when you hanker for hakka food

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we can't say enough abt how much we adore this hakka dish of rice with a motley spread of blanched or lightly stir-fried vegetables (typically long beans, choi pou, cabbage, chinese leeks) accompanied by - make that drenched with, we say - a fragrant, herb-rich soup. hearty, healthy, vegetarian and oh-so wholesome. lui cha is often translated as thunder tea, but it actually means to grind. 

this popular dish is widely available, and one of our favourites is ye dumplings, a dumpling house and hakka restaurant.  this 17-year-old establishment is oddly located within an industrial area, surrounded by mechanics' workshops. it began as a dumplings (bachang)-only shop before expanding into a full-fledged hakka restaurant. the menu is fairly extensive, with a good variety of hearty hakka dishes including lui cha rice, yam abacus (shuin phun ci) and handmade noodles (pan mee). 

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where other lui cha tend to be a hefty portion, ye is smart in serving a smaller portion of rice which, when tossed with the 5-6 bowls of vegetables, makes for a suitable serving for one person. we love that theirs feature sayur manis, and the tea soup is highly fragrant with an aromatic nuttiness. the abacus, springy to the bite and well seasoned with a distinctive yam taste, comes with garnishings of minced meat and preserved vegetables while the pan mee is al dente and swims in a flavourful broth with a good amount of crispy fried ikan bilis. we also love their tong yuen, which comes in fours in a brackish ginger-rich syrup. bite into the bouncy balls and the aromatic black sesame filling oozes out.

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highlights their generously-filled bachangs are also excellent - the glutinous rice is cooked perfectly and there's ample amount of fillings in each, so much so you'd wish there's more rice than ingredients. there are more than 10 variants, ranging from the traditional (chau mai, or fried grains, with the usual pork, mushrooms, salted egg yolk, chestnut combo) and nyonya, to interesting fillings such as bamboo-smoked chicken, sambal heh bi and for the health-conscious, brown rice. the latter is the only disappointing one we have tried; the brown rice just doesn't have the right amount of starch to hold it together and disintegrates into what looks like a normal plate of rice after steaming. the must-but-we-have-yet-to-try is the colossal multi-flavour abalone king bachang (must be pre-ordered) that feeds eight and goes for rm268. now that is a real whopper.

 

ye traditional dumplings 8g jalan pandan jaya 3/9, pandan jaya, kl tel +603 9284 5325 opens 10am-11pm, mon-sat; 10am-7pm, sun & public hol  facebook

other outlets (named traditional recipe restaurant)

no 12-1 jalan pju 5/7, dataran sunway, kota damansara, pj tel +603 6141 8117  find it opposite the entrance to the food court

no 6 dynasty central, jalan kuchai maju 19 off jalan kuchai lama, kl tel +603 7982 2239

coffee + cheese cake

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more cafe than coffee bar, this three-month-old outfit is owned and run by community organiser and social activist (and president of human rights ngo, komas) tan jo hann and his japanese wife, kayo sunazawa. jo hann manages the kitchen while kayo handles the front of house, with the help of one staff, as well as the coffee machines. it's their first f&b outlet, motivated by a coffee-growing hill tribe the pair had met and worked with in indonesia through the course of their community work, who supply the organic beans that 5 cups takes pride in serving. so named because apparently research has found that 5 is the magic number when it comes to the maximum cups of joe one can have in a day without affecting one's health.

kayo, who is from the indigenous ainu tribe in hokkaido and has been living in malaysia for the last decade, contributes recipes from her hometown, including dishes she learnt from her mother, an ex-chef and restaurateur. the 5 cup signature, the hokkaido souffle cheese cake, however, is her own, perfected through years of baking.

located at the end of a quiet row in the still largely untenanted plaza damas 3, the simply-furnished 5 cups doesn't offer much in terms of ambience but the service is personable and friendly - if a bit slow, as jo hann manages the kitchen all by himself. and we had a couple of wrong orders, but the mistakes were quickly rectified. 

highlights  the panfried salmon with spaghetti in cream sauce was well-flavoured with pepper and chilli (you can select the level of spiciness) and enjoyable, though not flawless. the fish was oversalted but the skin was crisped to perfection. the pasta was softer than al dente but not mushy, while the sauce was creamy yet light. a good amount of shimeji mushrooms balanced out the carbs. 

we also enjoyed the grilled teriyaki chicken wrap, moist and tender slices of chicken layered over grated cheese and butterhead lettuce in a wholemeal tortilla. the menu actually described it as 'toasted' and with 'melted cheese'. it didn't come that way, but it was a satisfying, wholesome meal. the chicken is definitely, and rightly so, the star - well marinated, grilled and basted in their lovely homemade teriyaki sauce. the cheese gave it a mild salty boost.

we didn't take long to polish off kayo's souffle cheese cake, although we don't quite get the souffle reference - it's too dense to be one, and doesn't rise as one should. on the other hand, as a cheesecake it's on the lighter side with a spreadable texture, and is rich without being cloying. 

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we also tried the grilled teriyaki chicken salad, essentially the same chicken slices as the wrap, served with slices - yes, you can actually count how many - of lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes with a small bowl of lemon-olive oil dressing. the chicken is lovely, the dressing gives it a nice zesty lift but the salad is truly a misnomer. and to think we had actually ordered the just salad (sans chicken), but they got our order wrong. and that turned out to be a good thing, or else we would have been grazing like cows on a diet.

the coffee was hit and miss: we had no complaints over the long black, but the flat white fell flat. never mind that there was no coffee art to admire, there was also no micro-foam. it was, simply, a long black with milk poured over.   

overall for such a young and cosy outfit, hiccups are inevitable and the couple, along with their staff, make up for it with their friendly demeanour and good food - aside from the salad and the disappointing flat white, that is.

 

coffee 5 cups no b-0-17 plaza damas 3, jln sri hartamas 1, kl tel +603 6206 5451 opens 11am-7pm, tue-fri; 11am-9pm, sat-sun; closed mon coffee5cups.com/

find it coming off the pedestrian link bridge from hartamas shopping centre, turn left immediately and walk along the quiet row of shoplots facing the main road. 5 cups is right at the end. alternatively, from the ground level of plaza damas 3 (there are some outdoor parking lots on that level, and some just park along the side of the main road), take the lift at the end of the block and head up one floor and you will see 5 cups.

herbal healing

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their stall is really simple: a boxy stainless steel cart with the stall's name - cheah kin kee herbal tea - painted on the front, several small stacks of clean bowls on one side next to which the aunty places the packets of herbal tea. the powders are kept in nondescript plastic containers, the bitter tea is poured out from a large kettle. it's a straightforward, efficient set-up. customers stand around the stall, gulping down their brewed liquid of choice. you can drive up onto the pavement and park your car there. in a matter of minutes, you'll be off again, making way for other customers.

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the stall did brisk business during the five or so minutes we were there; the turnaround is, after all, really quick. customers walk up to the stall, place their order (bitter or sweet), the uncle serves it up in one of those typical, traditional china bowls with chicken motifs on the side, and most people just down it in one gulp. "stir the powder before drinking," he'll say. "yes it's being prepared, just need some time to get this ready you know," we heard him say to an impatient customer. meanwhile, aunty prepares plastic bags of tea for takeaway orders. a third person helps them clear and wash the bowls.

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the powder wasn't altogether bitter, it was more 'golden' as we would say in chinese - that tarty, slightly bitter with a hint of cool. the elderly couple basically sells just two types of tea: bitter and sweet. for the former, he will mix in a combination of three types of medicinal powders that are supposed to ease heatiness, soothe coughs and colds. you don't have to tell him what you want, he stirs in a portion size that he sees fit - apparently according to your size/height/gender? the sweet tea is quite delightful, rich in natural herbal flavours and perfect to wash away that 'golden' aftertaste of the bitter tea.

cheah kin kee herbal tea kerbside, jalan pasar, pudu, kl 

healthy pop art

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a dark pink lorry, with fabric dolls hanging from its front frame and soft printed cushions to lean against on its bench, sits against vibrant green and turquoise wall. it's certainly a memorable first impression, and for a moment you think it's a cafe for children but then you see that some adults have happily parked themselves on the lorry bench. never mind its cheerful palette and whimsical touches, fru-t-pop is meant for anyone who cares about what they're really putting into their stomachs and where the food comes from.

fru-t-pop's star product and namesake began as a mother's labour of kitchen love for her own brood: not wanting to feed her children the usual all-sugar, high-cream concoctions and yet not wanting to deprive them of icy treats, giselda parkin took to making her own popsicles, using fresh fruits sourced from local organic farms. then she started selling them at markets and bazaars, before turning part of the space that houses her central kitchen into this colourful, whimsical cafe that's all about healthy, freshly-prepared hot food made using organic ingredients from suppliers and farms in or near the klang valley. among them are top malaysian organic company justlife, titi eco farm in negeri sembilan, mr tan's of cameron highlands while the tempeh is homemade by a lady in seremban, who makes them for cancer patients and survivors. at fru-t-pop, it's all about using produce that do no harm to either mother earth or our bodies. like the three bold paintings that hang on their feature wall say: 'it's not what we put in, it's what we don't'.

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fru-t-pop's menu is fairly extensive, offering wholewheat wraps, salads, cakes (including raw cakes, all made by giselda), no-bake cookies, fresh fruit juices, coffees and teas, and of course those fun, fruity popsicles. besides the cafe, the fru-t-pops are available at six international schools in the klang valley. at the back of the menu is a series of unique recipes, many of them featuring tempeh (ever considered a tempeh smoothie?) and posters encouraging good nutrition and healthy eating. you can also purchase organic vegetables and fruits, delivered directly from the farms weekly. a list of available produce is displayed on the wall next to the cashier's counter, or you can order a pre-selected bag of mixed goods. 

with a background in niche catering when she was living in england and a keen interest in nutrition, giselda focused her menu on not only the produce that's available - which changes as organic production, unlike commercial farms, cannot promise a fixed type or amount as crops are vulnerable to environmental elements - but most importantly for diners, on creating good clean flavours . 

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the gado-gado illustrates that well: strips of cucumber, carrots and long beans - all raw, naturally sweet and crunchy - served with an aromatic, chunky peanut dip. from the globally-inspired wrap section, we tried the well-flavoured the greek, which had mashed chickpeas rolled up with almond cream and mixed vegetables. it came with a zesty, slightly spicy chilli-spinach-garlic dip and a beautiful salad of quinoa, fruits, cabbage and a generous sprinkle of toasted pine nuts. we didn't even bother with the passionfruit dressing as the reddish salad was perfectly fine on its own - crunchy and refreshing. we washed it down with a glass of joie de vie, a blend of orange, apple and spicy-with-a-nice-kick ginger.

everything is prepared freshly and made from scratch as much as possible in the small kitchen behind the pink truck, where the cook, kavitha, whips up hot dishes while her colleagues use the bigger kitchen behind to make fru-t-pops. kavitha is also the guardian and gardener in charge of fru-t's mini herb garden in front of the cafe, set up like a little park with wooden tables and seats shaded by a large umbrella. the herbs grow in pots placed around the seats and are fertilised with natural compost and kitchen wastes. kavitha harvests whatever herbs she needs for the dishes on the menu. and if you need any herbs for your own cooking, or to grow at home (ask and kavitha will share her tips), just take from the pots; giselda means for it to be a community service. 

farm-fresh vegetables and fruits, good flavours, fun and whimsical settings to chill out in and who can resist that huge pink truck? fru-t-pop is certainly doing us all a great service.


fru-t-pop 22-g jln sri hartamas 8, sri hartamas, kl tel +6010 213 5400 www.frutpop.com  facebook

spicing up a village

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for many of us, bacon is that all-important ingredient that makes or breaks a good breakfast fry-up. in the absence of this porcine treasure (in order to adhere to halal guidelines), instead of taking the easy way out and simply replace it with beef bacon as most diners tend to do, the owners of nutmeg - who also own bangsar village, and run this casual eatery with members of their family - decided to go a completely different route to offer all-day breakfasts that are satisfying while allowing them to maintain a menu that featured, as much as possible, ingredients that are made in house. and so it is that nutmeg's signature is a traditional breakfast favourite but one that is not often found in kl: gravlax. 

the salmon is cured on premise and is also available in paprika and lemongrass flavours. have them on their own as a tasting platter, or in dishes such as their big breakfast, croissant-wich (toasted croissant topped with scrambled eggs), eggs benedict or folded in an omelette.

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leading the kitchen is william chong,  who took a 12-month sabbatical from his teaching position at a vocational school in singapore to pursue his culinary passion while practising what he usually teaches - entrepreneurship. william's dedication to his craft is evident in the way he speaks of food as he patiently explains the menu. 

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for desserts, besides cakes and tarts, william is hoping to introduce kl's diners to puddings and he offers three different ones: lemon passionfruit, icky sticky date (with a butterscotch sauce) and chocolate. all the desserts are served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream each, a light and creamy concoction by a home-based supplier.  

another proudly house-made offering is the beef, cured for 10 days and then cooked in brine (a precious broth that they then use to braise cabbage) and sliced thinly or corned - although, you won't find the term 'corned beef' on the menu as the owners do not want to give the impression that it comes from a can. instead, it's known as salt beef hash the classic reuben is one of the best dishes to test out the beef: generous slices of the tender, pink meat nest under sauerkraut in between slices of rye bread. the sandwich is lightly toasted and served with well-crisped roasted potatoes, a simple green salad coated in a mixed berries dressing, and a dollop each of peach chutney with sultanas, and mustard.

for a sweet ending, choose from three chocolate options. we recommend the dark valrhona tart, beautifully complemented by the ice cream and a sprinkle of oats cobbler - a lovely balance of bitter-sweet flavours and 

nutmeg's menu may not be extensive but it offers interesting options. for one, all-day breakfasts are always a much welcomed (and lacking, in kl) dining option and especially when they are not just your run-of-the-mill toast and eggs variety.  with its open concept space and cosy, retro-inspired (mostly) wooden decor - punctuated by the whimsical avian paintings of local artist shah nizam, which are for sale, on the feature wall - nutmeg is certainly one of the best hangouts in the village.

 

nutmeg ug-28a bangsar village ii, bangsar tel +603 2201 3663 opens 11.30am-10pm daily facebook

tea house in the hills

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since the closing of the tea pot cafe in ss2 and the kl branch of cameron highlands' ye olde smokehouse, there hasn't been a good replacement where english style cafes are concerned. until miss ellie tea house that is, a family-run cosy nook located in a row of old shophouses - they've been around more than 30 years - deep inside taman melawati. a lush green residential area in the foot of melawati hill populated by wide roads and shady trees. it feels like the countryside, and it's all of 30 minutes from klcc. it may not seem like sharp business acumen to open an f&b outlet in such quiet surrounds, but miss ellie's english inclinations, with its cottage-style decor and menu, is actually very well placed here.

melbourne-trained pastry chef justine ong returned to kl after 10 years of working in hotels and even an oil rig, to open this seven-month-old gem of a place. his mother, nancy, runs the front of house, welcoming customers to what the family had aimed to be a homey sanctuary where people come to get away while tucking into scrumptious cakes and a spot of tea - and they have pulled it off impeccably. miss ellie oozes charm at every turn.

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push through the doors and the first thing you see is the sofa seating that could well be someone's living room. not surprisingly, guests have walked in asking if they should leave their shoes at the door! a motley selection of brics and bracs, including the family's personal collectibles, dress up the place. besides the main dining area, there is a cosy corner behind the display cabinet, with a small table that can seat three. if you're visiting solo, this is the ideal spot to hide away in. you'll be provided with a little bell to ring for service - a discreet, genteel way of getting attention without having to shout or wave madly.

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everything is made in house and from scratch, and even though justine faces challenges in staying true to recipes due to the unavailability of certain ingredients, that hasn't stopped him from crafting beautiful baked goods. 

cakes are displayed on stands under glass cloches, and placed on top of the dressers in the main area. chocolate chip red velvet, carrot walnut, flourless chocolate, passion fruit white chocolate and financiers are regularly available along with scones and their signature, the pandan panna cotta with gula melaka and fresh fruits. the pandan - harvested from the wild by jason himself - emits a wonderful aroma and while the panna cotta is perfection: wobbly but not slippery, it glides down the throat like a dream. the gula melaka syrup that it sits on matches its fairly thick consistency. tiny cubes of honeydew and halved strawberries balance out the sweetness. 

the lemon tart is another dessert we would go back for: zesty lemon custard encased in a crumbly pastry, with a layer of burnt sugar a la creme brulee and a dollop of blueberry compote to cut through the tartness. the textures complement each other very well, with the sugar layer adding a nice bit of crunch. scones are their other specialty, served fresh from the oven and in pairs of regular (studded with raisins) and wholemeal, with blueberry (usually strawberry) compote and cream. the gianduja is nutty-licious, as it should be. another plus point to miss ellie's cakes is the serving size - ideal for one person, and often leaves room for seconds.

what really got our tastebuds and toes tingling was the creme brulee. the evenly burnt sugar crust cracks into crunchy pieces, and shields a thick, silky custard. the two balance each other out in texture and flavour, mingling delightfully in the mouth. you will want to lick up every single bit of the filling. it comes with the same blueberry compote as the lemon tart and the scones, but in this case, is unnecessary.

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the hot food menu started off with just four items, led by spaghetti bolognese, nancy's recipe that she honed over the years and which has always been her children's favourite. the pasta, a little under al dente, is served in a beautiful twirled heap with a fairly generous amount of bolognese that smacks of homecooked flavours, and garnished with a single basil leaf - simple and straightforward, as comfort food should be. likewise the chicken parmigiana, two pieces of finely crumbed and well-crisped fillet served with a side salad. miss ellie has since expanded their hot menu to include classic british favourites with a twist, such as tikka shepherd's pie, lamb shank pot pie and tea-smoked salmon. the tikka is beautifully done, a small but substantial serving of well-spiced chicken pieces topped with gratin-style potatoes and a side salad.

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all of which are additional reasons to keep going back to this cosy and charming tea house in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood with the world's longest quartz ridge in the distance where the service is always cheerful, the cakes are beautiful and the ambience is soothing ambience. and miss ellie? that's the family's pet poodle, whose photograph takes pride of place on top one of the cabinets in the main dining area. we told you this place is charming.  

miss ellie tea house no 7 jalan h3, taman melawati, kl tel +603 4162 0113 opens 10am-7pm, tue-sat; closed sun-mon  www.missellieteahouse.com  facebook


franco fare

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croisette cafe is a quaint, authentic French cafe located within the cascadium condominium complex, one of Bangsar’s oldest residential towers. the owners, chef pierre m chaillou and his wife michelle soon, used to live there but since setting up the cafe two years ago, decided they did not want to work and live in the same place. after moving to malaysia, chef pierre supplied cakes to hotels and restaurants before the couple decided to set up shop. The cafe occupies a simple space by the swimming pool, with a seating capacity of around 30 pax – including a couple of small tables on the balcony that overlooks jalan penaga.

the layout is straightforward, the decor comprises white furniture punctuated by lime green tables. michelle attends to the front of house and does an amazing job, welcoming and personable in dealing with guests, right from the moment you call to book a table. while we looked through the menu, she patiently fielded questions and explained each dish (and the French names) in detail. in between serving guests, she also had a VIP to attend to: their five-month-old son, looking all angelic in his stroller.

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order the prawn bisque is more watery than creamy – as a bisque should be – and equally light on the shellfish flavour, but add that dollop of rouille (olive oil, garlic, chilli sauce and saffron blended into an orangey mayo-like cream) that’s served on a small piece of toast and the broth gets that needed lift. Although, the rouille doesn’t exactly melt into the bisque so you will see tiny blobs floating around.

during our visit, croisette was promoting their steak frites, australian rib eye in 150g portions (a good fill for lunch yet dainty enough for small appetites) served with hand-cut thick fries and a simple mesclun salad. A disc of herbed butter crowns the steak, melting all over it to add flavour – which is sadly lacking in the well cooked meat. Instead, the fries are the unexpected star of the dish: unsalted, so the natural tuber taste shines through.

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highlight french food is known for its simplicity and where pasta is concerned, a pesto-tossed dish is one of the most basic classics. except at a French restaurant, you get pistou – pesto minus the pine nuts – which, far from tasting like something’s missing, is actually more intense in flavour. croisette tosses thin linguine in a generous amount of the beautiful green mix and a good sprinkle of cheese, then tops it with a few oven-dried cherry tomatoes. compared to sundried tomatoes, these have a rich sweetness while staying juicy. The pasta was a little overcooked but the excellent pistou made up for it.

we also tried  the pumpkin veloute (cream of pumpkin) was thick and sweet, but fairly run of the mill. for desserts, croisette offers several types of cakes (they are mainly for pre-orders, whole, but a different selection is available per slice at the cafe each day) but it is their apple tart on thin crust that has a following. each tart is baked a la minute, so make sure to order yours along with the rest of your food or be patient with the 15-20 minutes’ wait. what you get is an ultra crispy rectangle of well-buttered pastry holding apple slices, accompanied by an earl grey and raspberry sauce, garnished with a boysenberry and strawberry. the earl grey cream takes the cake, but the tart falls short elsewhere: the pastry was burnt and overpowered by the butter, while the apples were sourish and dry.

overall  perhaps it was the big group of diners that threw the chef off on our visit, because this place has a lot of promise  and although not all of the dishesall pass the taste test, the food was properly prepared and well presented.  we're chalking this up for a revisit.

croisette cafe level 3, cascadium condominium, jalan penaga, bangsar, KL opens 11.45am-2pm and 6.45pm-9.45pm, tue-sun tel +6014 665 7944/+6014 970 7430/+6016 330 4477 Facebook


 *pistou is the French version of pesto, sans pine nuts but rather than tasting like something's missing, the lack of it actually makes the basil and garlic stand out more