[Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia] Lunch at Teochew Lao Er, Pudu

Teochew Lao Er is a 40-year-old eatery which started off as a tiny streetside hawker stall back in 1984. Purveying the simple street eats of the Teochew people: plain rice porridge, with a variety of side-dishes to choose from, Teochew Lao Er operates in the working-class inner-city precinct of Pudu, where it grew in reputation and size till it could move into its current shophouse location here in 2011.

In China, the Teochew homeland is centered around the twin cities of Chaozhou and Shantou, known collectively as Chaoshan. Although the Teochews are part of Guangdong province, the Teochew language and Cantonese (the lingua franca of Guangdong’s populace) are not mutually intelligible. In fact, the Teochew language actually bore close similarities with the Hokkien language of Fujian province to the north of Guangzhou.

In Penang and Singapore, where the Hokkiens constitute the majority of the Chinese populace, the Teochews are a close second. However, Kuala Lumpur has always been a majority Cantonese city, which was why it’s difficult for me to find Teochew food there when I moved from Singapore to KL back in 2011. Coming across Lao Er at the time was akin to stumbling onto an oasis in a culinary landscape bereft of Teochew cuisine which I grew up with. It was godsend, even if the renditions in Lao Er were actually pseudo-Teochew at best, as they’d been “localised” to suit the Cantonese and Hakka palates of KL.

Our lunch today consisted of:

  1. Chwee kway - the version here is more Hakka than Teochew, which is not a surprise since KL is overwhelmingly Cantonese and Hakka, with a miniscule Teochew presence. Its chewy texture is classic Hakka, whereas the Teochews would’ve preferred theirs with a melt-in-the-mouth texture.
    It’s also served “inverted” here, and drenched with an unctuous brown fermented bean sauce - very Hakka-style.

This is how I’d expect to see my chwee kway served - with the flat surface on top (picture from Lee Huat in Penang).

  1. Soon kway (left) and p’ng kway (right) - soon kway is filled with shredded jicama, whereas p’ng kway’s filling consisted of glutinous rice, dried shrimps, wood-ear fungus and peanuts. The versions of both rice cakes here are pretty bland, and nowhere those one gets in Singapore, or even Penang.

  1. Kway chap - this is the classic Teochew breakfast noodle dish: flat, wide rice noodles steeped in a hearty, deep-flavored pork-and-duck broth, garnished with slices of braised duck, pork belly, soy-braised tofu, hard-boiled egg and pig’s offal (intestines, liver, kidney), etc. It’s topped with golden-fried garlic crumbs and finely-chopped scallions and parsley.
    This dish was a personal favorite of my Teochew maternal grandfather - it’s called “guay jap” in Bangkok where he grew up. The version in Thailand is lighter in color and much more peppery.
    In Singapore, kway chap is always served with a paraphernalia of braised pork and pig’s offal, tofu and preserved mustard leaves, but never with duck.
    In Penang, it’s served with mainly braised duck-meat, but with pig’s parts added on the side, like here in KL.
    All minor regional variations, but which all maintained the central pork-duck flavors of the brown-hued broth, with hints of star anise, cloves and soy sauce.
    The one here was perfect.

  2. Teochew muay - the Teochew-style rice porridge has cooked rice grains in light seafood soup (never like Cantonese congee where the rice grains have been cooked down to a sticky gruel). The soup is slow-simmered with dried scallops and dried leatherjacket fish, flavred with ginger and seaweed.
    Right before serving, fresh seafood is added: slices of pomfret, prawns, mussels. Very good version served here.

  3. Oh chien (oyster omelette) - The Teochews’ diet reflect that of their riverine and coastal homeland. Oh chien is an old favorite. The version here was plainer and drier than I’d have liked.

  4. Crisp-fried grouper fillets - one of my lunch partners ordered this - it’s a side-dish if one orders plain rice porridge.

  5. Teochew-style braised 8-treasure duck*** - a rather richly-flavored dish more suited for a dinner banquet than a light lunch that we intended. The flavors here were light and not too heavily-spiced. I won’t mind coming back for this on another occassion.

  6. Dessert: Orh nee (yam paste dessert) - my fave Teochew dessert: mashed, sweetened taro, laced with pork-lard to give it a shiny, smooth texture. The one here was lined with slivers of orange-hued pumpkin, topped with a red date. It was absolutely delish, although far from the best I’d tasted.

Teochew Lao Er tries to give KL’s tiny Teochew community everything they’d possibly look for. In places with large Teochew communities (e.g. Singapore, Bangkok, or Penang), dishes like kwap chap and Teochew muay will usually be offered by standalone food spots, not to be found in the menu of a large, family restaurant like this. Hence, the quality of dishes in a “Jack-of-all-trades” eatery will never be as good as one which specializes in that specific dish. Still, this is Cantonese KL, so one really doesn’t have much of a choice.

Teochew Lao Er’s cooking can be best described as Teochew-inspired, but with heavy Hakka and Cantonese influences, in order to cater to the majority populace’s taste preferences.

Teochew Lao Er
6, Jalan Brunei, Pudu, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +6012-214 1077
Operating hours: 11am-10pm Mon-Tue, Thu-Sun. Closed on Wednesdays.