It’s the eve of a two-week lockdown announced by the Malaysian government to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus here. All non-essential places of work, schools and anywhere that people congregate will be closed. All restaurants and food centres will only be allowed to do take-outs for the next two weeks.
So, we decided to have one last dinner out at L Kitchen on 141 Campbell Street, before the lockdown kicks in on 18 Mar. This family-run eatery stood on the exact site of a now-defunct 1950s eatery, Tong Hong, right next to the Sun Theatre on Drury Lane.
Braised seafood on crispy yee-fu noodles - it’s so easy to get this dish wrong, and most places where I’d had this dish, whether in London or Sydney or Singapore, made a “too bland” version. But this little place in Penang actually got it down pat - delicate flavours from its braised seafood mix (fish fillets, shrimps and squid), just the right amount of seasoning, and served on a bed of perfectly-crisped, aromatic “yee fu” noodles.
Steamed garoupa fillet on hor fun with soy dressing - the fresh garoupa fillets were sweet and firm in texture. The Cantonese-style seasoning was intense - soysauce, ginger and golden-brown minced garlic, with a sprinkling of chopped scallions. The bed of neutral-flavoured wide rice noodles (Cantonese sar hor fun) provided a perfect foil to complement the strong flavours of the sauce.
South Indian fish curry with hor fun noodles - my fave dish for the evening: intoxicatingly fragrant curried fish, paired with sar hor fun: Tamilian curry meets Cantonese noodles. Exquisite flavour and texture. Definitely a dish worth coming back for.
The experience in China, Italy and France showed that self-isolation is the best way to deal with this crisis. At the moment, we’re waiting to see if the warmer months may bring about a dissipation of the virus like what happened to SARS, granted this is a more malevolent, virulent “mutation”, compared to the SARS virus.
𝐅𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐝 𝐟𝐢𝐬𝐡 𝐡𝐨𝐫 𝐟𝐮𝐧 - the hor fun flat rice noodles were first seared in lard, garlic and soy sauce till fragrant, then topped with a subtly-flavored seafood gravy, and garnished with fried fish fillets.
𝐒𝐞𝐚𝐟𝐨𝐨𝐝 𝐜𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐩𝐲 𝐧𝐨𝐨𝐝𝐥𝐞𝐬 - this was one of my earliest taste memory of eating Chinese noodles in a restaurant, and my first encounter with this dish were in Chinese restaurants in Perth, Western Australia, during my boyhood days. I never liked this dish in those years - regarding the cake of crisp noodles as somewhat “uncooked”.
That was, until I had the versions in HK, Singapore and, now, Penang. The difference between the ones here and the ones I remembered from Australia was vast. The crispy noodles here at L Kitchen, for instance, was so tasty and fragrant, one can consume it sans the braised seafood gravy.
That said, the understated seafood gravy was cooked with the lightest touch, and yielded the most delicate flavors ever: wispy slivers of sweet grouper fish fillets, a couple of bouncy-fresh shrimps, and some baby squid rings.
Dinner at one of our favorite “choo char” spots in town, 𝗟 𝗞𝗶𝘁𝗰𝗵𝗲𝗻 on Chulia Street, run by the irrepressible Hakka matriarch, Mdm Rebecca Lee Guat Hiang. The chefs are her son and god-son respectively, all Hakka like her, but who churned out a selection of both regional Chinese and also spicy Nyonya-inspired dishes which appeal to the Penangites’ palate: Their house signature dish is Indian-style fish curry, aromatic and spicy-delicious - tiger garoupa fish fillets were cooked with okra, aubergine and tomatoes.