[Kuala Lumpur] Chinatown breakfast eats

The stretch along Jalan Hang Lekir between Petaling Street and Jalan Sultan in KL’s Chinatown comes alive in the early morning with breakfast spots catering to the city’s dwindling Chinese populace who live in the Chinatown district (most of KL’s Chinese residents have moved to suburbs like Puchong, Sri Petaling, Cheras, etc.)

  1. Perhaps the most famous outlet is Hon Kee, which has been peddling its Cantonese-style raw fish and congee (“yue sang chok”) since 1949. A dish of thinly-sliced raw “sang yue” (snakehead fish) fillet, drizzled with sesame oil and topped with ginger slivers & sprigs of fresh coriander, is served alongside a steaming bowl of steaming hot rice congee. Dipping the fish fillets into the hot congee to cook them instantly. Light soysauce and white pepper are provided on the table.

But my fave item offered by Hon Kee is actually the traditional, old-fashioned “chee cheong fun” rice noodles, where a pale red-coloured fermented bean sauce is used, instead of the brown-coloured fermented sauce more commonly found in KL nowadays. The “chee cheong fun” noodles here are silky-smooth and oh-so-soft, served topped with the beansauce, a gentle sprinkle of peanut oil, and toasted sesame seeds. Simple but utterly delicious. I really miss this as the versions outside KL - in Singapore, Ipoh or Penang, with their more robust, assertive sauces, just don’t cut it for me.

Hon Kee’s streetside seating:

  1. Another oldie along that street is the legendary wantan noodle spot, Koon Kee, founded back in 1947 by a Mdm Lee Kim Kee who, along with her husband, made a long, arduous trek by foot from her remote village in Guangdong to the port of Canton in the aftermath of WWII. There, they set sail to then British-Malaya. They landed in Port Swettenham, and made another long trek by foot to KL, where a relative met them and helped them set up a small wantan noodle business in the middle of KL’s Chinatown. The rest, as they say, is history.

Koon Kee produces one of the springiest wantan noodles in KL, although the taste of their dishes seemed to have deteriorated somewhat ever since Mdm Lee’s passing.

Interesting to note that in Malaysia and Singapore (and also in Thailand and Indonesia), the local Chinese still serve “wantan” noodles with “char siew” (Cantonese-style caramelised BBQ pork) besides the “wantan” dumplings, unlike in Hong Kong where the noodles only come with the dumplings. Apparently, HKers also used to serve “char siew” alongside “wantan” noodles and dumplings in the old days, but discontinued the practice post-WW I, perhaps to simplify the dish.

  1. KL-style “chee cheong fun” from this anonymous stall in the middle of the Jalan Hang Lekir stretch. I love this type of KL “chee cheong fun”, where “yong tau fu” items like tofu, chillis and various types of vegetables (okra, bittergourd, aubergine) stuffed with fishpaste, are added to the rice noodles, before the liquidy, brown fermented beansauce is poured over the whole concoction. Nowhere else in the world, except KL, can one find this unique rendition of the “chee cheong fun”, a testament perhaps to the large-scale presence of Hakkas in Kuala Lumpur.

Location of the 3 stalls in KL’s Chinatown below. They tend to start operating pretty early - Hon Kee opens at 4am daily, and closes shop after lunch, 2.30pm. The anonymous chee cheong fun stall operates from around 7am till late-morning, when the retail stalls start opening up.
Koon Kee, which has its own premises, opens from 10am daily but operates into the night: 10pm thereabouts.