NOT a food blog
Several years back, my friend, Jo, invited me over to her family home in Kampar to celebrate Chinese New Year. I have loads of memories of Kampar; it was always one of our pitstops during our cross country travels in the old days. Pa and Ma used to do a bit of their dating in Kampar (and Tanjung Tualang and Batu Gajah….basically the whole of Perak) so stopping at Kampar helped them relive some of their memories (with children in tow). Until today, Ma still talks about Ais Kacang in Kampar, but then again, she has an unnatural obsession for lumps of shaved ice, something that never rubbed off on me. To my mother, the world’s problems can be resolved with Ais Kacang, Curry Laksa and Koay Teow T’ng.
Jo used to be pretty proud of the yee sang served at her home. “Everything else is crap,” she’d say. What differentiated her yee sang from all the other yee sangs was the inclusion of fresh vegetables, and particularly in her case, a large fistful of finely shredded spring onions. Now, you either love or hate the stuff. Jo obviously loved it. Unlike the others in our group, I ate everything that was served to me, and by the time I was done, my whole mouth was zingy from the sensation of eating fresh spring onions.
While hotels and restaurants compete with each other to come up with more expensive items in their yee sang, many forget the backbone of a good yee sang – fresh ingredients. I had the pleasure of trying just that recently at Elegant Inn, upon an invitation from my dear friend, Marian, on behalf of one of the proprietors, Jeanette. True, the lavish ingredients such as salmon and abalone were present, but I was more excited about the delicately shredded vegetables and fruit including carrots, pears and radish.
Much has been said about Elegant Inn since it first started operations in Taman Connaught. One of its specialties is, interestingly enough, the perfect fried egg sunny side up. When you think about it, not many establishments get this right. How many times have you wailed and tugged your hair like a widow who immolates herself on the suttee when your egg doesn’t turn out the way you want it done?
I wish I could say that our meal was humble that night. It wasn’t. The dishes were peppered with Japanese Kobe and Fresh Salmon and Estuary Garoupa. But it was somewhat different from the typical lavish Chinese meal. Sharksfin soup was noticeably missing. Instead, I enjoyed a wonderful pig stomach soup with peppercorn and salted vegetables, the soup (double boiled for 4 to 6 hours) so flavourful from the number of other ingredients present in it – dried scallops, free range chicken, and Yunnan ham.
I loved the golden fried estuary garoupa fillet. The skillful technique of the chef in frying the fillet resulted in the flesh retaining its moistness. The skin, my favourite, was thick and crispy on the outside while possessing a gelatinous-like texture beneath. If I could equate the skin to something familiar, it would probably be the crispy skin on roast pork (siu yoke). The steamed Norway Emerald Fish with salted fish and pork belly was also very good (and probably carries a cheaper price tag).
When asked to describe Elegant Inn’s cuisine, Jeanette phrased it perfectly. ”We’re reinventing old flavours,” she said. In essence, this is achieved with the use of good quality ingredients which was quite apparent that night even to the untrained palate. Take, for instance, the ginger. Jeanette sources the ginger from Bentong, and the flavour of the young ginger is intense and alive on the tongue, quite different from the stuff you get at the market.
Next to the perfectly fried egg, one of the signature dishes in Elegant Inn is the fried rice. Two types of grains (with different starch levels) are used, and the cooked rice is fried together with Hong Kong dried prawns, crabmeat and egg. The resultant dish is one where the grains are distinct but not overcooked thanks to some wok skill where the grains are constantly tossed in the wok.
To me, a Chinese New Year meal is not complete if there is no Lap Mei Farn (claypot rice with waxed meat), and this year, my quest for Lap Mei Farn started as early as December at Chef Choi. The waxed meats at Elegant Inn are sourced from Hong Kong (by Jeanette, no less), and the lap mei farn here includes duck leg, goose liver sausage, waxed meat and pork sausage. I loved the chinese wine aroma in the waxed sausage. The duck leg was also very good and not salty like your typical waxed meats.
I’m not averse to Chinese desserts the way I am towards some Japanese desserts. Desserts that night came with a twist; sweetened Japanese pumpkin and sago soup with green bean, homemade banana chinese pancake and nutty sesame rice ball. I went crazy over the Malai Gou which was soft and fluffy and absolutely delicious.
For this Chinese New Year, Elegant Inn has come up with several set menus ranging from RM538+ to RM688+ for the lunch menu, and RM788+ to RM1,388+ for the dinner menu (all catering for 10 pax, of course).
And to Jo, if you’re reading this, welcome home for Chinese New Year.
2.01, 2nd Floor, Podium Block
Menara Hap Seng
50250 Kuala Lumpur
No. 16, Jalan Waras 1
56000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-9130 2626
Food, for me, is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Food, for me, represents the love of family, the fellowship of friends, and the community and communality it brings.