history on a plate

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one of kl’s longest surviving hainanese kopitiams, yut kee is legendary for its food and well-loved for its atmospheric settings. but you won’t get to enjoy the latter for much longer; the landlord is taking back this corner lot and turning it, as well as the neighbouring shop, into a budget hotel. The new yut kee is being built, thankfully just behind the current premise, and you can get a glimpse of it through the kitchen in the back.

the food will likely remain the same even after they shift base but the existing atmospheric ambience will certainly be lost, having developed organically over 86 years, its vintage well reflected in the green and beige mosaic floor tiles, simplistic menu board, antiquated power switches and marble table tops. it won’t take much stretch of the imagination to transport one to the malaya of yore; there’s something cinematic about yut kee, as if a sepia-tone air envelops the surrounds and rises above the din from the guests’ chatter that typically fills the air anytime of the day.

you can tell the regulars from the occasional customer; they’re the ones who are not bothered by the queue outside because they know that the staff, clad in bright green polo t-shirts bearing the kopitiam’s name, won’t make you wait long for a table. they’re the ones who don’t need to scan the menu or ponder over what to order, and more tellingly, they don’t over order. condensed milk-sweetened kopi kaw and a slice of buttery marble cake. toast with butter and kaya. half-boiled eggs with splashes of kicap and dashings of pepper. chicken chop swimming in a brown gravy. roti babi, unctuous and comforting, and best enjoyed with a few drops of lea & perrins. hailam fried bihun, a masterpiece of excellent wok hei paired with a flawless sambal. and on sundays, roast pork with apple sauce.

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the food can be inconsistent though; we bit into soggy butter cake once. the kopi is not always kaw enough, the kaya could sometimes do with more yolks. even the eggs, on a rare bad day, can be overdone. so no, yut kee’s food is not without its flaws but it is also hardly terrible. what is consistent is the friendly, efficient service of the well-trained staff under the watchful eyes of the very hands-on second and third generation owners. at least one of them is around to man the cashier and oversee things at all times.

that, perhaps, is the key to yut kee’s constant (and still rising) popularity through the decades – the simple fact that it started as a family business and is still run as one, lending a homey touch to everything from service to food and the general atmosphere. and you’ll always want to go back, even if the food may not always be the best because really, there’s no place like home.

 

kedai makanan yut kee 35 jalan dang wangi, kl tel +603 2298 8108 opens 8am-6pm, tue-sun; closed mon note yut kee is expected to move out of its current premises by mar 2014

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