Dad said that he used to despatch chicken to Yut Kee from his employer's stall in the old Central Market. He would get a free meal every time he's there. People were more sincerely generous in the old days, weren't they? According to dad, the pork chop and egg roll were really good. All these years, he had never mentioned about Yut Kee (and I never asked why), until I suggested that we have lunch there a month ago. I took the family to Yut Kee a week after my first visit with a couple of friends. Having learnt that the best time to avoid is around the lunch hours, we took a slow ride to reach at 2 pm. Surprisingly, the famous pork belly roll was still available. What luck!
It's a very typical coffee shop but while many would see a more slowed and relaxed tea time, Yut Kee was still very much a high speed production line, churning out dish after dish. Despite the overflowing crowd waiting at the shop's front, I thought they operated efficiently; from allocation of seats to taking orders to the payment process. This system (which seems intuitive but nonetheless requires sufficient manpower and good coordination to work) that they've adopted shortens the waiting time significantly and puts the customers at ease. It's a major plus, really. I can't remember how many times I'd sworn that I'd be damned if I had to revisit some badly managed but prideful eateries in town.
As we sat down, Dad began observing the surrounding, obviously looking for familiar faces but couldn't recognize anyone. He said the workforce had been replaced by, perhaps the next generation. There were four of us at the table, with eight dishes to share; including the westernized roast pork belly, which I thought was very good. It's all in bite - the crispy crackling, the aroma of lard melt bursting in the mouth and a nutty taste of the filling. The apple sauce gave an interesting sweetness to the salty meat. Of course, when one's at Yut Kee for the first time, one has to try the perennial favourites such as roti babi, Hailam mee and belacan fried rice. I didn't think much of the roti babi filling (which could do with more filling and seasoning) but the soft, encapsulating bread coated with a thin layer of egg was nice. I thought the roti was skillfully prepared. The taste is to be enhanced with a dip of the Worcestershire sauce.
On this second visit, I'd decided to try other less popular dishes on the board. Less because they were not seen on every table, unlike the roti babi and pork chop. I'd ordered the beef noodles served with a generous amount of meat and tripe, soft radish and a clear stock, and the Cantonese-style fried noodles with enough wok hei to keep me intoxicated and happy.
Let's talk a bit about the all-time favourite pork chop. The first bite unravelled a well-marinated piece of tenderized pork. The construction was traditional. From my (limited) pork chop experiences, the brown sauce is usually mild, bordering tasteless, even. That's not the case at Yut Kee though. The caramelized gravy was rich and flavourful, and went really well with the otherwise bland potato wedges and assorted boiled vegetables. Oh, not to forget a sprinkling of the appetizing Worcestershire sauce too. However, Dad did mention that the pork used to be crispier, but perhaps due to higher demand, were pre-cooked, hence the softness.
Growing up, I was privileged enough to have eaten quite a fair amount of Hainanese noodles cooked by an aunt of mine. It's quiet different from my usual Cantonese and Hokkien mee with the noodles simmered over a longer duration and served soupy but less starchy than loh mee. Yut Kee's Hailam mee was different. The soup was reduced to an almost stir-fried consistency. Still, it was a tasty treat, especially when eaten with the topping of some fragrant, crunchy fried shallots.
The extensive menu at Yut Kee is posted on a larger than life whiteboard hung on the sidewall. So far, I've only tried a small fraction of it. For me, every visit is to try something new, and to discover something old but gold as well. Here, especially when dining alone or in a small group, chances are that one would be sharing a table with older loyal customers that are happy to share their tales of Yut Kee or recommend some dishes. Tourists also flock this coffee shop, which I think is a good choice. It's definitely a more identifiable Malaysian experience. Truly Asia what?
I didn't ask Dad what he thought of today's Yut Kee. He seemed pleased though, whopping one dish after another. Perhaps for him, there was a taste of nostalgia in the food too.
Take away the hype, the rustic interior (which is one of the attractions of this coffee shop) and endless free publicity, I will still be back at Yut Kee, simply because the food is good and affordable (especially in this part of the city). Not many good old coffee shops like this survive the test of time so I really hope that they'll stay for long time. And I'm confident of that, unless of course, there's a forced, unwise plan to demolish this row of shophouses in the name of development.
35, Jalan Dang Wangi
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia