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May 2, 2011 03:35 AM

Kuala Lumpur - Pork Specialities at Ribs by Vintry

The front page of Ribs by Vintry's menu stated: "Seriously Non-Halal". It's a bold declaration in mainly Muslim-Malaysia, but is really directed at the potential Chinese-Malaysian client base, who get all excited when they can finally find a non-halal Continental restaurant which serves pork - the meat of choice for many Chinese.

What we had at lunch today:

- Vintry's signature roast pork belly. The meat was tasty & well-marinated. The crackling skin was good, but nowhere as good as those you'd find in KL's traditional Chinese restaurants like Wong Kee ( or even Spanish dining icon, El Meson (


- Deep-fried cheese with honey. This was very well-done: mozzarella, coated with crumbed batter & deep-fried till perfectly light-golden, then drizzled generously with honey

- Stir-fried roast pork (siu-yoke) with an unctuous soy-garlic dressing, onions, local chilli padi (birds' eye chillis), curry leaves & Chinese parsley. The dish would have gone well with steamed white rice, Chinese style - but Vintry's stuck to its Continental/American-style cuisine roots, and the only carbo sides available were either mashed potatoes or French fries.

- Chilli mussels with toast. Large, juicy mussels cooked in a slightly spicy tomato concasse sauce. The accompanying freshly-toasted baguette slices were perfect to mope up the juices. Very nicely done.

- Barbecued pork-ribs, served with mash and coleslaw. This is one of Vintry's most popular dishes. The BBQ sauce itself was not outstanding, but the pork-ribs had the perfect balance of tenderness & bite. I was glad that their potato mash was not gummy - something one is apt to encounter in KL, where potatoes are often over-boiled before being mashed into a gluey glob. Here at Vintry's, it was still light. The coleslaw was tasty, although a bit wet - to suit Asian tastes, I guess.

Am glad to report that all the food we had at Vintry were very freshly-cooked a la minute and served at the right temperature. Definitely above average & worth a detour to dine here!

Ribs by Vintry
120-122, Jalan Kasah
Damansara Heights
50490 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2096 1645

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  1. Glad to hear about this place, too.

    I'm wondering - how is the current climate regarding pork-based defiance (so to speak) in the cuisine in KL and M'sia in general?

    26 Replies
    1. re: huiray

      The line's very clearly drawn in KL, huiray - all public foodcourts, cafeterias in office buildings and canteens in workplaces HAVE to be halal, i.e. pork-free. The only exception seems to be Hutong foodcourt in Lot 10, which is owned by YTL Group - and I believe they somehow got some dispensation to do so.

      The Chinese-Malaysians and others who want to get their pork fix in KL can do so in Chinese restaurants & food stalls, and the handful of Western/continental restaurants which chose to continue serving non-halal food. I'd never experienced such restriction until I moved to Malaysia recently, not having lived in a Muslim country before for protracted periods. Now I know!

      That said, there doesn't seem to be such restriction in Penang, which I'd visited a couple of times this year. I was at Straits Quay mall in Penang's Tanjung Bungah recently, and every continental/Western restaurant in there: I count 2 German restaurants-microbreweries, 2 Irish pub-restaurants, a Mediterranean restaurant, 1 British fish-n-chips and seafood spot, etc. - and every single one of them serves pork! I guess in giving KL, the nation's capital, a distinctive Muslim feel, with Islamic architecture & mosques everywhere, the M'sian government is making some kind of statement.

      1. re: klyeoh

        Thanks, this adds to the previous discussion we had on the subject.

        So far, based on your observations, what rough percentage of the non-Chinese/Continental/Western restaurants would you say fall into the non-halal category? (Roughly...)

        1. re: huiray

          In KL, perhaps only 10-15%. But in Penang, the converse would be true.

        2. re: klyeoh

          Good to hear. I can't imagine Eurasian food, for instance, without pork. Quentin's Eurasian restaurant in Singapore used to be halal when it was operating in East Coast Road (between Katong and Siglap). Since they moved to the Eurasian Community House, Quentin Pereira has brought back pork. You simply can't cook feng without pork.

          1. re: klyeoh

            Hi klyeoh,

            When you say public foodcourts, I presume you mean those owned / operated by the authorities and not the "coffee shop"-style get-ups with multiple hawkers within? Ipoh is pretty much the same as your experience with Penang above, with very large foodcourts serving pork by the shovel-load.

            All the same, while I like pork as much as the next Chinese, I must admit that I find the use of the "My manhood is so large I serve nothing but pork" marketing approach to be a little tiresome. Granted it was funny the first couple of times...

            1. re: Julian Teoh

              Correct. Big culture shock for me when I relocated here. There are so many things we Singaporeans take for granted. In Malaysia, it's hard to be "Malaysian" if you're of the wrong race/religion.

              1. re: klyeoh

                Hmmm...I see where you are coming from, but at the same time, I do appreciate being able to break bread with colleagues, etc. of different faiths. Commercially, as well, it makes sense for the operators given most KL corporates are multi-faith, multi-race places. In Singapore, we had a Muslim colleague who was strictly halal, which limited us to a couple of venues (which we quickly wore out), or she had to miss out altogether, which was a shame.

                I tend to take a more catholic approach to these situations, unless the pork characteristics are an absolutely critical component of the dish (the aforementioned turkey bacon "carbonara" is one such travesty). But to take a recent example, we had excellent dim sum at the Sheraton Imperial's Celestial Court and I thought it didn't really lose anything for the want of pork.

                1. re: Julian Teoh

                  Sorry, but Cantonese cuisine without pork is nonsensical.

                  Certainly more halal restaurants ought to be encouraged - but legislating for and mandating that pork be absent compulsorily from large swaths of public space is enforcement of a particular religion upon the masses, a great deal of which does not share in that religion and who has been a large part of the citizenry for generations. It is a situation that smacks of intolerance and raises issues regarding imposition of a theocracy.

                  1. re: huiray

                    I don't think anyone is imposing a theocracy. Contrast Malaysia to other nations where pork and alcohol consumption are banned outright and you might be getting closer to the picture.

                    It is the mere fact that the majority of the population adheres strictly to the dietary requirements of their faith and will not eat in a place which is not halal. If the government did not put these rules in place, in effect, we would have a situation where the majority of people could not frequent a public space. This applies even to pork-free food served by Muslim vendors in such "non-halal" places because being halal goes well beyond serving pork and involves issues such as intermingling of cutlery, etc.

                    It's two sides of the same coin. Regardless of what position you take, someone somewhere is going to feel aggrieved.

                    1. re: Julian Teoh

                      Your viewpoint is not persuasive. Acquiescence is a slippery slope and obeisance to what you conceive of as the wishes of the majority is another way of describing subjugation. Have you heard of the phrase "Tyranny of the Majority"?

                      1. re: huiray

                        No, "Tyranny of the Majority" is when pork is banned full-stop, as I have said above. There are plenty of restaurants and multi-vendor food courts in KL serving pork, alcohol and a million other things considered haram under Islamic law.

                        To me, it is more a matter of compromise, not acquiescence. The fact that a majority of the population is not able to enjoy the facilities at a public space may not concern you, but I would like my facilities to be accessible to people regardless of their race, colour or creed. The government is not interfering with what people cook and serve in private premises. If it wishes to impose conditions on applicants who wish to serve their food on a government-owned facility so that the majority of the populace can enjoy those facilities in equal measure, then so be it. I can find my pork elsewhere.

                        1. re: Julian Teoh

                          Well, I do miss the "good old days" when the Hainanese chefs served up tasty pork chops and delicious Hainanese noodles on-board Malayan Railways (Keretapi Tanah Melayu) trains, and restaurants in KL or Penang airports. Nowadays, government contracts for these places are only given out to Malay-Muslim vendors (under the bumiputera affirmative plan) and one of the requirements is that only halal food can be served.

                          Same condition covers even Cyberjaya - I only found that out today when I visited a computer vendor there. I was told the nearest spot for pork was a small town called Dengkil - half an hour's drive away!!

                          Seems like there'ree no avenues for non-Muslims to have pork in Malaysia's "Silicon Valley", if that's their meat of choice! Non-Muslims are pushed into ever smaller and smaller corners. Recently, there's even a call to boycott Lurpak Danish butter and all products using it (e.g. baked goods like kueh lapis) because the butter was apparently non-halal. Where will these constant demands all end?

                          1. re: Julian Teoh

                            Your ascription to me of the sentiment of "The fact that a majority of the population is not able to enjoy the facilities at a public space may not concern you" is wholly without merit and is in error. Do not put words into my mouth.

                            I think you and I have different outlooks on what constitutes "compromise" or "acquiescence". There are also varying shades of "Tyranny of the Majority" ranging from abridgement of the rights of a minority to extermination of the minority, and the danger is always of sliding from one end to the other. We will just have to disagree on the matter.

                            As for those pesky food courts or public spaces under discussion - why not simply have halal and non-halal sections, separated from each other?

                            For that matter, one notes that in Kuala Lumpur - the locus of our discussion about imposition of halal regulations - the Malay/Muslim/Mamak population is a MINORITY, not the majority.
                            One also reads of how excited the Chinese public in KL gets at the news that there is a non-halal eating establishment being opened up. If there were truly such a huge array of pork/non-halal places freely available as you imply there would be no reason for that reaction from them.

                            p.s. I think klyeoh gave some real-life examples in his response to you of the practical realities of this "compromise" as you deem it.

                            1. re: huiray


                              I'm happy to leave it at that, but the reliability of any population stats aside, demographics change and Muslims as a proportion of the population in KL and across the nation are increasing. Separation of areas is a very difficult system to administer, and a very difficult message to get across (per the Singapore experience). That is why so many Malay Muslims I know eat at Banquet food courts (the only 100% halal-certified food court "brand" in Singapore) exclusively when they lunch during the working week.

                              The excitement in KL about the pork-serving establishments being opened up is partly a function of the prevailing zeitgeist (I'm not going to expand on that but locals will know what I mean), and partly a function of restaurateurs wishing to tap into the growing Malay-Muslim upper/middle class, which has emerged as a significant and big-spending market. OK, I accept that many of the high-profile new openings are pork-free but was that choice made for the owners? No! No one ever put a gun to Max Chin's (Millesime), Roberto Galetti's (Garibaldi) or Beppe de Vito's (Il Lido) head and told them to omit pork from their menus. That was a conscious commercial choice on their part not to alienate a large proportion of the potential market. On any reasonable definition, that is no Tyranny of the Majority.

                              1. re: Julian Teoh

                                You're righr, Julian. And I think people like Galetti and De Vito has every right to choose what they don't want to serve in KL. But there's no denying that there are also instances whereby the Muslim authorities pver-step their boundaries. One instance was when one of my aunties in Malacca wanted to serve pork tambreneu at her restaurant in Malacca's Portuguese Square. You won't believe the kind of abuse and pressure she got from the local authorities there NOT to have pork on her premises. My auntie was a stoic woman of more than 80, and lived through the war with a stout heart and head held high. But I still remembered her tears when she recounted this experience of hers to me. It breaks my heart. Although I've become Singaporean since 1964, I am still a daughter of Malacca. And hearing how an auntie, who descended from our Portuguese ancestors since 1500 being called "pendatang tanpa izin" ("illegal immigrant") still wrankled me. So, please, don't bring up mutual tolerance to me. Not until Malaysian authorities learn to respect every Malaysian, regardless of their race and religion, and their right to eat what they want, where they want.

                    2. re: Julian Teoh

                      LOL! Your halal dim sum experience reminded me of a lunch I had at Lai Poh Heen @ the Mandarin Oriental KL, with a visiting Singaporean friend. My friend complained to the waitress that our char-siu bao and siu-mai tasted "off" and may have gone bad. The restaurant manager said, "Oh, we are serving halal dim sum. By the way - the bao and siu mai are not "bad", they are "pork-less". My friend said, "And what's the difference again?" :-D

                      I'd never gone back there again since.

                      I once went into Chynna at the Hilton, unaware that their Chinese restaurant was halal. I walked out after paying for the tea - no way am I having faux Chinese food with pork substitutes! If I want to eat halal food, I'll go to a Malay, Arab or Indian-Muslim restaurant.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        That is classic - I love it that the manager immediately attributed the "off" taste to the lack of pork!

                        I think this issue goes far beyond whether or not we make the personal choice of eating halal food on the day. But back onto the food, klyeoh, next time I'm up in KL, let's meet up and I'll take you for dim sum at Celestial Court, although you are forewarned that it is halal! :)

                        1. re: Julian Teoh

                          No problem at all, Julian. I guess, if you're living in Singapore, it's easier to "accept' the restrictions of life in KL - I was the same when I visited KL on about 6-10 occasions in the past 25 years. In fact, I found "halal Chinese" food rather quaint and interesting when I first encountered it a decade back. But that's because I knew I can get out of KL after a couple of days or so.

                          But when I re-located to KL and actually lived here the past 12 months, I started finding these restrictions annoying.

                          1. re: klyeoh

                            Thanks klyeoh. I do see your point and sympathise with your viewpoint.

                            I'm going to call an end to the pork argument here (unless someone wants to start a thread about it, and it won't be me), but I look forward to meeting you at Celestial Court in a couple of months ;)

                    3. re: klyeoh

                      I would like to correct the factually incorrect statement that "The line's very clearly drawn in KL, huiray - all public foodcourts, cafeterias in office buildings and canteens in workplaces HAVE to be halal, i.e. pork-free."

                      First, the basic statement is simply not true. Building owners and managers in KL make their own decisions based on the priorities of their target customers, shareholders and financiers. Lot 10 opts to be non-halal. So does Sungai Wang Plaza across the road, part owned by Capitamall. Across the other side of the road, Pavillion, part owned by a middle-east shareholder, opts to be halal. There are plenty of other large and popular malls and buildings in KL which opt to be non-halal - Mid Valley and 1 Utama are big ones which come immediately to mind.

                      Second, the implication that halal and pork-free are the same thing is also incorrect. Halal means consistent with Muslim dietary rules which cover many aspects about what may be eaten and how it is to be prepared for consumption. Pork-free means no pork products.

                      Your view as a Singaporean about how a Malaysian might feel in Malaysia is all very interesting but at least get the facts right first.

                      1. re: shakti2

                        Interesting to hear the perspective from a Muslim, which i guess you are.

                        Anyway, Pavilion's Food Republic is halal or non-pork, but not the mall itself, which has several restaurants serving pork.

                        Foodcourts in Mid-Valley and One Utama are all halal/non-pork, although like the Pavilion, they have Chinese restaurants which served pork.

                        KL's the first place I'd been to where my Muslim colleagues will not step into an Indian vegetarian restaurant because it's *not halal*, so I'm learning something new each day. No animal fats whatsoever does not mean it's a halal place.

                        Another Muslim colleague (who's Ismaili) will not touch fish or seafood even in a Malay/Muslim-run restaurant certified halal by the local authorities, because he felt the fishermen may not have observed the rituals specific to his sect when catching the fish. So we will not order fish/seafood if we're dining together with him. Different levels of halal here.

                        To each his/her own.

                        1. re: klyeoh

                          Actually I'm not but I'm Malaysian and don't like it when people opine about us without having their facts straight.

                          1. re: shakti2

                            Like I said, I'm still learning a lot about Malaysia each day. Heard that recently, Sheraton Hotel was told that the soysauce they used (Kikkoman brand from Japan) is not halal-certified, hence the hotel kitchens' halal-certification may be under threat of being withdrawn.

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              This sounds no different from say UK authorities shutting down a sausage factory using offal in beef sausages labelled as 'mad-cow free'. In both cases, the regulator is stepping in to enforce compliance with food labels because the producer can't be relied on to police themselves.

                              1. re: shakti2

                                That is also a very different point from the food courts issue, because I understand that a condition of the 5-star certification in Malaysia for hotels is that they must have at least one restaurant certified halal (as opposed to pork-free, etc.).

              2. Back to Ribs by Vintry again last night - the Tom Yum Pork Spaghetti was yummy: large chunks of meltingly-soft pork, strong flavors from the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chillis, garlic and tomatoes, with al dente pasta.

                An interesting new dessert was introduced: Panna Cotta with a Nyonya slant: black glutinous rice and coconut milk added.