Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Chinese New Year Celebrations @ Restaurant Chef Choi, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur
The Year of the Rabbit is just around the corner...in about three weeks time. Tis' the season to feast and celebrate with customs rich in auspicious meanings. In the Chinese New Year festival, food plays an important role - uniting family for the all important reunion dinner, gathering with fellow workers to mark the end of the lunar year and of course, the get-togethers with friends to feast on the festive goodies.
One of my favourite traditions is the yee sang. Essentially it is a salad in essence packed brimful of assorted vegetables, crispy crackers, sesame seeds, peanuts and raw fish, all tossed in a plum sauce. Previously reserved for the seventh day of the Chinese New Year (i.e. Yan Yat), nowadays restaurants capitalise on this tradition by serving the auspicious salad as soon as Christmas is over.
At Chef Choi's, in a celebratory dinner among good old friends who are devout foodies, we sample one of the best yee sangs in town. Going down to the core of the whole dish, Chef Choi's owner had concocted their own secret yee sang sauce that lightly dresses the salad. Made with preserved plums, apricots and the ingredient X from China, the sauce is so delectable, we end up having it for dessert!
The yee sang is lightly anointed with the yee sang sauce....just a smidgeon to coat the vegetables and raw fish so the textures don't mash up into each other until they are no longer noticeable. Unlike other restaurants that drench their festive salad with the sauce, the mouthfeel here is different since the dough crisps remain crackly good.
A feast is never the same without a deluxe item since celebrations always call for "the best of the best". This is said to symbolise wealth and I guess in terms of positive thinking, probably wealth in the upcoming Lunar New Year too. In this simple yet decadent feast, we supped on what the Chinese term as fatt tiu cheong - the prized soup filled with the most luxurious ingredients. Also known as the Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, legend claims that the soup was so enticing that it tempted a monk to leap over the wall to taste the wondrous soup.
This deluxe version (RM450++) is double boiled over a slow fire for 16 hours. All the goodness is sealed in a large tureen glued tightly together with paper and egg white. A whiff of the slow cooked soup may not make us jump walls but we were tempted too since it was incredibly concentrated with the essence of all the wonderful ingredients.
The soup is served in a special manner, layer by layer...the first for me even though this is not the first time I'm eating this dish. The first layer is thick and slightly gummy from the collagen from the sharks fin and rich with the abalone essence. The key to the aromatic soup is the prized cordyceps that resemble worms. These small unassuming Chinese fungi can fetch a crazy whopping prices and was by far the most expensive item in the soup. Nowadays, due to the difficulty to source for cordyceps, most of the soups contain cordyceps flowers, a cultivated fungi with an aroma similar to the prized ingredient.
The second layer had us enjoying each of the ingredients - the sea cucumber that is a blob of soft collagen, the fish maw, the whole Japanese scallops and the fork-tender soft abalone. The soup is not as rich as the first drawn thick broth but still incredibly aromatic. Lastly, we enjoy the tender black chicken with the prized cordyceps. The whole dish is incredibly tummy satisfying especially since that night was a little chilly from the heavy rain.
Next is another prized dish, steamed soon hock (bamboo or marble goby fish) in soy sauce - the best way to enjoy this delicate and sweet flesh. Last but not least, it is Chef Choi's special waxed meat rice. Unlike other restaurants, where this rice dish can be overly decadent and cloyingly rich, this version is light and fluffy with the use of basmati rice. It's even low GI so health freaks don't need to worry if they ask for a second helping. There's no crust but you can enjoy bowl after bowl of the fluffy rice with the aromatic waxed meats. Again the goose liver sausages are my favourite...they're from Hong Kong's famous Yung Kee Restaurant.
That night we made history, ending our meal with freshly cut fruits with the yee sang sauce on the side. The yambean and the green apple goes so well with the sweet and fruity sauce that one is not enough. It's also a great ploy to get us to eat more fruits as the sauce is simply addictive. I reckon we made a revolutionary discovery that night and who knows, this may be the start of a new dessert for the restaurant.
I'm sure you must be enjoying the run up to the festival with all the feasting. Just remember, all this is for a cause since it is filled with auspicious symbols to usher in a prosperous Lunar New Year.
Chef Choi Restaurant
159 Jalan Ampang
Tel: 03-2163 5866
(Non Halal. Open from 12-2.30pm, 6-10pm. Restaurant is located in a standalone bungalow between the Chinese temple and Nasi Kandar Pelita. For the full set of pictures, see my Flickr set. For the full array of Chinese New Year set menus, click on this link.)
*Note that this meal was not paid by the reviewer.