Here in Malaysia, wet markets are more than just places to get fresh ingredients and household essentials – they’re social hubs where people gather to shop or meet friends and neighbours (well, pre-pandemic, at least). This is why you will often find kopitiams and food courts close to or located within a wet market facility.
Pasar Baru Bukit Bintang (also known as Imbi Market) was one of these places. The market was an icon of Kuala Lumpur for over 60 years, and the food stalls there were equally legendary: you could get noodles, classic kaya butter toast with coffee, Nyonya Kuih and more.
A couple of years ago, the market had to be relocated to make way for a building project, so they moved to new premises at ICC Pudu. The new building is much cleaner, has a better layout than Imbi and has proper facilities. While it lacks the chaotic charm of the old market, the hawkers are still the same – so you can still get that authentic taste.
One of the stalls here sells a rather unique dish: mee halia, or ginger wine noodles. You don’t often find this dish sold commercially, as it is usually served at home to new mothers, especially during confinement (for my non-Malaysian readers, confinement is a traditional practice following childbirth whereby the mother stays at home to rest, and have to adhere to things like avoiding water, eating certain types of food to boost recovery, etc.). In traditional Chinese medicine, ginger is thought to have beneficial properties and it is often recommended to expel ‘wind’ from the body, improve digestion and reduce bloating.
The owner-chef is 70-year-old Wong Mei Lan, who has been selling the noodles for over four decades. “There was a young mother in my neighbourhood who had just given birth. She asked if I could make her a dish, as she didn’t have money to eat the proper foods for nourishment,” she explains. “More women started coming to me after that, and then even men because they said it was tasty. That’s how I started my business,” she shares.
Each bowl costs RM9 and comes with a large portion of rice noodles, swimming in a cloudy broth topped with egg that has been fried with minced ginger, as well as tender pork slices and fresh prawns. The broth is definitely the star – after simmering for hours, the ginger, rice wine and pork bone create a deep and complex flavour, and a warmth blossoms in your belly with each sip. Comforting is the best word I can think of to describe the taste. The proportion of the wine has to be done right in order to achieve this effect, and although Madam Wong doesn’t make it in-house, she gets it from old folks from Perak who mix it at home. Basically everything that you’re eating is homemade, rather than commercially produced.
One of the things I love about Malaysian hawkers is that they often last generations: you can find century-old establishments that are now into their fourth or fifth generation in the business. And even though age has caught up to Madam Wong and she can’t move as fast as she used to, she’s glad that there’s someone to take up the mantle: her youngest son Lee Chee Wai. Now, just as Madam Wong used to cook for her customers and their kids, so will Chee Wai cook for a new generation – and keep his mother’s cooking traditions alive.
IMBI PASAR MEE HALIA
G20, ICC Pudu, Jalan 1/77C, Pudu, 55100 Kuala Lumpur
Opening hours: 6AM – 2PM
Note: I interviewed Madam Wong and Chee Wai for the October issue of Fireflyz, the inflight magazine for Firefly Airlines. This article features a few tweaks and some additional info I wasn’t able to fit in to the story.
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When Restoran Kong Sai first opened in Bandar Puteri Puchong, it quickly gained a reputation for its delicious poached chicken; attracting hordes of hungry diners who would queue to get in over dinnertime. While the resto has since expanded to include the adjacent shop lot, the crowds remain – so it’s best to come early to grab a seat, especially on weekends.
The air-conditioned area was packed so we sat outside. Service was fast and efficient. They don’t have an extensive menu, but the few items that they have are all excellent.
The star of the establishment is the poached chicken, which can be ordered in half and whole portions. There are two types available – Kampung (jau dei gai) which is smaller and has leaner meat, and dai san keuk gai (commercially reared) which is fatter and larger in size. Some people prefer kampung chicken because it’s healthier, while others prefer the fattier commercial chickens. Whichever you order, expect smooth, flavourful pieces of chicken that soak up the soy/sesame sauce really well. Getting poached chicken right without drying it out is difficult, but Kong Sai delivers with aplomb. Each piece is juicy and tender. I usually don’t eat the chicken skin when it’s poached, but it’s nice and chewy here. 😀
I would also recommend the stuffed tofu (minimum order five pieces), which consist of minced meat and vegetables stuffed into beancurd and served in a soup. The tofu balls are sizable and the meat is seasoned just right, with a delicate bite to it.
Veggies are veggies.
Another house speciality is the curried pork ribs. These are prepared in a limited amount each day. I think not everyone will like this as the curry is very mild and barely has any kick to it, but the curry has good flavour and the ribs are done well. Personally, I would prefer more ribs. You get a couple of huge potatoes and a few ribs, but they don’t have much meat on them.
Kong Sai also offers various soups; such as peanut with lotus root and black pepper pork stomach soup. The latter is one of my favourites and they are generous with portions; even throwing in some pork belly slices. The pepper is not overwhelming either, and the offal tastes clean with no gaminess.
Our meal for four came up to RM94 for 2 soups, 4 dishes, 4 portions of rice as well as drinks, which is quite reasonable. The star is surely the chicken, but everything else is pretty good as well.
RESTORAN KONG SAI (PUCHONG BRANCH)
44G, Jalan Puteri 5/2, Bandar Puteri, 47100 Puchong, Selangor
Opening hours: 11.30AM – 2.30PM, 5.30PM – 10.30PM (Closed Mondays).
“Where are we going for lunch again?”
“Coconut Flower.” – mom
I was thoroughly confused by the name, seeing that the restaurant served neither coconut nor flower-based dishes lol. What it really was – a huge and airy seafood place in the fishing area of Teluk Gong, Port Klang. Teluk Gong used to be a fishing/agricultural village, but its vast palm oil, cocoa and coconut estates have made way for heavy industries and factories in recent years. One can still find many Chinese seafood restaurants though, and Coconut Flower is one of them.
The restaurant grounds were huge, with the alfresco dining area boasting at least six or seven ‘huts’ made to look like traditional gazebos, surrounded by lots of greenery. Most of these were occupied, so we opted to sit at the main area. Because of the open air concept and the abundance of trees, it was cooling and pleasant to dine in – no need for air conditioning! 🙂
Almost makes one feel like they’re at a seaside resort. Although it isn’t anywhere near the beach and you can’t see the river/port.
Tank with different types of fish that you can have cooked fresh to order.
Coconut Flower is famous for their fried ‘sa jui’ (a small bony yellow fish) – sorry don’t know what it’s called in English – but it was out of stock during our visit. We got their other specialties, namely the lala (clam) fried mihun and home made fried tofu, along with stir fried yau mak (Romaine lettuce) and deep fried salted egg yolk squid.
The mihun was alright but nothing to shout about tbh. Texture was good, but I barely tasted any lala (they were very small/shriveled up) and the noodles had an overwhelmingly soy-sauce-y taste.
The fried tofu fared better. Mixed with fish paste, the tofu had an eggy flavour/texture with crisp skin. Perfect with the accompanying mayonnaise and chilli dip.
The star of our meal was the deep fried salted egg yolk squid. Squid was fresh and springy, evenly coated on the outside with salted egg yolk batter. Fragrance was enhanced with a mix of bird’s eye chili and curry leaves. Insanely addictive.
Some hits and misses, but I’d say the quality of the food was decent and I liked the chill, village-like environment. Prices are average, ranging from Rm20 and above for each dish. Our meal came up to Rm100+ for four.
PS: They are pork free.
COCONUT FLOWER RESTAURANT
702, Jalan Udang Galah, Telok Gong, 42000 Pelabuhan Klang, Selangor, Malaysia
Open for lunch and dinner: 11AM- 10.30PM (daily)
Phone: +60 3-3134 1218