[Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia] Traditional Cantonese fare at Sek Yuen (Est. 1948)

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.

  1. 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.

  2. Mock sharks-fin omelette, with julienned carrots and onions, served in lettuce cups. The seasoning for this dish was subtle and complex. A must-try.

  3. “Yau mak” (Romaine lettuce) lightly stir-fried and flavoured with “nam yue” (Chinese fermented beancurd) - my personal fave Chinese vegetable dish in KL.

  4. Double-boiled chicken herbal soup.

  5. The rice served here are steamed in metal bowl, the old-fashioned way, which yielded loose cooked rice grains instead of boiled rice which are usually more lumpy.

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.

Address
Sek Yuen
315, Jalan Pudu
55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +60 3-9222 0903
Opens daily: 11am to 10pm

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Review and food pics are great, but I’m in love with that first picture. :heart_eyes:

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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!

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Looks like a moody retro scene straight out of a Wong Kar Wai movie!

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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.

Suggestion noted:

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”. :fearful::joy::joy::joy:

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I go past this in a Grab almost every day. Still have yet to visit.

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You simply cannot miss this place - truly a precious slice of KL’s culinary history. Go, go!

What are the must-orders? The duck? Anything else?

The Pei Pa Ngap - crisp, roasted duck (in my post above) is their signature dish.

Sometimes, you can see them hanging their ducks out in the sun to dry in the lane at the back of the restaurant:

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 liked the Hae Cho - crisp-fried orbs of minced pork-shrimp-crabmeat wrapped in yuba skin. They are good as starters.

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.

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Their ducks all looked good.

Do you recall what were the 8 treasures in your duck?

I remembered it had lotus seeds, gingko nuts, yam, chestnuts, shitake mushroom, duck-meat, and pork.

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Ok I am here now. I will make a report after!

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Thanks Peter for the recommendations. We ordered everything you mentioned: the sour fig soup, the Pei Pa Ngap, the "Yau mak”.

Everything was phenomenal. Duck was perfect–still a bit of chew, the skin was ridiculously crisp with a light coating of salt and a bit of smoky char. The dipping sauce was tangy and delish.

Yau Mak was the best version of the dish that I’ve had here.

I’m still thinking about the soup.

Total cost was ~70RM, which is absolutely criminal. Will start working this into our regular rotation!

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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.

That’s less than 15 euros. And in the capital even. Impossibly cheap. Wow!

Malaysia is back on my list :laughing:

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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!!!

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold