Porridge with 生骨 (pork ribs)
Tenderness versus taste. This was the dichotomy that got me pondering throughout lunch when my relatives enlightened me with the definition of 生骨 that literally means "live bone" in Cantonese. The execution of 生骨 involves cooking the raw pork ribs and well-simmered stock simultaneously in a claypot, with the intention to preserve the freshness and taste of the pork. This is quite different from the typical dishes like bak kut teh and soups that we are accustomed to, where the pork becomes part of the ingredients in flavouring the stock. This usual way of cooking allows the meat to soften and fall off the bone, given the sufficient amount of heat and duration in cooking. However, the taste of the pork, in my option, will be abbreviated as the juice, together with the bone marrow, has infused into the stock or soup instead. In the case of 生骨, theoretically speaking, should give a more "porky" taste with the juice still intact, given the shorter cooking duration. The next question to ask is, if the tenderness of the meat has been compromised. Now, imagine if the complexity level is raised by applying 生骨 to dishes involving porridge or noodles. There are definitely lots of skills and brainpower involved in the preparation of 生骨 dishes and here at Xan Ling was perhaps my first taste of it.
It was a major pork lunch with ribs both floating and hidden in the enormous claypots of porridge and noodles. There were also plates of soy sauce braised dishes of pork and chicken feet that came quite sweet and packed with the easily identifiable 5-spice flavour. In the case of the claypot dishes that we had, refinement doesn't apply to the presentation nor texture. Not that we care of course because more importantly, they were flavourful; from the savoury stock (while some thought it was salty - not to me though) to the subtly sweet ribs to the assembly of all other ingredients. Their homemade noodle was to me, an improved version of pan mee with a smoother and firmer texture, yet retaining the nice, fragrant scent of flour. Our request to purchase some raw homemade noodles was turned down. That was disappointing as I had already imagined the different ways of using them - dry-tossed with dark soy sauce, drowned in peanut-chilli soup and perhaps, eaten with tonkotsu stock! By the way, they are famous for their 生骨 bak kut teh as well.
Pork dishes are good with rice. Here, we had 2 amazing and distinctive types of rice - with preserved vegetable and ginger. I've never heard of rice cooked with soy sauce and preserved vegetable before. The cook must have gotten the idea when having a simple meal comprising of the 3 ingredients. Slightly moister than usual, the rice matched the crunchy preserved vegetable and soy sauce really well. I could have ordered another bowl if not for the equally good ginger rice. It looked ordinary but the first bite will guarantee you a second...bowl! It certainly didn't smell of ginger but the taste was perfect, with the perfect amount of heat and pungency. If we were to visit again, we'll order a few extra bowls in advance because it sells out fast.
I was told that the site where the restaurant (they called it 'cafe', i wonder why) is located used to serve as a showroom for some wooden furniture business. Not surprising as the chairs and tables are mostly made of solid, heavy wood. The al fresco concept gives a refreshing and comfortable feeling but once I took a look at the 'chaotic' floor, comfort was the last thing on my mind. Like any typical dai chow, the floor was not constantly 'maintained'. I don't blame them because this is afterall, not a place for a meal with a view or a book. Reservation is advised as walk-in customers usually have to wait for quite a while. Well, at least they have some good wooden furniture to sit on while waiting.
Who would have thought that somewhere along a highway and within the vicinity of a cluster of factories lies such an interesting restaurant. Good food is certainly everywhere, my friends.
Rice cooked with preserved vegetable
Soy sauce braised pork
Homemade noodles with 生骨 (pork ribs)
Braised chicken feet
Xan Ling Cafe
11A. Lorong Arfah 3
51200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: (+6012) 379 1549 or (+6016) 210 0826
(for the 生骨, please call in advance to order)
Interesting business hours:
Monday - Saturday: 0930 - 1500
Sunday & Public Holiday: 0800 - 1500
Check out LIVE.LOVE.LAUGH's take on Xan Ling here.