I may never be a soul singer nor a rapper. I’d imagine that Jay-Z and Alicia Keys will be doing a haunting and inspiring rendition of these words about our capitol city if this was their home. But then agian, perhaps lyrics writing isn’t exactly my forte either. Forgive me for butchering their #1 hit song, “Empire State of Mind“.
It’s funny how I’ve never eaten here in Hong Ngek on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee (the street formerly known as High Street before 1970’s and thereafter as Jalan Bandar until the 1990’s). This typical Hokkien restaurant has been operating by the same family, at this very same spot, for over seventy years since the 1940’s. I feel embarrassed to have lived in this city all my life and yet not know of its existence until the first weekend of this year.
I’ve driven past this row of old shophouses thousand of times before. How could I have turned a blind eye? How could I have missed its weathered paint and cracked wall tiles when I stopped at the lights just right outside its five-foot-way? Or the hand-written white board menu that’s probably been hanging there for a decade or two? Its sardine-packed hungry lunch crowd who shares the yellowed marble-topped table with strangers over a quick meal would have had me curious. How, I asked myself, could I not see these things before?
It took two Queens to point out this living piece of KL heritage out to me.
For decades they have been serving KL-lites dishes that originated from the Hokkien province of Heng Hwa in China and recipes which has been handed down to them by founder, Phung Kim Hooi. These days his daughter-in-law, Liew Hing Ling, runs the place with the assistance of a crew of experienced helpers. Without a clue on what to order, we solicited the help of Liew on what to eat and her army of recommended specialties did not falter.
vi. Pomfret in Two Styles
Another winning signature item, the fish is steamed on one side while the other half is fillet, fried and cooked in together with a special sauce made of black pepper and black vinegar. Simply appetizing.
I have to agree with Fratmustard when he said dining with the two Queens (one wants to be the Queen of the Universe and the other’s the anonymous queen of Malaysia’s makan scene) can be a humbling experience. I feel there’s so much more for me to learn and discover. Like this mundane looking yet wonderful charming eatery. An important lesson learned: Not all that glitters is gold, and not all that is gold necessarily glitters.
I vowed to discover more of my homecity after that landmark meal. Perhaps, I should start organizing a heritage-eating-trail across KL. Will visit some places that travel books and glossy magazines will never feature or review. Who needs a road trip to faraway land when there are plenty to look forward to in our own backyard. Put your chopsticks up in the air if you’re with me!
“Baby, I’m in Kay-Ell!“
Restaurant Hong Ngek
#50 Jalan Tun HS Lee
50000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603-2078 7852
Business hours: 10:30am – 7:00pm from Mondays til Fridays. 10:30am – 5:00 pm on Saturdays. Closed Sundays and public holidays.