Kuala Lumpur - Freshwater prawn noodles from Yik Kei (益记酒家)
Technically, the tiny town of Karak is not in KL, but a good 40 miles north-east of the capital city, deep in the tropical rainforests of Pahang.
Karak's most famous eatery - Yik Kei Restaurant opened on 1st January 1960 on the Main Road (Jalan Besar) of the little town, and has been going strong ever since. Today, it's run by the 2nd-generation of the Cantonese family that founded it.
What we had for lunch today:
- Cantonese-style "Sang Har Mein" (braised noodles with freshwater prawns). Incredibly delicious here: the egg noodles ("sang mein") used were first toasted on a dry wok with a bit of oil till crisp & fragrant, before being blanketed by braised freshwater prawns with a subtle eggy, gingery flavor, ever so lightly scented with Shaoxing wine. Best noodle dish ever!
- Cantonese-style steamed glutinous rice dumpling, filled with roast duck, dried shrimp, chestnut, Shiitake mushrooms & other goodies. Served drizzled with home-made dark soysauce.
- Cantonese-style roast duck, which were perfect: crisp skin encasing moist, tasty meat.
- Yik Kei's range of pastries: baked "cha-siu bao", "cha-siu" buns, and their famous "Durian Bombs" - durian pulp encased in crisp pastry shell.
The noodles alone were definitely worth the 1 hour drive from KL.
Yik Kei Restaurant
29 Jalan Besar
Tel: +609-231 1240
Back at Yik Kee last weekend enroute to Kuantan, that sleepy, languid little town on the East Coast of Malaysia which was featured in Nevil Shute's 1949 novel, "A Town Like Alice".
What we tried today:
- Steamed "patin", a freshwater fish caught off the rivers which meandered through the vast rainforests of Pahang state. "Patin" fish has an oily, fatty quality which the Chinese simply adored. Here at Yik Kee, it was served super-fresh, steamed with a gentle drizzling of Yik Kee's self-produced light soysauce. Superb!
- Prawns stir-fried in a spicy bean-sauce, with loads of garlic and chillis. Quite tasty, although I'm the sort who preferred my prawns already shelled, so I didn't have more than a couple of the prawns here.
- Stir-fried "lo hon choy" mixed vegetables which consisted of fresh baby-corn, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and an assortment of mushrooms. Light but flavorsome.
No sang har mein this time? :-)
Hmm, didn't know that about your prawn preferences. I guess you wouldn't care much for other dishes like salt & pepper shrimp/prawn (椒鹽蝦) then, unless you don't mind the crunchy shells & heads & feet there which are eminently edible when done well?
(BTW is the "common usage" of prawn vs shrimp different over there nowadays?)
The sang har mein looks gorgeous. I would have got two orders myself and another one to take home! Oh, the other stuff looks very good too.
Fascinating that this place is so renowned for the dish. How did you come to know of it? Was it through your colleagues? Where do they get their prawns - from the immediately local rivers?
Looking at the maps for the place reminded me of the old days when Gombak Road was the only way over the mountains to Pahang and Kuantan, and the life-defying encounters with large trucks (lorries, I guess, in the local vernacular) all along the road, with the fall-off on one side, while crossing the range - especially on the Pahang side. Hairpin curves were especially thrilling. The first highway to Genting Highlands was partially completed (IIRC) when I left.
This is OT, but perhaps you may be amused by it... The road up to Genting Highlands was another adventure in the early days. At that time, it was strongly suggested by TPTB that automatic transmission cars should NOT be used to travel up to the resort and instead be left at the bottom/start of the road (there was a car park there for that purpose - with lots of Mercedes and Jaguar sedans etc parked there). (I believe there was a luxurious shuttle of some sorts provided by the resort) The road at the time was such that automatic transmissions of the time had difficulty coping with the constant upshifts/downshifts and stress required to navigate the slow-going steep uphill/curvy nature of the road. They got tired of breakdowns of large luxury sedans with auto transmissions that then partially blocked the narrow road and sometimes even stopped everyone else in their tracks. :-) They subsequently improved the road, heh.
My first time down the KL-Karak expressway, huiray, and it was beautiful - winding roads through green mountains. Karak was like a "Wild West town" of sorts: one main street lined on both sides by the town's shops & like.
I was brought there by my local hardcore foodie "makan"-buddies. Of course, being Cantonese themselves and of the same generation as the 60-something-year-old brothers who owned Yik Kei, they could converse and ask about the history of the place.
The freshwater "patin" fish were caught off the rivers near Raub and Mentakab, and costs RM90 (USD28) per kg! The "sang har mein" dish we had was USD22.
We didn't go up to Genting Highlands itself as, being from Singapore, I'd already experienced its newer, better incarnation in Resorts World Sentosa. P.S. - I'd actually never been to Genting Highlands, ever, so your tales about the old road was fascinating! And yes, the late Genting chairman, Lim Goh Tong, spent millions on the new roads leading up to the resort.
Interestingly, I noticed that the little town of Bukit Tinggi (Bentong), on the foothills of Genting Highlands, was replete with dozens of seafood restaurants! I think they are catering to the hordes of casino clients on their way back to KL.
Hmm, Bukit Tinggi/Bentong - wouldn't they be on the wrong side for returning to KL? But for folks going back to Kuantan...
Glad you like the tale about the old Genting Highlands road. Well, to add a bit more to it, the danger going downhill (for all cars) was the danger of your BRAKES failing - or even catching fire. Or locking. Heh. Even my father, who was an excellent driver and who taught me when I first learnt how to drive to use the gears to slow down and/or control the car (yes, we drove manual/stick transmissions) rather than the brakes, always got worried going down the hill. One could tell who the "lazy drivers" were quite easily on that road. Sometimes there was no choice but to use the brakes constantly because of traffic patterns. I remember our stopping at the bottom of the road once when my father insisted on waiting a while before we continued on to let the brakes cool down. Some folks threw buckets of cold water at the wheels. Memories, memories...
I guess the prawns at Yik Kei were caught locally, then, besides the "patin" fish.
These days, the new KL-Karak Highway seemed to cut right through Bukit Tinggi/ Bentong, dissecting the town into two, if I remember correctly. On the way to Genting Highlands, you'll see an exit to Bukit Tinggi with holiday homes/chalets and nice suburban terraced houses amidst a rustic-looking village. On the way back from Genting Highlands towards KL, you'll see yet another exit to Bukit Tinggi, but this time, it's a large Chinese village consisting of mainly wooden houses, many of which were seafood restaurants with throngs of cars parked in front each of them. An amazing sight indeed, considering how far this place is from the sea, and perhaps at an elevation of 1000 feet from sea level.