Restaurant Sek Yuen, Jalan Pudu KL: Forever Young

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My gong-gong (maternal grandfather), left his home in Southern China and arrived in Malaysia at the beginning of World War II because of poverty and a lack of job opportunities. He believed that life in another country would be much better than staying put in China. His hope to provide his large family with a more comfortable life was, however, met with great disappointment. Like himself, many other workers who fled the motherland had to endure plenty of inhumane working conditions, physical abuse by employers and laborious working hours.

But over the years, with hard work and determination, he landed a job with the prestigious Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and worked his way up. By then, my mum who is the youngest in her family was already in her late teens, his family was now living a very comfortable lifestyle. Gong-gong, I was told, believed that the best way to spend his hard earned money was on food and his favourite restaurant was Sek Yuen in Pudu. He would spend many of his days and eventually becoming friends with all the workers and customers. He would treat his family to many feasts and attended countless weddings and birthday banquets at this now iconic restaurant. Oh, what a fabulous time it must have been for this over sixty years old restaurant.

These days, its grandeur is no where close to its former glory as Kuala Lumpur’s most celebrated Cantonese kitchen. However, walk beyond its depilating retro facade and be enthralled by their long-forgotten recipes which have stood defiantly against the city’s modern landscape. Even the antiqued stoves in its cavernous kitchen are still fired up by chopped wood. Nowadays, they don’t make restaurants like they used to anymore.

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Mum tells me that every Chinese New Year, she and her siblings would help grandfather slice up fresh ingredients for their reunion Yee Sang – using a recipe he has learned from the his friend, the master chef, served with of thin translucent slices of raw wan yue seasoned with a combination of sesame and cooking oil, pepper, Chinese 5-spiced powder, fresh ginger slices and lime juice. The lady preparing the Yee Sang today carefully mixes the fish with the seasoning using the back of the chopsticks so she wouldn’t puncture the mackerel slices.

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Customer favourites like the Kah Heong Chai Choi (loosely translated as Family Home Mixed Vegetables) and Kwai Fah Tan, a crab meat omelette which resembles a giant osmanthus flowers, requires a lot of kung fu (skills) from the restaurant’s brigade of elderly kitchen staff uniformed in white Pagoda tees over white shorts.

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If you would like to savour on either one of the restaurant’s signature crispy Pi Pa Duck with a dreamy plum sauce or the fork-tender, Pat Poh Ngap (braised duck stuffed with 8-treasures like mushrooms and various types of nuts), do remember to call and order ahead.

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Simple pleasure comes from every day dishes like Stir-fried Kangkung (Water Convolvulus) with Beef and Sweet and Sour Pork. So flavourful we ordered two portions each and lick the dishes clean. Rice here is slow-cooked over wood fire and the result is a fragrant aluminium bowl of fluffy white rice.

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On occasions like the Lunar New Year or a birthday banquet, they conjure up the special Lap Mei Fan (assorted waxed meat rice), an aromatic dish using the same fluffy white rice tossed together with onion caramalised in pork lard that drives everyone insane and craving for more.

I never really got to know my grandfather, he passed away before I turned two. So I am grateful that Sek Yuen’s cooking hasn’t changed much and has provided a way to connect with gong-gong through his favourite dishes here. I’d like to think that I’ve inherited his love and passion for food. And I’ve definitely no qualms sharing his favoured restaurant with my friends and visitors alike.

Today, the restaurant is runned by the third generation with not a younger face in sight. Who knows what the future holds for them. For our sake, I really wish for the sun to never set on Sek Yuen. But from the look of things, nightfall is inevitable and one day this charming place will vanish into the dark and its dishes will remain a nostalgic memory. Here’s hoping it wouldn’t be soon.

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Sek Yuen Restaurant
313-1, Jalan Pudu
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-92229457 / 03-92220903

14 Responses to Restaurant Sek Yuen, Jalan Pudu KL: Forever Young
  1. thule a.k.a leo
    February 16, 2011 | 2:29 am

    Argghh!! Been craving for their Eight Treasure Duck for the longest time!

  2. "Joe" who is constantly craving
    February 16, 2011 | 4:04 am

    im not surprised if my yeh yeh was a frequent customer since he literally lived his whole life in the pudu area..

  3. Sean
    February 16, 2011 | 5:42 am

    i've only eaten here once, but it was a memorable meal too, with my family while they were visiting kl during the christmas season several years ago. i'm glad i managed to share my one and only sek yuen experience with the people closest to my heart =)

  4. gfad
    February 16, 2011 | 5:47 am

    Is it in the Chinese genes to migrate for a better future ar? Things aren't that much different for us today. Except our living conditions are much more humane..

    Yeah, a trawl of Indian food and Sek Yuen! And a host of other babilicious places!! :D

  5. Simon Seow
    February 16, 2011 | 6:59 pm

    Ah, missed the food here. Went here with colleagues 2 years ago for lou sang. I read that Sek Yuen is one of the pioneer to introduce Yee Sang during CNY back in the 60s

  6. CUMI & CIKI
    February 17, 2011 | 1:25 am

    i spot me and cumi.. this was soooo long ago yo! LOL

    great post and this place will never fade! Long live Sek Yuen!

  7. J
    February 17, 2011 | 1:49 am

    Awwww.. :(
    I can relate – never got to meet my (maternal) grandfather. I think he passed away before I was even born.

  8. UnkaLeong
    February 17, 2011 | 2:08 am

    I haven't eaten here before lor. Please arrange for a makan session so that I can sample their food? :P

  9. ck lam
    February 17, 2011 | 5:49 am

    Did not get to visit the restaurant during my CNY trip this year as it was still closed. Really missed the food there…

  10. HairyBerry
    February 17, 2011 | 10:33 am

    Brilliant post, monkey bro! Sigh, What I would do to go back in time and dine here 40 years before. I agree that nightfall is imminent. So, let's feast here again and again, while we can! :)

  11. J2Kfm
    February 23, 2011 | 11:09 am

    Love this post. And Sek Yuen was the place I promised myself that I MUST try once.
    Until now ….

    Remains Just a Dream …

    Can we do lunch or dinner there on a weekend?

  12. Life for Beginners
    March 3, 2011 | 11:33 am

    That's a lovely vision you've painted here – though your gong gong passed on when you were very young, but the thought of the family line continuing through the same dishes that he ate and you eat today – that's simply beautiful. :)

    Thanks for introducing us to this old yet unforgettable gem of Kuala Lumpur, bro.

  13. Nikel Khor
    March 18, 2011 | 10:54 am

    great found of great food

  14. Bernard
    March 14, 2012 | 1:27 pm

    Hi,
    I remember there are a few dishes that require per order! Can’t remember the name. One of it is a soup with big fish head….

    Anyone remember?

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