Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Marufuku Udon

2003 was exceptional. It was the year I stayed in Japan for work. During the long breaks, I would travel to different parts of the Honshu island. These exciting trips don't come cheap, of course. Nothing's cheap in Japan, anyway. To ensure that I have enough money to travel, I've devised a plan - economical lunches at work.

Unlike other colleagues, my lunch at the canteen cost a mere 600 yen. Yet, they were filling and rather decent. There were no fancy sides like hijiki or edamame or fried tofu; just a plate of plain curry rice and some udon. In the summer, udon was served cold and topped with chopped scallion and fried tempura bits. During the cold winter days, they came with piping hot shoyu broth and a slice or two of surimi-based ingredients.

Udons come from many different prefectures in Japan. The Sanuki type (from Kagawa) is probably one of the more familiar ones to us in this region. My favourite is the slithery, thin Inaniwa from Akita, which unfortunately is only available at more well-established Japanese restaurants.

I try not to pay too much for noodles like udon because I feel that it's something that I can make at home. Just throw in some bonito flakes and konbu into a pot of hot water and a stock's ready in minutes. The zaru version is even easier to make! And that is why I like Marufuku.

The menu has an element of fusion in it. Okay, so fusion may be too controversial a word, especially in terms of food. Integration then. Instead of chikuwa or crabsticks (shudders) or Hello Kitty-shaped kamaboko (faints), local ingredients like wanton and taufupok (fried beancurd skin) are used. If you ask me, blanched mustard greens sound more practical in udons than to be served with chee cheong fan (flat rice skin rolls) in those fancy dim sum restaurants. A cha (zha) cheong (minced meat stew with vegetables and fermented soy bean paste) topping should work too, and I believe is a hit with the local tastebuds.

For lunch that afternoon, we had the House Special, Curry, Salada and Nabeyaki (Claypot) Udon, along with sides like Kakiage - both the original and pumpkin versions. I should also note that green tea is refillable here. The House Special had the udon pre-mixed with soy sauce and when combined with the broken poached egg, was nice. The curry version came with lots of ingredients like minced meat, onions and diced carrot. Personally, I would have liked the curry sauce more robust in taste, and with a thicker, stickier texture. The ensemble of local ingredients used in the Salada (salad in Japanese) reminded me of a rojak, which is original and interesting. The sesame dressing was not as sweet as those bottled ones sold at the supermarkets, so that's good. Instead of the usual claypot yee mee or chicken rice, give the Nabeyaki a try. For the same price at some foodcourts, this is a refreshing change. A kakiage should be light and not overly soaked in oil. Marufuku's a good reference.

I had 2.5 bowls of udon at Marufuku that afternoon. That says a lot, doesn't it?

On a different note, I'm rediscovering Jaya One. Besides Marufuku, there's also a cafe at another block called The Bee, which looks rather pretty. With delicious cakes (I can be certain of that), ice cream from The Last Polka and a good crowd, I think I'll be visiting again. Soon.

Marufuku Udon
Blk L, Unit 18, Level G, Phase 1
Jaya One
Tel: (+603) 7957 6368

The Bee
Blk K, Unit 2A, Level G, Phase 1
Jaya One
Tel: (+603) 7960 1557

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

They call it Bawlmer...

On a sweltering summer's day at Inner Harbor, Baltimore.

Next up, Lexington Market. For food, of course.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Noodles @ Ban Lee

They said I must give it a try. Afterall, it’s only a short drive from home. And I did. Thank you, eager relatives.

As we approached Taman Ehsan, I still had no idea what exactly we would be having for breakfast that Sunday. Pork noodle, I was told. That’s a tricky one. This is KL, so it'll be either the liver sausage and pork balls type or those served with everything porky - intestine, liver, blood cubes, minced meat, etc. I asked no further and assumed that it’s the former. I wanted it to be! However, amidst the excitement generated along the journey, I was not informed of the one important feature of this coffeeshop - the erratic business hours. True enough, it was closed that day…and on our subsequent visit.

Some things are worth the wait, I guess. This is one of them. The gorn low (Cantonese for dry-tossed) dressing consisting of light and sweet soy sauces and sesame oil was quintessentially what I would have been able to formulate at home but of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At Ban Lee, it was the really good noodle that had me. How would I describe it? Most probably a cross between yee and pan mee. So, on one hand, there’s the smooth, non-sticky texture of yee mee (sans the ubiquitous process of blanching in hot oil) and on the other, a hint of floury scent of pan mee. I’ve seen similar types sold at wet markets before but thought that they would not be any different from pan mee. Looks like it’s time to get a kilogram and make myself some gorn low mee. Or some mushroom ragout to go with it! The other ingredients complementing the noodles seemed pan mee-inspired; deep-fried beancurd skin and pork balls.

Don’t start eating yet! HairyBerry needs to shoot the food, said the relatives, almost in unison. Sweet.

Here’s a good plan for a Sunday morning – start the day with a workout at the nearby Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), replenish with some pork noodles at Ban Lee and head home for a peaceful afternoon nap. If Ban Lee’s closed, there are always other coffeeshops around Taman Ehsan. Good ones at that.

Kedai Makan Ban Lee
Jalan E 3/6
Taman Ehsan, 52100 Kuala Lumpur

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hup Choon Eating House

Stir-fried pork with scallion and ginger - could have been more flavourful and the sauce further reduced.

(The order’s enough for two already!)

We get this all the time from the wait staff or captain. Most said it with a smile while some looked suspicious, perhaps thinking that we’re just fooling around. We’re not embarrassed about ordering more than what is expected of us. The rule is to not waste, and I can proudly say that unless the food has been contaminated or belongs to another table or if I’d mistakenly ordered the durian, we'll wipe the plates clean, every time. Take our last dinner on Monday at Crystal Jade Kitchen, for example. We had the ala carte steamboat buffet and ticked close to 30 dishes on the list. Oh, PLUS an extra bowl of congee with preserved eggs for the sick one. What’s left in the pot as we asked for the bill were the boiling stocks, disintegrated bits of unidentifiable ingredients and a plate of diseased cabbage. That's all.

Sweet and sour pork - I like.

Honestly, it makes perfect sense to go overboard at tze chars. You need your meat, vegetables, egg, noodles and soup. And perhaps the stall’s specialty too. That’s more than five dishes already, right?

Fried hor fun - wok hei-deprived.

How did we end up at Hup Choon? It all started when I saw the photo of a promising plate of sweet and sour pork on LiquidShaDow's blog and alerted XLB, who would sacrifice anything (except Flor's Waguri Millefeuille and the Kyo-Machiya cake) for the perfect sweet and sour pork. What we've gotten that evening was not any offset from that photo that got us all excited. The result of sufficient heat for deep-frying was easily recognized - a lightly battered, crispy, golden skin with moisture inside the meat well-retained. We liked it but Moonstone Cafe's take still remains as her favourite. I think it was the fruity sauce there that scored the extra point for her.

Stir-fried sweet potato leaves - a CHORE to peel the fibrous outer layers of the stem at home, so have it at a tze char.

Hotplate tofu - pleasant but we should have asked for a signature instead.

As the evening went on, the turnout at Hup Choon grew to a suffocating number. Expatriates (I would assume, considering that they must have lived here long enough to learn the art of reserving a table by standing really close to one that has just settled the bill) and locals were eagerly trying to catch the attention of the wait staff to be seated. Some were seen carrying boxes of takeouts that perhaps were ordered in advance. Besides the decent dishes, we wondered what makes Hup Choon a hive. The reasonable prices must be a major attraction here. I vaguely remember receiving enough change to buy ourselves a large cup of those ice cream/yoghurt thingy at Sogurt, Coronation Plaza. The extensive menu and good service must be part of the winning formula too, I'm sure.

Hup Choon Eating House
1 Binjai Park
Tel: (+65) 64684081