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Aug 13, 2011 02:51 AM

Kuala Lumpur - Old-style Cantonese fare at Yook Woo Hin, Chinatown

Yook Woo Hin is a real KL Chinatown dining institution, having operated from the same spot in Petaling Street (KL's Chinatown) since 1928, churning out dim sum items from as early as 5.30am in the mornings, then serving noodles and Cantonese-style cooked dishes at lunch-time. It's now run by the grandson of the original founder who was an emigrant from Guangdong, China.

Last week, the local news reported that KL's new MRT underground/subway project will involve acquiring the land where Yook Woo Hin is sited, so I thought I should catch lunch at this 83-year-old restaurant (one of the last of its kind in Chinatown) before it disappears into the annals of KL's culinary history.

What we ordered today:

- Yook Woo Hin's famous "lor mai kai", a dim sum item of steamed glutinous rice with chicken, Chinese sausage, pork, mushroom, flavored with soysauce, sesame, ginger, oyster sauce & Shaoxing wine. YWH's version here tasted a bit dry, and we suspected that it's a leftover since breakfast-time;

- Char-siu (barbecued pork) - very fatty cuts of pork-belly, lovely caramelization, with just the right level of sweetness;

- Wanton noodles with raw fish & ginger. This was, as I understood from my KL Cantonese friend, a traditional peasant noodle dish from Guangdong & pretty hard to find in KL. It's served with a bowl of hot consomme soup into which you dunk the thinly-sliced fish fillets, cooking them immediately. The egg noodles had the perfect texture and, dressed in a dark soysauce-sesame dressing, were super-delicious!

- Stewed chicken on rice - this was an interesting dish - the rice was covered in a thick, sticky brown gravy studded with chicken cubes and mixed vegetables. Taste-wise, it didn't really bowl me over, but it's local name did - it was called something like "Pimp's Rice" in the local Cantonese-slang (don't ask!)

- Boxing chicken, which were chicken drumlets covered in a crispy batter flavored with Chinese 5-spice, then deep-fried till golden-brown, served with a very liquid bright-red chilli sauce - a bit like SriRacha sauce one gets in the US;

- a house speciality called YWH pork-ribs, which were sticky pork-ribs flavored with, surprise, surprise, Marmite! You need a bowl of steamed white rice to offset the strong flavors of the pork-ribs. Delicious.

Some of the "old dishes" (e.g. stewed chicken with ginger, braised fish-head) weren't there anymore, and the waiter told my friends (both 60-something-year-old KL foodies) that it's because the old chefs have retired, and the kitchen was now run by new cooks.

I'd still recommend that one visits this old spot, so full of character, before it's gone for good.

Address detail
Yook Woo Hin Restaurant
100 Jalan Petaling
50000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-20784681
Opening hours: 5.30am - 2.30pm daily, except Thursdays

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  1. Naughty! Naughty! Naughty! Where are the veggies?!!!

    Marmite pork-ribs!! Interesting! Did they render the finishing product a bit sweeter?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Charles Yu

      Wow, you were quick to notice that, Charles. I was telling my friends towards the end of the meal that they appeared to have forgotten to order any vegetables.

      The Marmite didn't seem to do much to the pork-ribs - I'd had steamed chicken with Marmite at another restaurant where the salty tang from the Marmite was more pronounced This pork dish just tasted like the ones marinated with a mixture of soysauce, oyster sauce, etc.

    2. Thanks for the report!

      Interesting dishes, but other than the LMK and - maybe - the pork ribs I don't recognize the other dishes. I don't think I or my family/family friends ever had that raw fish w/ wonton noodles dish, or at least I don't remember it.

      The really early start of dim-sum service is in keeping with what I remember about dim-sum on Petaling Street and environs...I remember a poster here on another thread commenting on how dim-sum seemed dried out when he sampled it (not at Yook Woo Hin) sometime around late morning/early afternoon?, I think...

      Pity the old chefs retired without passing on their knowledge of the dishes they were good at. Real pity, that. Do they even do anymore any versions of their formerly-wonderful pan-fried noodles w/ ginger & scallions w/ raw egg that we discussed some time ago?

      The inside of the store looks very, very unlike what I remember it being years ago - not surprising, I suppose. They still had marble tabletops on wooden legs, wooden tables, wooden chairs, and the left side of the restaurant had a gap at the wall that let in natural light from the sky (and rain), falling into the gutter/drain that ran along the side of the wall. In the sixties, that is. They covered the drains later and, IIRC, covered up the "roof opening" also.

      Yes, where were the vegetables?? :-)

      ETA: It was antonego07 who posted about dim sum on Petaling St being stale - and he didn't actually specify what time he had it. Still, I'm guessing he didn't have it at the crack of dawn.

      2 Replies
      1. re: huiray

        Hi huiray, glad you liked the post - this one's for you ;-)

        I understood from my friends that the restaurant seemed to be serving a concatenated menu as compared to before, when the old chefs still ran the kitchen - no stir-fried beef hor fun with raw egg anymore. Yesterday, I lunched there with two KL foodies who're in their 60s and who knew Petaling Street when all the old restaurants were still operating - they pointed out to me locations where one had turned into a luggage shop, and yet another has been taken over by a McDonalds outlet (?!).

        They talked to the waiter at YWH & asked about the changes, and were also disappointed that many popular dishes have disappeared from their menu. Business still seemed good though. Attaching YWH's current menu below:

        1. re: klyeoh

          Thanks again.

          Wow, they (YWH) actually have a printed menu? During my time there was no such thing. You needed to know what to order, or you asked, or you discussed what was available, or discussed what you wanted, or what the chefs were putting out that day...

          It's sad, the passing of old restaurants into the ash heap of history. Sad too, about what seems, to me, from what one reads and from your reports, about the step-by-step emasculation of Petaling Street and many "prominent Chinese areas" and such in present-day KL and conversion into historical oddities, as Museum pieces - if that.

      2. A piece of distressing news for KL foodies, the old Cantonese breakfast spot in Chinatown, Yook Woo Hin, is closing down its doors for the final time tomorrow:

        Excerpts from the news item on the Star Malaysia this morning:
        "AFTER 84 years in business, Yook Woo Hin Restaurant in Petaling Street will be bidding its customers goodbye tomorrow. The surprising move has caused disappointment among the Chinese community in Kuala Lumpur as it is among a handful of surviving traditional food shops located in the historical Petaling Street.
        For as long as old-timers in the city can remember, the restaurant is always among the first in town to “wake up” every morning. Even before the break of dawn, the restaurant is already welcoming early risers with steaming hot dim sum and fluffy pau within its warm, brightly-lit premises.
        Locals and tourists stream into the restaurant, mainly for the traditional flavours and also for the old-school ambience peculiar to pre-war shophouses."

        One important factor in its closure, I would say, has been the change in demographics in what was KL's old Chinatown district - whereas in the old days, it was a predominantly Cantonese-Chinese neighborhood, Petaling Street and Pudu district nearby are mainly Bangladeshi, Myanmarese & Nepali today - most shops now cater for the new immigrants as the old Chinese residents moved out to the suburbs. Now, if one traverses the streets of old KL, one finds more Bengali or Myanmarese signs than Chinese/local ones:

        Excerpt from yesterday's paper:
        "Overrun by foreigners. Lebuh Pudu and Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin are earmarked by City Hall to be part of the Heritage Trails. However, local flavours are slowly disappearing due to flourishing foreign businesses.

        THE Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin and Lebuh Pudu areas in Kuala Lumpur have adopted a different identity. It is now the most popular shopping destination for foreign workers in town.

        While this is not new, the concern now is that Lebuh Pudu and part of Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin are included in the proposed Heritage Trails recently announced by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).

        The pre-war shophouses are riddled with signage and advertisements in Bengali while almost half of the shops are run by Bangladeshi, with a smattering of Myanmar, Nepalese and Filipino operators.

        The businesses are mainly remittance houses, travel agencies, mini markets, sundry shops, restaurants, electronics and telecommunication shops.

        They cater to the needs of the foreign workers. The restaurants serve cuisines of these countries while the markets sell products and produce from their home countries."

        An inidcation of the growth in numbers of foreigners in KL's old downtown:
        "On Hari Raya, more than 10,000 Bangladeshi Muslims converged on Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin for a mass prayer.

        The organisers, Bangladesh and Malaysia Business Association Kuala Lumpur and Madrasah Baitul Makmur, had applied for the road to be closed for the session. 'We have been organising the prayer since 2002, it started with 3,000 people then.' "

        Anyway, what Yook Woo Hin's current 3rd-generation owner, Lee Wai Cheng, said inevitably attributable to the current situation:
        “Our restaurant was historically a neighbourhood business. This place, as you can see, is now occupied mostly by foreign workers who do not like our food."

        2 Replies
        1. re: klyeoh

          Sad. Tragic, even. I remember your commenting in another thread that you were surprised the area was still called "Chinatown". So what are they going to do about the Gates etc with the Chinoiserie decorations?

          How about the other stalls and shops still serving food of Malaysian-Chinese or Chinese-origin styles? Like that fish jook stall, the KL Hokkien Mee stalls, the "long yuk" (bak kua) places, etc etc? Do those muslim Bangladeshis eat long yuk? :-D I remember making some comments some time ago wondering about the Govt's seeming intention of turning the place into a museum piece - the creeping Islamicization that is occurring seems to be not, uh, resisted - encouraged? - by them either.

          ADIEU, Yook Woo Hin.

          You were such a fixture in my early life and the provider of so many uncountable wonderful meals. Your "wat tan ngou yuk cheen heong mai" still remains unparalleled in my mind.

          1. re: klyeoh

            While I'm not a KL person, I feel sad to see an old place bite the dust. I remembered having dim sum breakfast at Yook Woo Hin the last time in 1996 or 1997, cannot quite remember exactly when but it was with a HK friend who was worried about the impending China takeover of Hong Kong at the time.

            I remember that although the dim sum we had did not taste very good, we loved the place so much. Even the HK friend said the shop reminded him of some part of old Hong Kong of his childhood. It had such a beautiful atmosphere. We felt like we wanted to sit there forever and ever.

            Maybe like New York's Delmonico, someone with money will one day buy the brand name and resuscitate the restaurant in Petaling Street, even if it's in another location nearby.