Chai Boey – Heaven In A Pot

The most appetising dish in Chinese cuisine can neither be found in the Imperial menus nor famous Chinese restaurants anywhere. Although the ingredients used may sound disgusting to some, it is those very ingredients that make the soup of this unique dish tasty. Chai boey, literally translated from the Chinese Hokkien dialect, means leftover food.

That is exactly what is used – food leftover from a feast, and stewed in a big pot the next day, or on the next weekend. The leftovers can be anything from abalone, scallops, roast pork, roast duck, lor bak (5 spice pork roll), lup cheong (waxed sausages) to chap chai (mixed vegetable dish). When Dad was around, we usually celebrated his birthdays with scrumptious steamboat dinners. The remaining soupbase after the dinner would be used together with whatever else that was still available like fish maw, quail eggs, Shiitake and button mushrooms, baby corns and carrots to make chai boey.

Apart from the leftovers, roast pig trotter, kiam chai (salted vegetables) are usually added to make the soup even tastier. Kua chai (Chinese mustard, gai choy) is a must have. The cooking of this dish is sometimes held back until the availability of this important ingredient. Asam jawa (tamarind) juice, pickled plums, dried chillies and pepper corns were added to the pot to enhance the flavour of the stew. It is spicy, sourish and very tasty at the same time.

Chai boeyChai boey.

No two chai boey are the same. The recipe differs from one family to another. How they taste are very much dependent on the leftover food used. My favourite chai boey is usually during Cheng Beng (Tomb Sweeping Day) in April, Phor Tor (Hungry Ghosts Festival) during the Chinese seventh month and Koay Tang (Winter Solstice Festival) in December. There would be generous amount of roast pork, roast duck and best of all, jiu hu char. The stir-fried sengkuang (yam bean) made the soup extra delicious.

A few weeks back, Wuan gathered the main ingredients for chai boey. They included roast pig trotter, Chinese mustard, salted vegetables, pickled plums, tamarind, carrots, sengkuang, carrots, fresh red chillies, dried chillies, onions and Shiitake mushrooms, among others. Although it tasted nice, it did not have that chai boey character like those that I used to eat back in Penang. Chai boey without jiu hu char just does not taste the same. To illustrate the importance of jiu hu char, whenever Mum wanted to make chai boey in between festivals, she would cook jiu hu char a few days earlier for one of the meals. The leftover is then used for chai boey.

In the Klang Valley, this stew is called suen lat choi, sour and spicy vegetables in Cantonese, as the majority of the population speaks this Chinese dialect. It is also known as choi kiok which also means leftover food. The ingredients would be more or less like those that Wuan used. The cooking style is also the same although the leftover food may differ.

Ingredients for chai boeyIngredients for chai boey.

Basically, the recipe calls for the Chinese mustard (2 heads) to be thoroughly cleaned as a lot of soil is trapped between the leaves. It is then cut in quarters and kept aside. Water is added to 4 tablespoonful of tamarind pulp and the liquid sieved. This is poured into the pot together with 3 onions (quartered), 2 large carrots (cut into chunks), 1 medium size sengkuang (cut into large cubes), 2 portions of salted vegetables (cut into quarters), 4 pickled plums, 20 pepper corns (cracked with the side of chopping knife), a handful of dried chillies and 5 fresh red chillies cut lengthwise and the seeds removed. If the leftovers do not include Shiitake mushrooms, 10 can be soaked the night before, halved and added at the same time.

The leftovers are added together with roast chicken and duck parts, roast pig bones and roast pig trotter. The pig trotter should be chopped into large chunks. One can usually get the roast pork seller to do that. The pot is filled with water just sufficient to cover all the ingredients and brought to boil. The heat is then turned down to allow the stew to simmer for 1 hour. By then it should exude a mouthwatering aroma with a strong tangy aroma.

The Chinese mustard is added last to prevent it from being overcooked and becoming mushed. Water is added to cover the vegetable and allowed to simmer for another half hour until the Chinese mustard is thoroughly cooked and have soaked in the flavours of the stew. By then, the pig trotter should be very tender and the meat almost separating from the bones. If the soup is not sourish enough, tamarind juice or pickled plums can be added to taste. Chai boey can be served with rice or eaten as is.

Whether it is called chai boey or suen lat choi, I would be contented with just chai boey and rice for lunch and dinner on any given day. I would add a few ladles of the soup to my rice followed by generous portions of Chinese mustard, Shiitake and button mushrooms and roast pork. Those I would dip in soy sauce. No words can describe the pleasure as I slowly masticate the pork and the Chinese mustard and allow the flavours to titillate my olfactory senses. The chai boey is truly a piece of culinary heaven. No one can claim to have savoured the best tasting food in the world if they have not eaten this dish before.

Banana Leaf Rice At Restoran Kanna Curry House

On weekends, Wuan and I would invariably ask each other the same questions: “What to eat?” and “Where to eat?” We often eat out at shopping malls because we spend quite a fair amount of time there for their accessibility and air-conditioned environment. We have eaten at most of the restaurants in those places and have gotten bored with the same food. We wanted to look for new flavours to titillate our taste buds. In the end, we would invariably end up eating at those few shopping malls because we either could not decide on what to eat or were not sure if the restaurants that we wanted to go to elsewhere were accessible.

Banana leaf rice at Restoran Kanna Curry House
Banana leaf rice at Restoran Kanna Curry House, Section 17 PJ.

The same happened last Saturday. As we threw the questions back and forth, I suggested banana leaf rice at Restoran Kanna Curry House. The last time we had banana leaf rice was in December last year in Penang. I checked the GPS map for the restaurant’s location. It is just off the Rothman Roundabout. We have never been to the restaurant before although we pass by the roundabout every now and then on our way back from 1 Utama or Ikano Power Centre.

We were not familiar with Section 17 of Petaling Jaya. We got lost even with guidance from the GPS. When we finally found our bearings and found the restaurant, we developed an instant liking for the place. The restaurant was situated on one of two blocks of shophouses on high ground overlooking a road below. The lush clumps of bamboo and mature trees on the slope invoked a sense of serenity. Traffic was light. Parking spaces were ample. There was a police station a few doors from the restaurant at the next block.

Friendly waiter at Restoran Kanna Curry House
Friendly waiter at Restoran Kanna Curry House, Section 17 PJ.

There was a ramp up to the five foot way, a little steep, but Wuan had no problems getting me up and into the restaurant that was abuzz with activity. The waiters busied themselves with taking orders and serving food. We found a table at the back. The weather was humid. The ceiling fans and mist fans made it bearable. Service was prompt and friendly. We ordered two banana leaf rice. The side dishes that we wanted, namely chicken varuval and deep-fried bitter gourd were sold out. Wuan settled for chicken rendang instead.

The atmosphere was lively with a steady stream of customers coming and going. We tucked heartily into our food made more delicious by several types of curry gravy that we kept adding to our rice for that extra spicy flavour. In fact I ate a little too much. Some of the waiters were having their lunch and one of them asked me if I wanted extra rice. I told him I have had enough but he insisted that I should accept the ladleful of rice that he was offering.

Deep-fried bananas, curry puffs, and vadais at Restoran Kanna Curry House
Deep-fried bananas, curry puffs, and vadais at Restoran Kanna Curry House.

Apart from the food, this restaurant gets extra points for the ramp and friendly service. Banana leaf rice is RM5 per person for as much as one could eat. The price for the side orders and drinks were stated on the signboard. The next time we eat at Kanna Curry House, we want to try the deep fried chicken and fishes as well, and not forgetting the vadais, curry puffs and deep-fried bananas. They looked tempting but we were already too full from just eating the banana leaf rice alone.

Fish Head Mee Hoon Soup At Restoran New Curry

It is not often that I come across restaurants that serve food with flavours that my tastebuds wholeheartedly embrace. Good food is hard to find anywhere, be it in Penang, Ipoh or the Klang Valley. Nevertheless, Wuan and I were pleasantly surprised to discover a restaurant near where we live that has never failed to tantallise our our appetite. This restaurant is one of the few that has us going back for more, more of the same and a little more of the good spread available in their extensive menu.

Now, I am not a great fan of fish head noodle. The messiness of picking out the bones always puts me off. Besides that, the fish head noodles in Penang usually came with thick noodles that I did not quite like. I cannot even remember the last time I had it. One day while deciding what to eat in Restoran New Curry at Jusco Taman Maluri, Wuan convinced me to give the fish head noodle there a try. We were already regular patrons there long before that but we usually ordered rice or noodle dishes.

Restoran New Curry Fish Head Mee Hoon Soup
Restoran New Curry Fish Head Mee Hoon Soup.

I can still remember when I took in the first spoonful of the murky soup. “This is delicious,” I told Wuan. She agreed. That was the beginning of my gastronomic love affair with the restaurant’s fish head mee hoon soup. We have eaten it inumerable times since. Wuan has also brought home take-away for dinner on many occasions.

Unlike the fish head noodles from Penang which has clear soup, this was creamy sourish and tasty at the same time. The different layers of tastes all complemented each other very well. There is nothing more appetising than starting a meal with a few sips of the warm soup. The deep-fried fish head was generous in portion as were the strips of salted vegetables, Chinese cabbage and ginger slices. The bee hoon was soft but not soggy – done just right. I have tried a few more at different places in the Klang Valley but none came close.

Restoran New Curry Fish Fillet Mee Hoon Soup
Restoran New Curry Fish Fillet Mee Hoon Soup.

We were there again for lunch yesterday after my medical checkup at UMMC. I wanted something light on the stomach because I had not eaten anything since I woke up. I have never noticed that they have fish fillet with bee hoon soup in the menu and ordered that. Wuan went for the fish head bee hoon soup. That was an unmistakeable choice. We have not been disappointed each time we had that.

My order of fish fillet bee hoon soup was equally as appetising. The fillet was fried. It came in clear soup with lots of Chinese cabbage and the same soft but not soggy bee hoon. The soup was delicious. By the time I was done with the meal, I had finished the entire bowl of soup and the bee hoon but left behind about half of the fillet for Wuan. I had already eaten as much fish as my diet allowed. Food like this makes me wish I could throw caution to the wind and indulge.

At RM9.80 per bowl, the bee hoon soups are not exactly cheap but I reckon that is a reasonable price considering the location and atmosphere. Restoran New Curry’s signature dish is fish head curry. We have eaten that before too. It was creamy but not too much and aromatic. That was also one of the better fish head curries I have tasted. There are also a number of rice and noodle dishes that we like. This is the restaurant that we usually go to whenever we feel like celebrating with a good and hearty meal.