Spend a bit of time eating Chinese food in Kuala Lumpur and you'll come to know how woefully inspecific the term 'Chinese food' is.
With a modicum of effort and a bit of time spent sitting in KL's legendary traffic one could eat her way around China without venturing beyond the city limits. To say that KL-resident Chinese food fans are blessed is an understatement; when we get the urge we have Hakka, Teochew, Cantonese, Shanghainese, Sichuanese, Hokkien, Hainanese, and - thanks to the most recent wave of immigrants from China - Dongbei, Xinjiang, and Guizhou cuisine to choose from. Taiwanese too.
Which means there's always foods unfamiliar to sniff out. Thanks to a friend's tip we recently found ourselves at a spot called Taste of Foochow (Foochow - or Fuzhou in Mandarin - is capital of China's southeastern Hokkien - or Fujian - province). Open since July, the shop is run by the family that owned Jalan Pudu's now-defunct Hup Yick Restaurant.
We went for the Fuzhou bing (Fuzhou 'cakes' or 'dumplings') and stayed for the mee suah (rice vermicelli in chicken and rice wine soup).
First things first: the Fuzhou bing are worth a trip in and of themselves. A hand-lettered sign hanging over the shoulder of the shop's owner, who crafts his Fuzhou bing on a covered porch to one side of the dining area, can be roughly translated as 'Most beautiful flavor, leads you to think of it endlessly.' Not an exaggeration.
The bing's wrapper is not a dough but a thin, soupy batter. The shop owner starts spooning batter into a shallow ladle. He then adds a stuffing that includes chopped pork, seaweed, Chinese chives, chopped prawn, and - when he can get them at the market - oysters.
After spooning more batter on top of the filling, he lowers the cake into a wok of lightly bubbling oil and slides it gently off the ladle. Cooked for a few minutes on each side, the cake emerges mottled brown and gold, with a slightly nubby skin.
The cakes boast an exquisite texture. Their thin-walled, nearly grease-free wrappers are crispy without, soft and chewy within. Inside, the filling - having melded with the batter - is lightened light and fluffy, leavened by air pockets. While the chives are a major player in the flavor profile, they somehow avoid overwhelming the delicate flavors of seafood and seaweed. And amazingly, these bing stand the test of time; our fresh-from-fryer specimens were only marginally crispier than our parting bing duo, which had been draining and cooling for at least five minutes.
Equally worthy of a visit to Taste of Foochow is the mee suah. The rice vermicelli, imported from China, evinces a body and wholesome rice-y flavor not often found in a rice noodle. For the soup, meaty chunks of chicken are stewed in a broth made with ginger, glutinous rice wine, and a generous amount of fuzhou hong zao, the dregs from the wine's fermenation.
The word that comes to mind is 'restorative'. One just can't help but feel better after downing these hearty, comfortingly smooth noodles floating in a full-flavored, thickish, slightly sweet, chicken-y broth with a hint of liquor. Diners who aren't driving might wish to request that an extra spoonful or two of the family's homemade wine be added to their serving. Choose from 'new' or the more right-between-the-eyes aged (ate least one year) hooch.
Though it will be hard to get beyond the Fuzhou bing on our next visit, there's much more to sample at the Taste of Foochow: fishballs, 'Yanpi dumplings' with a wrapper made from pounded pork, tapioca flour, and glutinous rice, and ding bian hu, a special porridge which has to be ordered ahead, among other items.
Taste of Foochow, 14 Jalan Gajah (off Jalan Yew), Pudu, Kuala Lumpur. Tel. 03-9281-8788. 830a-5p.