I have to admit that I am not a connoisseur of Chinese Food, especially when it comes to dim sum. This little bit of contemptible confession in the confessional booth of gastronomic perdition was in fact due to the minimal exposure I had as a child to this exquisite Cantonese feast. The nearest place for me to have dim sum during my childhood years was a grease stained little restaurant that served the most horrid concoction of meat and flour that the owners try to pass off as dim sum. Dingy and decrepit, the place smelled of lard that has fossilized into the wooden walls. Cleaning of the eating utensils with a pot of hot water was mandatory and not a ritual.
Their dim sum was hard clumps of meat with questionable freshness, mixed with clumps of lard and wrapped in tough leathery lye. I could imagine using the Siew Mai as bullets for skeet shooting, if not for the fact that it will smell rancid once it was not consumed within a 10 minute period after being fished out from the small little bamboo baskets that were used to steam it. Saunaed lumps of unpalatable smelly pork and lard was my childhood impression of what Siew Mai was.
Not that the steamed flour dumplings or Baos fared any better. The dough was invariably wet from the condensation of water, it turns into a gooey sticky clump of insipid mess in the mouth, flavoured with a 90 percent lard filling that was over zealously flavoured with MSG.
Dirty, greasy, smelly restaurant with awful food scarred me for life and cursed me with an aversion for pork. I did not need any psycho analyst to come up with the source of my Freudian childhood conflicts.
When I was studying in KL, my occasional forays into dim sum joints (usually dragged by well meaning friends who were curious about my dislike for anything porky) did not fare any better. Same food, swankier joint. I piled copious amounts of sweet sauce and chilli onto the disagreeable bits of meat to hide their foul taste.
Years later found me in Hong Kong and I decided to meet my friend who was lecturing at HKU, and he suggested meeting up for breakfast near where he was working. I was told to meet him at the Sai Ying Pun tram stop, and he asked me whether I have had any Dim Sum in Hong Kong yet. My heart sank. I wanted to lie and say yes, because i know where he will invariably lead me to. But I was curious to know why in this densely populated city where everybody is a food critic, is there an obsession with what I thought to be the vilest in Chinese Cuisine?
My heart sank after walking a couple of minutes and reached a small little greasy restaurant, with an all Chinese menu. I could imagine the Gay team from "Queer eye for the straight guy" fainting at the sight of the green slimy tiles from the 60's. Furniture and fittings run on a theme of mix and mismatch from a junkyard sale. I was seized by the terror of having to relive the misery of being tormented by balls of lard in a dirty, greasy restaurant that I endured as a child. I seriously questioned my friend's sanity for inviting me to dine in what I perceived as squalor.
My friend was obviously a regular there. The waiter took his order while engaging my friend in banter, joking with him and teasing him. In a few minutes the food arrived. Whatever apprehension I had faded when I took a bite of the har gao or prawn dumplings (being apprehensive of pork). The pieces of the most perfect al dente succulent prawns wrapped in light starch were absolutely delectable. No sauces were served because none was needed. The taste was that pure. The Siew Mai was still porky, but soft and juicy without being lardy and came anointed with some roe on top. A bevy of other dishes followed, all equally impressive.
Sam Hui Yad, located at Pok Fu Lam Road was the first place I had truly enjoyed dim sum, the place where my heart was touched for the very first time like Madonna's Virgin. Coincidentally, Dim Sum in Cantonese means touching the heart.
Forward a couple of years latter, I had some trysts in KL, where there a lot of restaurants serving Dim Sum with the growing sophistication of local palate. Unfortunately, I was like a Mad Fool trying to rediscover the beauty of his first love in whore houses. The Dim served was within the range of appalling to barely passable with an average of mediocre. The Dim Sum lacked an important ingredient. Passion. They served Dim Sum out of an obligation to earn some lunch time cash, while their minds were distracted, maybe by large wedding dinners or lavish corporate functions.
Secret Dish... :p Will be reviewed in another post. The noodle from the basket was sourced from Bentong
I was naturally a bit reserved when I received an invitation from Marian to dine with Jeanette, one of the co-owners of Elegant Inn. I do recall having had their Hairy Crabs with some Dim Sum over there last year, but was too satiated to remember how the dim sum was. Jeanette is a walking encyclopaedia of Cantonese Cuisine and travels to Hong Kong monthly to source the Dried Seafood produce used in her restaurant.
If there is one thing that has been drummed into me by my friend in Hong Kong, good food requires good ingredients and exacting techniques. Jeanette even sources her wet produce from Bentong just to get the right flavour.
Lunch was long, and as the small petite bamboo baskets waltzed in, Jeanette animatedly explained how this tiny morsels of delectable delicacy was made, and how the Chef was used as a conduit for her passion for good Dim Sum. She purposely omitted Siew Mai and Har Gao from the menu in order to allow us to sample the more exotic creations.
I will not go through the tedium of running through every dish that was sampled that day, but I was impressed by how the natural flavours of each dish was coaxed out just by the virtue of using the right ingredients. The fishballs were made from Mackerel and contained minimal amounts of flour making each bite a flavourful delight. The steamed scallop dumpling provided a new insight into the flavours that can be obtained just by sourcing the scallops from a different place. In this instance, they used scallops from Australia which were juicier and provided a beautiful bouncy bite that the slightly thicker skin that was used to cover the dumpling was overlooked.
The dough that was used in the flour covering of the steamed bun or Bao was amazingly fluffy and light.
Although the covering of the Xiao Long Bao was slightly too thick in this instance, it hid a deliciously flavourful broth inside and was served at the perfect temperature.
The humble Bean Curd roll was given a royal make over when it was served with the most luscious Home Made Abalone Sauce which made each morsel a very indulgent treat.
Two extra dishes were brought out of the kitchen just to illustrate how the use of the proper ingredients added a different gastronomic dimension to the dishes. The stuffed Tau Foo Pok which used Tau Foo Pok from Bentong was more robust than it's city cousins as the Bean Curd was thicker and was able to absorb more flavours. The Steamed watercress dumpling (Gao Zhi) was lighter when compared to their cousins from the North.
Perennial favourites like the Nor Mai Gai ((Steamed Glutinous Packages) was given a new twist by using duck meat and salted egg yolks, which I thought was rather brilliant. They were served wrapped in steaming hot lotus leaves.
The humble Cheong Fun was reincarnated was a crispy vegetable roll by using it as a wrap for some deep fried vegetables in a light tempura batter.
I was extremely impressed with the frying technique at Elegant Inn. It was perfect. How the Prawn toast was fried to perfection without any trace of oil in the bread was an eye opener.
The Deep fried taro pouches were absolutely crunchy and not bogged in lard. You can see from the photo that some parts of the batter was as thin as hair.
It was definitely one of the best dim sum meal I have ever had in KL. The Dim Sum there was prepared with an astonishing zeal for authenticity and passion that reverberated in each small little plate of savoury morsels that has it origins in Southern China.
Thank you, Marian for the invitation and Jeanette for hosting. Also warm hugs to Boo, Ciki, Chris (Hi!), Aly and Michael for being such wonderful dining companions.
Note: The desserts will be posted at a later date.
2.01, 2nd Floor, Podium Block,
Menara Hap Seng,
50250 Kuala Lumpur
Disclaimer: This was an invited event. The invitation was made with the understanding that the Blogger maintains full discretion on what to post and there was no inducement in the form of cash or gifts for a favourable review.