Much of what I write for publication, whether it be in old-fashioned print or on the web, is about what's new or relatively new, or about things or phenomena that have some relation to or bearing on what's happening right now.
As one of my editors says: 'Timely, not timeless.'
But if left to my own devices (like this blog) I'm more often drawn to the latter than the former. For instance, I couldn't tell you what's 'new' and 'hot' on KL's culinary scene because it's something I just don't pay attention to.
That said, I like being 'forced' ('challenged' is a nicer way of putting it) to pitch and accept assignments that lie outside my comfort zone, to research and write about things that are not so intrinsically 'me'. Stretching my wings makes me better at what I do, I think, even if the process is sometimes a pain in the a#%.
Once in a great while I get a chance to write about something I know inside and out, places and people that I really feel something for. And it makes me happy.
Such was the case with an article Dave and I did for this month's Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, on a few restaurants in KL that have stood the test of time. These 'old kitchens' feel like our second homes; they're as comfortable as a broken-in pair of flip-flops. We go knowing that when we walk in the door we'll be greeted like old friends and fed very, very well.
And though we've been trumpeting the virtues of Yut Kee, Sek Yuen, and Hong Ngek on this blog and in other places for almost five years now, it's such a pleasure to be able to shine a brighter light on them. A way to return the favor for all the wonderful memories they've given us.
Yut Kee's prep cook slices and dices beneath a garland of Chinese chives
I want to share a story about Hong Ngek.
We first dined there way back in 2006 (!) The meal was fantastic and we loved the restaurant's genuine old-style vibe, but somehow we lost track of it until about nine months ago, when a Hong Ngek thought bubble suddenly broke surface in my brain. We headed down to Tun H.S. Lee at noon, braved the crowded dining room, and snagged a table.
After we placed our order owner Liew Hing Ling sauntered over.
"Long time no see!" she said, her sometimes stern mien breaking into a grin. "What's it been, three years?"
Well yes in fact, it had been almost three years exactly. We and Liew had exchanged maybe five words on that first visit to Hong Ngek in August 2006. But almost three years later she remembered us, and welcomed us as if we'd been dining at her restaurant once a week in the interim.
Hong Ngek's vegetarian masterpiece: three varieties of mushroom, gingko nuts, tofu skin, and gluten wrapped in lotus leaves
In reference to Liew, I don't think I can say it better than I did in the article:
"I don't forget faces," she smiles, displaying an attention to detail that's as evident at the table as it is at the front of the house.
Hong Ngek owner Liew Hing Ling (r) and co-workers
(A hint: Hit Hong Ngek two or three times and you're a regular. And that's when outstanding off-the-wall-menu dishes -- like steamed razor clams or 'two-way' pomfret, a whole fish stripped of one fillet, then steamed and served on a platter with the missing half, which has been cut into chunks, deep-fried, and cooked in dark soy sauce with red and green sweet peppers, Chinese celery, and loads of black pepper -- will begin finding their way to your table.)
Hong Ngek, 50 Jalan Tun HS Lee. Lunch only, closes at 7pm. Closed Sunday, and Saturday's a bit stripped down in terms of selection.
Sek Yuen, 313 Jalan Pudu. Lunch and dinner. Closed Monday.
Yut Kee, 35 Jalan Dang Wangi. Breakfast until 5pm or so. Closed Mondays and the last Sunday of the month.