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CURRY RICE HAINAN-STYLE

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IT started with a card dropped off at my desk, from Restoran Hainan
Curry Rice.
What´s that again? Hainan Chicken Rice needs no introduction but Curry
Rice?
The only problem is that the outlet´s in Klang and I had not been there
for years. A quick phone call to a friend who works in that
neighbourhood and we are soon armed with the "Dummy´s Guide To Klang".


It´s a cinch. Once we entered Klang town, we just had to follow the
signboard to Banting and Pulau Indah and, of course, stop at a couple
of petrol stations to ask for directions to Bukit Tinggi´s Giant
Hypermarket. The
outlet is in front of an empty padang, a few roads behind the
hypermarket.


Parking is a breeze and soon, we are sipping a lovely iced kopi-O kaw
in the open-air shop, with a gentle breeze blowing in our faces.


I have always associated Klang with the Hokkiens but it seems there is
a thriving Hainanese community in the seaside town, especially in Bagan
Hainan where they were mainly fishermen.


Restoran Hainan Curry Rice is a no- frills shop but the service is
impeccable... and comes with an eager smile, albeit the foreign looking faces.


So what is Hainan Curry Rice? According to partners Boo Chek Hock and Jack Wong
(both Hainanese), this is Hainan kampung cooking at its rustic best.

"All our dishes are cooked with the same recipes that my grandfather
brought with him from Hainan in China," says Boo,50, whose father was
also in the same business.


In fact, the recipes are closely guarded and they have never forgotten
the patriarch Boo´s instructions that the recipes cannot be altered or
any
ingredient left out.


"The curry, for instance, has 21 herbs and spices. Miss out one single
ingredient and it won´t taste the same. My regular customers will
definitely
complain," says Boo with pride in
his voice.


Nor will he tell us what the ingredients are. When arm twisted, he buckles slightly under the pressure and hints
that nutmeg might be one of the special secrets.


"Sorry lah," he says apologetically. "Even when someone offered him a great
sum of money for the recipe, my
grandfather refused to divulge.


And he had forbidden any of his
descendants to do so."


So it was strictly a family business at a stall until Boo took over and
together with Wong, opened Restoran Hainan Curry
Rice last June. The outlet is clean
and brightly lit, definitely more
conducive to eating than at a stall. More impressively, the tiled
floors and walls are squeakily clean. The restaurant is closed, from
4-6pm, and the premises cleaned thoroughly.


Boo, who used to be a chef in a hotel restaurant in Klang, has added to
the menu items that were popular with customers there like Hainan char
siu.
The main attraction, though, remains the curry rice. It is basically,
what its name says it is ó white steamed rice with curry sauce poured
over...very, very generously. In fact, many customers ask for extra
lashings of curry sauce till the grains of rice are swimming in a sea
of sauce.

A dash of stewed soya sauce is drizzled on for added flavour. curryThe curry is mild, starchily thick and definitely an acquired taste. More used to the perky flavours of nonyastyle curries, I find it far too tame for taste but it´s a good way to introduce children to curry. Most of the young ones I see there are happily tucking into their curry rice with gusto.

A standard order of "ai nam bui" (Hainan rice) includes rice oozing with curry sauce, a slice of stewed belly pork and egg for RM3.50 (small) and RM3.80 (big). All the dishes are pre-cooked and you can make your selections from the display behind a brightly-lit glass counter. Hainan Curry Rice is open from 7.30am till 4pm for breakfast and lunch. They reopen from 6pm to 9pm for dinner. Rice is a favourite breakfast staple for Klang folk, it seems, and it is not surprising to find them enjoying bah kut teh and chicken rice in the early mornings. Well, I suppose, it´s just like how some of us cannot do without our nasi lemak and congee for a hearty start to the day.

The display counter is closed in the evenings and one orders instead from set menus designed for families (from RM10 to RM15).

The variety of dishes, though, remains unchanged.

Every morning, Boo personally selects the fish, pork and chicken for the dishes. "We use only the best cuts," he says. "We´ve carved a good reputation for serving good food for generations and we must maintain that."

Indeed, his char siu and spring rolls has no gritty bits of meat.

The intensely fragrant char siu (RM3) is not the normal red coloured pork.

Instead, it is made with slices of brisket that have been well marinated and then deepfried to a crisp on the outside.

It is cut into strips before serving.

The spring rolls (RM3) are a bit of a misnomer as they are more like lobak except that the filling is a mixture of cracker biscuits and minced pork (instead of meaty chunks). It doesn´t contain turnips, mushrooms and other stuff that you´d normally find in spring rolls. But it is extremely tasty and well flavoured.

Stewed pork, eggs and tofu are popular too. The belly pork is well-proportioned with balanced layers of fat and lean meat.

Equally interesting are stewed beancurd sheets stuffed with minced pork and pork chops, Hainanese style of course.

Other dishes include a tenderlicious mutton curry, chili sotong and fish curry with choices of stingray or kurau. "We never use frozen fish, only fresh," says Boo. Like the chicken curry, the fish curry is also mild but the mutton curry has more robust leanings.

My main regret though, is that Restoran Hainan Curry Rice isn´t too keen on vegetables. The only "greens" available are a plainly fried shredded cabbage (RM1) and stir fried intestines with sliced pineapple. "But this is how the Hainanese like their meals," protests Boo.

Occasionally, they offer long beans with dried shrimps. Those who like soup with their meals will enjoy the peppery intestine and pig´s blood soup (RM1.50). Restoran Hainan Curry Rice is open everyday except the first and last Tuesdays of the month.

HAINAN CURRY RICE (non-halal)
26, Lorong Batu Nilam 3C
Bukit Tinggi,
Klang, Selangor
Tel: 03-3324 6371

 


By TAN BEE HONG, , 17 Jul 2008

 
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