with flavorsome lard. It's studded with shrimps (peeled but tails-on), thin slivers of squid, pork, cabbage and precious gems of sinful, golden-fried lardons which provided delightful crunchy bursts of deliciousness when bitten into. Kim Lian Kee's rather liquidy and less-than-spicy sambal belacan (chilli dip) was provided in little jars on every table - less than stellar, but provided a nice stab of spiciness to the otherwise overly rich noodles. One can order Chinese tea to accompany the Hokkien fried noodles, but I chose a cold, soothing papaya-milk drink instead. Perfect :-)

Second stop was the tiny, derelict-looking but very famous Koon Kee wanton noodles shop, set back from the bustling street & partially obscured by stalls selling Chinese pancakes & biscuits. Koon Kee was started in 1947 by Mdm Lee Kim Kee who, together with her husband, made a long, painful trek from her village in Guangdong all the way to the port of Guangzhou in the aftermath of WWII. They sailed to KL, set up a small wanton noodles business in the middle of KL's Chinatown and, as they say, the rest is history. Koon Kee produces one of the springiest, tastiest wanton noodles in KL, which is probably where one can find the best wanton noodles in South-east Asia. Koon Kee serves wanton noodles with either delicious roast char-siu, tasty chicken feet braised with Chinese shiitake mushrooms, or with shredded poached chicken. Their wantons and the larger shui-gow dumplings are also very popular.

This evening, I chose the kai-see (shredded chicken) wanton noodles, served "dry" (kon-low) where in KL meant it's dressed in dark-soy, light-soy, chicken/pork fat, the faintest trace of sesame oil, pepper & other seasonings. Decades of experience (the current cooks are Mdm Lee's children & grandchildren, now middle-aged themselves) meant the noodles' flavors were perfectly balanced and the noodles' texture were perfect. I had two little wanton dumplings in a clear, surprisingly peppery consomme - the wantons were perfect, filled with flavorful minced pork (as opposed to prawn ones you'd get in HK-style wantons). The shredded chicken were moist and utterly delicious. The perfect meal, even amidst a rather intimidating dilapidated-looking dining area (I suspect the "derelict" image was kept on purpose - as business was bustling!).

ADDRESSES:

Kim Lian Kee
49-51 Petaling Street
Tel: 03-20324984
Operating hours: 5.30pm to 4am daily

Koon Kee
Jalan Hang Lekir (off Petaling Street)
Operating hours: 10am to 10pm daily
No telephone numbers

 
 
 
 
 
 
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  1. Very interesting!

    I'm not sure I remember these two places nor if I have eaten at Koon Kee (I might have...it was a long time ago) but I really don't think I ever ate at Kim Lian Kee. I spent a great deal of time on Petaling Street for a decade. decade-n-a-half, a long while ago before they turned the front end of the street into that covered tourist attraction that I believe it is now. (My father had his cronies there, also is club, etc; and we ate many a meal on Petaling Street (a favorite was a restaurant - with open sewers! - a few shops before the junction w/ Sultan Road)there and spent much time lounging around in a particular coffee shop and adjacent shops where "family friends" had their businesses.

    There was a famous place for Hainan Chicken Rice on Sultan Road just north of the junction with what I believe is now Jln Hang Jebat, on the west side of Sultan Rd...whose name escapes me now...but it was really good and packed with customers especially on the weekends. Is it still there?

    25 Replies
    1. re: huiray

      huiray, Re: Chicken Rice on 56 Sultan Road - I believe you're referring to Nam Heong which, I understand from my trusty The Star Street Food Guide to Malaysia, is a permanent fixture in Chinatown for nearly 80 years. Yes, it's still there indeed and doing pretty well. Interesting to note that their chief cook, Tan Keng Yeo, left Nam Heong after > 30 years to start his own restaurant on 40 Sultan Road. Makings of another food fight :-D

      BTW, the Star's guide has been invaluable in guiding me towards otherwise obscure food finds in KL and Penang. Once in the shops, I also often trawl the newspaper clippings displayed on the walls of the restaurants for write-ups about the origins or beginnings of that particular restaurant, which I can then share with fellow CHs here. For example, I gleaned the story behind Koon Kee from a 10-year-old news clipping from the Star pasted on one of Koon Kee's grimy walls.

      1. re: klyeoh

        Yes - that's it, Nam Heong. Thanks. Have you eaten there?

        Heh, chicken rice wars... a Nam Heong chef leaving to set up his own store somehow sounds familiar from many years ago...though that could have been another chef... When did this head chef of Nam Heong leave to open his own place at 40 Sultan Rd?

        1. re: huiray

          No, I've not been there yet. In fact, I didn't even know about Nam Heong's historical significance until you mentioned about this chicken rice place on Sultan Road - and I happened to pass by it yesterday evening! Too many places in KL, too little time. Ask me again in 6 months :-D

          BTW, you're right - I Googled & found out Nam Heong's ex-chief cook turned competitor happened 12 yearsago, not yesterday ;-) Looks like there're still a LOT of things I'd yet to learn about KL.

          1. re: klyeoh

            Heh. Happy eating!

            BTW there also used to be a Chicken Rice place located in a coffee shop on Petaling Street somewhere between Sultan Road and Merdeka Circle - on a corner...I want to say at Jalan Balai Polis but could be wrong.

            There also used to be a couple of shops opposite Koon Kee a few shops in from Sultan Road which specialized in "Long Yoke" (grilled flattened pieces of savory-sweet cured chopped/minced pork, reddish-brownish in color) and "Yook Korn/Yook See?" (long finely shredded "threads"/"hair" of dried savory cured pork). YUM! I'm salivating thinking about the Long Yook from one of those two shops (my favorite one at that time).

            1. re: huiray

              I'll check that out the next time I'm in that part of town. BTW, there's a famous Lai Foong beef noodle place on the corner of Jalan Tun HS Lee (which runs past a police station) and Jalan Sultan.

              Pleased to let you know that the barbecued pork (yook korn) places are all still there, and they've even been joined by Singapore's Bee Cheng Hiang (美珍香) which opened a branch on Jalan Sultan. Will have to try Nam Heong first though!

              1. re: klyeoh

                I had to look up Jalan Tun HS Lee to see which road you were referring to. Ah - you mean HIGH STREET. Why didn't you say so! :-) ;-) [For that matter, I still think of Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (so I see from Google Maps) as Foch Avenue.]

                I only vaguely remember the beef noodle place you refer to (Lai Foong) and don't remember eating there. We used to go to a place just round the corner from Maybank (the larger room was on the second floor with the actual kitchens on the first floor, IIRC) for beef ball noodles & soup (whether dry or soupy)(especially with lou see fun) which was HEAVILY patronized and favored...

                Ah, after some googling I see this article: http://www.relax.com.sg/relax/feature...
                It looks like Soong Kee *may* have been the place I am thinking of...

                The coffee shop (Kopitiam, as I believe the term is, now) at the corner of Sultan Road and Petaling Street (Lok Ann Hotel) also had a decent beef noodle stall, IIRC.

                Glad to hear about the Long Yoke places. :-)

                1. re: huiray

                  Interesting - so KL's renamed most of its streets to get rid of the British colonial names then.

                  I was also wondering about the Jalan Hang Jebat, Jalan Hang Lekir, etc. Obviously these characters had no role in the building of Kuala Lumpur, and especially the Chinatown district.

                  Re: Soong Kee beef noodles - I tried its branch at Hutong foodcourt in Lot 10 (Bukit Bintang) and the noodles, soup & meatballs were delicious!! I'd not been to the original outlet in Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin (it was closed one Sunday when I passed by) but will remedy that soon.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Jalan Hang Jebat was formerly Davidson Road. Jalan Hang Lekir was formerly Cecil Street. Oh, Jalan Hang Tuah was Shaw Road. Jalan Hang Kasturi was, um, now what was it called...

                    Regarding Soong Kee - I'm not 100% sure it is the same place that I have in mind ... in re-reading the article I see it says there are only 50 seats - whereas I remember there was this upstairs room which my memory wants to say had more than 10 tables at least...

                    1. re: huiray

                      ...Rodger Road. Jalan Hang Kasturi, that is.

                      Found a nice compendium of old vs new names - on Wiki, where else!
                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...

                      Klyne Street (the optician my family used was here before the bridge);
                      Campbell Road (where one of the best pasar malam street food stalls used to be - and I mean stalls on the sidewalks, set up for the night when the business shops facing the sidewalk closed for the day - really good satay was to be had here);
                      Weld Road, Treacher Road, Mountbatten Road, Batu Road, Brickfields Road etc are the names I recognize in my memory, their current names I have to look up or blink a bit before I can call them up in my mind (if at all).

                      ETA: Oh, the BEST KL Hokkien Mee (or so we thought) was from a night stall (i.e. only at night) on the west side of that slightly curved stretch of Jln Tun HS Lee (High St) between Jln Lekiu (Cross St) and Jln Benteng, in front of Maybank. There would be tables & chairs set up on the sidewalk and spilling onto the road, even, and would often be mobbed by customers till he closed up around 11+ or 12 pm or until he ran out of stuff (which was not infrequent).

                      1. re: huiray

                        Weld Road is now called Jalan Raja Chulan - that's where Marco Polo ( 富临门), the Chinese restaurant in Wisma Lim Foo Yong is located. Heard so much about it - apparently very famous for its dim sum - but haven't got the chance to visit yet.

                        I thought the "funniest" road renaming must be Birch Road (named after a British official who was assasinated), now called Jalan Maharajalela - named after Birch's assasin :-D

                        1. re: klyeoh

                          Yes...Birch Road. :-) Indeed.
                          I used to travel along these roads (with their old names) regularly, both with my folks and by myself as I grew up. I went to secondary school in the immediate area, in fact.

                        2. re: huiray

                          Correction re street names for that KL Hokkien Mee stall (see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7819...):
                          It was on that curved stretch of High Street (Jln Tun HS Lee) between Market Street (Lebuh Pasar Besar) and Cross Street (Jln Tun Tan Siew Sin).

                          1. re: huiray

                            I'll check it out :-)

                            BTW, Puduraya has just been newly-renovated & refurbished - now looks swish in the photos on the newspapers. I'll have to go check that out and see if they have good eateries around there still. The last time I went near the old dilapidated Puduraya, I passed by a White Castle outlet - must have been back in 1988-89! Seems like White Castle has exited from Malaysia since - sorry, Harold & Kumar!

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              Heh. Thanks for the update.

                              I really, really don't think that KL Hokkien Mee stall, or any incarnation(s) of it, is still there, and probably hasn't been for years and years. Amongst other things, don't the authorities frown on any stall actually on a sidewalk or spilling onto the street, especially in a downtown area? (A la Singapore) It was just "for the record" and for your amusement. :-)

                              During my time Puduraya (did it always have that name?) was pretty seedy and grimy and had this slightly dangerous reputation as well. My folks avoided it. There were some food shops on Foch Avenue near it but nothing special comes to mind. We just headed for Sultan Road/Petaling Street and environs.

                              Too bad, H&K.

                      2. re: klyeoh

                        Jalan tun tan siew link branch of Soong kee was excellent! I worked my way through the menu of ball, sliver and only stopped when my wife's face started turning green(tripe!). Thanks for the heads up, fellas.

                        1. re: antonego07

                          :-)

                          Tripe? Face turning green? 'xplain, please...

                          1. re: huiray

                            My wife hates offal. I on the other hand, love it. I'm not allowed to bring it home, so I indulge when I eat out. Sham siu po was heaven. She almost puked! Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined entire streets devoted to organs!

                            Last night, I ambushed her with Soong kee: Told her we were going to a nice fine dining place and "accidentally" bumped into the latter. She never saw the tripe till it was too late! Muahaha!

                            1. re: antonego07

                              Heh. Thanks for the explanation.

                              I guess a bouquet of flowers or something nice from time to time (for her) may help...
                              :-)

                              1. re: huiray

                                Yes, made up by taking her to El Cerdo, and then Grand Imperial again. BTW, my rellies sorted out their ticketing problem and made it to the re-union. Finally managed a full course Cantonese dinner with fish prawn, poultry, veggies and dessert! Report and piccies to follow

          2. re: huiray

            Ahh...came across the name of that restaurant on Petaling Street just before Sultan Road that we used to go to all the time, on one of penang_rojak's old posts: Yook Woo Hin. That's it, that's it. (see: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5925...)

            One of my favorite dishes of all time there was their rendition of what they called "wat tan ngow yook mai" ['smooth egg beef (thin rice noodles)] which was crispy pan fried mai fun (thin rice noodles) semi-covered with tender beef slices in a brownish-whitish sauce with spring onions and sliced ginger into which a raw egg is broken just before transferring from the wok onto the fried noodles on the plate. Sometimes we would get hor fun instead of the mei fun, just as delicious. There have been various similar dishes/approximations I've had over the years elsewhere and in the West. Sometimes I described to the chef of whichever restaurant I tried this out at what it was I wanted. None have come close to the dish as I remembered it at Yook Woo Hin. There was a certain smoothness, voluptuousness, crunch and meltingness, fragrance, tastiness and balance the chef(s) achieved there at that time in this dish that was perfect to me.

            1. re: huiray

              Yook Woo Hin - yes, I saw its name painted across the top of the shophouse when I was in Chinatown. Will definitely have to drop by that place pretty soon!

              The beef noodle with raw egg mixed in sounded exactly like a dish we have in Singapore's Hua Zhu restaurant on Farrer Road. Yummy!

              1. re: klyeoh

                Just wondering - have you tried Yook Woo Hin yet? :-)

                1. re: huiray

                  Funny that you mentioned this, huiray - I was actually looking for it the other day, but got waylaid by Koon Kee along the way - I had stopped by the apom stall right in front of Koon Kee to grab a couple of those famous thick pancakes for a quick bite (some Mainland Chinese tourists were also standing there munching away at their apoms).

                  I inadvertently got drawn into Koon Kee and momentarily totally forgot my original intention to seek out Yook Woo Hin!

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Heh.

                    Well, when you do manage to get to YWH I would like very much to hear about what you think of it as it is nowadays.

                    1. re: huiray

                      huiray, I went downtown this evening, but don't think Yook Woo Hin opens for dinner anymore these days - perhaps because the Chinatown night market has grown sooo much, there's no way anyone can even approach anywhere near it in the evenings.

                      I'll try & look for it at lunch-time this weekend.

                      For your info - the Petaling Street market stretches all the way from Jalan Sultan to Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, and along Jalan Hang Lekir all the way to the corner with Jalan Tun H S Lee (Hotel Malaya & where the old Kwong Yik Bank, so I was told by old Chinatown hands, used to be) on one side, and Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin at the other end.

          3. Definitely want to try these when we're in KL later this year.

            1. Back to Koon Kee again this evening. Tried a couple of their trademark dishes:

              - Stewed chicken feet & shitake mushrooms on wanton noodles. The chicken feet were, to my ("shock"?) surprise, not very good. No sticky, gelatinous unctuous sauce covering the "pre-fried before being braised" chicken feet, and no taste sensation which I was looking for. The meat & skin were fall-off-the-bone tender though, which was very nice. The Chinese shitake mushrooms were also braised till tender. The saving grace was Koon Kee's incredible, perfectly-textured noodles, tossed with just the right amount of soy, sesame oil & lard (oh yes!). Totally delicious noodles. Skip the chicken feet & go for the poached chicken meat or barbecued pork (cha-siu) here;

              - Sui gao (large pork-and-prawn dumplings) in soup. Again, a let down! The dumplings had a nice texture, but the taste of the filling was overwhelmed by too much scallions/chives. They were totally eeks :-(

              Not sure if the standard of the dishes have declined since the passing of the elderly couple who started Koon Kee - I should think so, because I can't imagine KL's finicky Cantonese diners tolerating chicken feet with watery, tasteless sauce. The place is now run by their children. Very friendly & efficient service though, and a must--not-miss spot on any visit to KL's Chinatown.

               
               
              3 Replies
              1. re: klyeoh

                Hmm. Interesting.

                In a way, I can envision chicken feet prepared so that they are succulent BUT without the treacly sauce accompanying it. I think I would enjoy it, in situations where the gooey sauce was not thought to be mandatory. Still, it was clearly expected in this case, so it's unfortunate you didn't get it. :-(

                1. re: klyeoh

                  Return visit to Koon Kee and a second tasting of their chicken feet & stewed mushroom noodles this evening - it was delicious! Why the inconsistency, I wondered - my last visit in July was a bit disappointing, but today, all seemed well-prepared. Maybe a 3rd visit is in order.

                   
                  1. re: klyeoh

                    So - ups and downs, like many other restaurants, even if the same person is cooking. (I have "off" days and "on" days myself, just like other folks...) True, 1st class formal restaurants are supposed to have consistency as a primary attribute but this is not what we are talking about here.

                2. Return visit to Kim Lian Kee in Chinatown this evening. Besides the delicious, requisite must-order Hokkien fried noodles, we also had the sweet-sour pork and stir-fried beef with ginger-spring onions. Simple but competently cooked as expected :-)

                   
                   
                  2 Replies
                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Do you have a favorite "KL Hokkien Mee" place from those you have tried so far? :-)

                    1. re: huiray

                      It's Kim Lian Kee for me so far - the trio of old places in PJ are good, too - will blog about them soon ;-)