KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — What defines good food? We reckon it has to be food worthy of repeated visits.
In the case of Xan Ling in Segambut — since I was first introduced to this eatery that serves traditional Hokkien dishes — I have been recommending their delicious yet simple food to friends and family.
It’s not just limited to the older generation who want to relive their food memories with dishes from their childhood. Even the younger ones appreciate this kind of traditional home-cooked food.
Tan Song Guat and his wife Karen were originally in the business of supplying firewood. Later as there was less demand for firewood, they switched to making bamboo sticks for gardening and also natural solid hardwood furniture.
About nine years ago, the enterprising Karen decided to convert their factory into an F&B venture. Rather than serve what’s trendy in the food scene, she stuck to what she was taught by her grandmother... good old traditional Hokkien dishes that she grew up eating.
This unpretentious food draws in crowds of all ages who are seeking traditional Hokkien fare. In 2012, they expanded to Taman Sri Sinar which is run by Song Guat.
Their children, Tan Xan Ling, 42, and Marcus Tan, 27, also help out. Even though they have workers, Karen is still very hands-on in the kitchen. Some items like the braised chicken feet and braised pork are under Marcus’s care.
The menu is relatively small. Their main dishes, like the claypot Shenggu porridge and claypot prawn noodles, are best for sharing. Smaller groups can probably focus on ordering the individual portions for kai choy fan or rice with mustard greens to eat with a few dishes. They also serve claypot bak kut teh.
As the porridge and noodles are cooked upon order and require around 45 minutes to prepare, it’s best to call ahead to book your meal. Once your order is placed for the porridge, the rice is cooked in a claypot over a rapid fire with dried scallops, dried oysters and whole pork ribs.
Unlike other places that tend to take a short cut by cooking the rice separately, they prefer to cook the rice and broth together slowly to allow the rice to get a better flavour. Just before serving, it’s sprinkled with chopped spring onions and shallot crisps.
Eat the porridge when it’s hot, as the rice tends to slowly absorb the broth, if it is kept too long. The comforting taste reminds one of the simpler days at home where a big pot is cooked up for the whole family to share.
A minimum order for the porridge is RM45 for two, which can easily feed up to four instead.
Unlike the porridge, the noodles are cooked separately and placed in a claypot to keep warm. They use home-made noodles that have just a little alkaline water to give the yellow strands a nice bite and bouncy texture.
The noodles are paired with fresh prawns, pork slices and vegetables. Here the broth has a slight sweet taste. If you prefer, they also have a pork ribs version. A minimum order for the claypot prawn noodles is RM17 for one, which can substantially feed two with just a side dish of vegetables.
The eatery also serves bak kut teh served in a claypot. Their version — cooked with their own mix of herbs — has a cleaner taste and it is less oily. You can order a variety of meats like ribs, soft ribs, pork belly or pork knuckles with your bak kut teh.
For smaller groups, the kai choy fan is a good choice. This appetising rice dish is served here with pork slices and mustard greens. Pair it with their braised chickens’ feet (RM13) or braised pork (RM14).
It’s Marcus’s task to prepare these two dishes in the early morning. The tender chicken feet are braised for two hours in a sauce made from chicken broth and herbs. On a daily basis, around 10 kilograms of chicken feet are used.
The two braised dishes also pair perfectly with the alkaline rice cake or lye kuih (RM5) which is made from rice flour.
In the old days, Marcus tells us, this wobbly cake that has a little alkaline water, was believed to mimic the fat portion of pork belly since it’s got a similar texture. As meat was reserved for special occasions, this was the poor man’s version of pork belly.
Xan Ling’s version is a superb rendition as the texture is wobbly yet it still retains a slight chewiness. In Penang, they often eat the soft wobbly cake with sweet gula Melaka syrup for dessert. Some even pan fry the cake for a contrast of textures; slightly crispy on the outside and a softer texture inside. You can also pair it with curry.
The eatery also serves various types of vegetables such as yao mak, lettuce and Chinese cabbage, but our recommendation is the sweet potato leaves (RM12). It’s simply fried with garlic, dried shrimps and just a little red chillies to give it taste.
Here, Karen’s cooking skills yields a dish where the stems and leaves of the vegetables are soft and delicious. Marcus explains to us, they tend to cook this vegetable a little longer in the wok since it needs to be “braised” a little to let it soften.
The vegetable will emit some liquid during cooking, which they will thicken with a pinch of corn starch.
Other home-style items on the menu include fried fish, eggs cooked with onions or preserved vegetables, and seafood tofu. You can also order their ginger chicken. Unlike the Hakka versions served with more liquid, this version is accompanied with a sauce made with home-made rice wine that is redolent with fresh ginger slices.
Don’t miss out on their humble pork meatballs (RM1.30 per piece) as they are absolutely delicious. No wonder Marcus tells us that he can eat a few pieces in one sitting. Each juicy piece has the right proportion of pork fat with the minced meat. It’s paired with chunks of yambean and thinly cut carrots to give it a nice texture. Dip it in the chilli sauce dip and we guarantee you won’t be able to stop.
At their Taman Sri Sinar branch, you have more choices as they also serve tai chow fare like sweet and sour pork. They also serve various health brews believed to keep ailments away. These include a blue pea flower drink and a purple barley drink brewed from a herb called boat lily or rhoeo discolor that is said to be cooling.
If you can only make it for dinner, this is the place to go to as they are open from 10am to 11pm daily.
Xan Ling Segambut (Jia Xiang Cai)
11A, Lorong Arfah 3
Off Jalan Segambut
Tel: 012-379 1549/ 016-210 0826
Open: 8.30am to 5pm
Closed on Tuesday