Sek Yuen is KL’s oldest surviving traditional Cantonese family restaurant. Famous for its roast duck, served with a thick, sweetish bean-sauce dip, the venerable old eatery also offers a plethora of hard-to-find retro dishes like braised duck stuffed with lotus seeds and vegetables, and whole roasted pork-leg with glutinous rice stuffing.
It was founded by three cousins of the Phang family: Chew Kan, Meng Yun and Shue Tang.
The cavernous kitchen, unchanged since it was founded in 1948, has several wood-fired braziers upon which giant woks heat and sizzle.
Sek Yuen’s famous Cantonese-style roast duck. The ducks were sun/air-dried before being roasted in giant charcoal-fried ovens, yielding crisp-skinned and moist duck-meat. The flavours were smoky and flavoursome.
The real attraction of Sek Yuen is actually its old-world atmosphere - something hard to come by in fast-developing KL. Old wooden chairs and decades-old tables, in a building virtually unchanged for close to 7 decades exuded an ambience impossible to replicate elsewhere in KL.
Sometimes, you never know how your pictures will turn out - I was on my way to the men’s room at the back of the building when I saw the kitchen, so I just took a quick snap with my phone-camera, all the while hoping the cook wouldn’t see me peeping!
An opportune moment. I was on my way to the washrooms at the back of the restaurant and the narrow corridor took me past the open door of their antiquated kitchen - the stoves were still fired by burning wood.
The chef seemed to be taking a moment’s breather after the busy lunch-hour service whilst the rest of his kitchen crew were outside. I just did a quick snap of the scene.
The old chef in that “In the Mood for Love” clip wouldn’t look out of place in Sek Yuen, where the chefs’ ages averaged in the 60s. The current head chef, Pang Yong Seng, is 72.
The restaurant was founded in 1948 by 3 cousins, Phang Chew Kan, Phang Meng Yun and Phang Shue Tang. Today, they’ve all passed on and the younger set of cousins in-charge (their descendants) are Pang Yong Seng (72), Phang Yew Kee (61), Phang Kwai Choong (57), and Phang Ee Chin.
The oldest family member still around is Phang Keng Foo, now in his mid-70s and still taking food orders as the head waiter. I remembered one funny incident involving him that happened more than a decade back, when I was dining with a KL-based uncle who’s a regular there. My uncle asked Phang Keng Foo about his older brother, who was the head chef at the time, as he didn’t seem to be around. With his trademark inscrutable & emotionless look, Phang Keng Foo just pointed a finger upwards and said, “He’s now cooking at the great kitchen up in heaven”.
If there are at least 4 or more in your dinner party, place an advance order for their Pat Poh Ngap (8-Treasure Braised Duck) - it’s delicious. The de-boned and stuffed whole duck is chockful of ingredients, and the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.
We also tend to ask for their “Soup of the Day”, as the Cantonese are renowned for their soups. My favourite, if we are lucky to land it, is the Pork-rib soup with dried figs, longans and “wai san” root vegetable - “wai san” is Chinese yam, it’s crunchy when just boiled and very nice.
Good to hear. I’m green with envy.
Am currently still up in Penang, and folks here are still quite reluctant to journey forth to KL (which they still view as a COVID “hotspot”). If I do, I might be ostracized when I return to Penang.
It’s crazy. I’ve travelled and eaten everywhere in the world, high-end and low, and I think Malaysia is one of the best values for excellent food at ridiculous prices. I have no idea how the majority of these places stay in business…trying to do what I can!!!