Kuala Lumpur – *That* Pork Chop at Sin Kee Restaurant 新記(中西)餐堂
Sin Kee is one of the last, great old-world Hainanese restaurants in KL. KL residents go to Sin Kee for its popular Mun Fan (闷饭) – an interesting dish which consisted of steamed white rice covered with braised meats and vegetables. Sin Kee’s version come in the form of a large inverted bowl on a large dinner plate. Lift the bowl and a messy brown stew of meats & vegetables will drip down on a mound of white rice. Everyone at Sin Kee seemed to be enjoying this rather frightful-looking dish.
I, on the other hand, came to Sin Kee for another Hainanese classic served here, and ended up having the best-tasting piece of Hainanese pork chop I’d ever had. Someone should actually tell the folks at Sin Kee that Hainanese pork chop, by British-Malayan definition, usually refers to a flattened, breaded piece of Wiener schnitzel-like piece of pork smothered with an aromatic light-brown sauce flavored with Chinese 5-spice and perhaps a secret dash of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
Sin Kee’s version is unique – perhaps the largest minced pork patty I’d ever seen, covered in a thick sauce of baked beans & mushy green peas. It was utterly delicious – in the true Hainanese East-meets-West fusion cooking style. The side of potato chips was unmemorable. Perhaps some steamed rice would have made a better accompaniment. Nevertheless, the dish was utterly scrumptious.
I also ordered an Egg “Foo Yong” dish – fluffy scrambled eggs richly studded with fat, fresh shrimps and sliced Chinese waxed sausages. Very traditional, the cooks at Sin Kee got it correct, down pat, to a ‘T’.
IMO, Sin Kee is a must-visit for any foodie seeking true-blue Hainanese cuisine in KL.
Sin Kee Restaurant新記(中西)餐堂
194 Jalan Tun Sambanthan
50470 Kuala Lumpur
looks awesome i really need to go eat more hainanese food next time im in SE Asia, i always overlook it for teochew, hokkien and cantonese options
I think I may have *just* missed an important part of KL's culinary history - the nearly-half-century-old Pines, which my oldie KL foodie friends told me was a popular hangout for them in the 1970s/80s. These cluster of restaurants in Brickfields were just demolished in Aug 2010 - just 7 months before I moved to KL:
Back to Sin Kee again this evening - it's been a year since my last visit - this time, I brought along two Kuala Lumpur-based colleagues who are of Hainanese descent, to get their opinion of the food here.
Lesson No. 1: Bring Hainanese folks together and they'll speak in their own lingo, leaving me dumb-founded and pretty much left out of the conversation :-D
Anyhoo, thanks to my friends, I now know that Sin Kee was founded in 1969 by a family bearing the (very Hainanese) surname of Foo. Owner-chef Foo Kei Chang used to operate from a small wooden building across the road, where the massive KL Sentral railway hub now stands. Sin Kee moved into its current location in 1999 as construction of KL Sentral started.
What we had this evening:
- the restaurant's signature one-dish meal: Mun Fan (闷饭) - braised pork, Chinese waxed sausages, fish cakes, onions and Napa cabbage, placed in a bowl with steamed white rice, then served inverted onto a plate. Lift the bowl and the rich, savoury gravy will drip over the rice, flavouring it.
- Crisp "yau mak" (baby Romaine lettuce) stir-fried with salty, fragrant "fu yue" (fermented beancurd), garlic and sliced red chillis. This dish was absolutely delicious.
- Batter-fried chicken, covered in a sweet-sour sauce, garnished with sliced onions, cucumbers and lettuce leaves. It's been a long while since I'd tasted a perfectly-balanced, tomatoey, sweet-sour sauce. It's really a marvellous discovery here.
- The house special soft tofu which had a terrific silken-soft texture, covered with minced pork braised in an onion-soybean sauce and topped with chopped scallions.
- The house special Hainanese pork chop, which my Hainanese colleagues promptly declared was perfectly executed. This really *is* the only place in KL which served this dish the way it should be prepared: the old-fashioned way, as they'd confirmed. The large minced pork patty was served with potato wedges, canned peas, baked beans and a thick slice of tomato, providing a wondrous mix of flavours and textures.
It was a very satisfying meal.
Lesson No. 2: I learnt some Hainanese words today - "tor" is the Hainanese word for soup, and "kee teo" for the bill :-)
You're mistaken, heh-heh - I cannot speak Hakka, Hainanese, Henghua and Foochow (Hockchiew), which are all pretty common among the Chinese diaspora in South-east Asia. I'm only proficient in Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese (Mandarin, too, of course - though I won't classify that as a dialect).
Language does break down barriers, Lau - like the old Vietnamese-Chinese restaurateur in Paris who spilt his whole life story to me when he found out I can speak Teochew (Chaozhou) when I was settling the bill. My two American friends who brought me there (they'd been regulars at his restaurant for 10 years) were amazed because he'd hardly spoken to them all those years eventhough he's completely fluent in French like them.
The Hainanese still dominate the food industry in Ipoh and many other towns in Malaysia. That's because the Chinese always have different dialect groups dominating each industry:- the Hokkien are traders and fishermen, the Cantonese are tin miners, the Henghua are in transport & cycle trade, etc. The Hainanese are the last of the migrant groups and when they come to Penang, all the other professions are taken, but they manage to slowly take over the food and catering business and cater to the Cantonese, Hokkiens, Hakka etc workers. The other clans/dialect groups do not see any problem in giving up the cooking profession as it was deemed as "women's profession" and hence what the Hainanese was doing was not seen as threatening to them.
In Penang, the great old Hainanese restaurants until the 1970s are Loke Thye Kee, Wing Look, Springtide and Hollywood. Only Hollywood is still operating today.
Dinner this evening:
- Hainanese-style fried noodles - don't think I'd ever acquaired a taste for this: I always find the dish to be relatively bland compared to fried noodles of other Chinese regional styles. Hainanese noodles come with fairly liquid (watery) dark soysauce gravy, with shrimps, pork, "choy sum" greens, squid, "pak choy" (Napa cabbage), but scant garlic/onion flavours.
- Pork-ribs marinated in "nam yue" (fermented beancurd) and deep-fried. The "nam yue" imparted a salty taste and a reddish-hue on the pork-ribs. Tasty, but can be a bit heavy. The chilli-garlic-vinegar dip imparted a welcome spike of flavour to the pork-ribs.