It’s that time of the year again as the Lunar New Year approaches, when friends and family gather for year-end dinners, whether to say thank you to one another or just for the camaraderie. And what better way to do that than to share a heaping bowl of ‘Poon Choy’; as we delve deeper into the tureen in our hunt for culinary treasures, moving from layer to layer, exclaiming with delight when we hit on a particularly delectable morsel, the chatter is lively and the ambiance, convivial and warm.
We did this recently at Kok Thai, the one at Medan Tasek Perdana, not to be confused with the one behind Kinta City. ‘Poon Choy’ is often translated as “Big Bowl Feast,” but the actual translation of the term is “vegetable basin,” with “choi” referring to vegetables (IE 134).
Usually comprised of 18 ingredients (the number 18 being an auspicious one), this Poon Choy was chock full of goodies like duck’s webs, fresh and dry scallops, Fa Gao or fish bladder, deer tendon, abalone, roasted duck, chicken, pork belly, prawns and a host of other ingredients, delivered simmering hot at the table and kept warm on a portable stove. In fact, a meal in itself.
Host for the evening, the ever generous and affable Edward Foo, had ordered eight portions at RM45 per portion and for our table of 12, was more than ample. (Minimum order for five persons: RM225) Thinking that dessert was next, we sat back for a break when to our surprise, more dishes were to come.
Earlier, we had each a small tureen of their double boiled soup with chicken, fish maw and mushrooms, clear, fragrant and ‘umami’ at RM25 each. When the Poon Choi was followed by the fish, we were all in a state of surfeit and really didn’t do much justice to this particular delicacy, a Sultan fish or ‘Jelawat’ cooked ‘Yau Tsum’ style which is deep fried and topped with light soya sauce. What lent a piquant note to the serving of the dish was the bowl of Limau Kasturi juice which when added to the fish gave it a freshness and lift to the mouthfeel – RM80 per kilo. Tsing Loong Choi added the ‘green’ touch to the meal which ended with a mango and pomelo dessert, light, refreshing and a fitting finale to a ‘grand dinner’.
Not content to settle for what I had tasted, I subsequently arranged for another dinner with the same group of friends in order to sample more of Kok Thai’s signature dishes. Again I was not disappointed.
I had asked for some of their more ‘ordinary’ dishes. The first to arrive was the Cucumber Rolls, paper thin cucumber stuffed with chicken and fresh mango with mayonnaise, crunchy and refreshing – RM2.50 each piece. Next were the Peony Prawns, medium-sized prawns wrapped in a noodle cocoon and deep fried to a crunchy texture – RM3.50 each.
The special for the evening then arrived, an impressive almost foot-long sea cucumber stuffed with dried and fresh scallop, Gingko nuts, meatballs, mushroom, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, braised to perfection; the sea cucumber, thick, yielding but still resistant to the bite, and the blend of stuffing ingredients melding together for taste and texture nuances – RM300, enough for 10-12 people.
One delight for me this second evening was the Hau So Fong served in the style of what I call the deluxe Chinese burger. Beginning with a crispy pancake stuffed with dried prawns and minced pork, cut into squares (which you can eat on its own) dipped into a thick sweet sauce equivalent if not the same as that served with either suckling pig or Peking Duck, and together with slices of smoked duck breast, finely slivered scallions and cucumber, and stuffed into a large Man Tou or steamed bun, the resultant ‘burger’ is simply irresistible. Here is the perfect example of Chinese culinary wizardry – a skillful combination of textures running the gamut from crisp (the pancake, the dried prawns) and crunchy (scallions, cucumber) to melt-in-mouth softness of the bun, and nuances of the smokiness of the duck, the saltiness of the pancake and the freshness of the garnishes, all serve to make it the ‘best Chinese burger’ in my taste book. RM40 for an order of 10.
To top this off, we finished the meal with a fried rice vermicelli dish, fried crispy and topped with a black sauce with the usual garnishes – RM12‑S/18-M/24-L.
See Foon Chan-Koppen