PETALING JAYA, Aug 18 — It feels as though we have stepped through a portal and entered another realm where Cantonese roast meats mingle and marry with Italian pasta; the former crunchy and juicy, the latter almost al dente.
Consider this Macau meets Milano.
We’re at Elsie’s Kitchen in Section 17, PJ and the dish in question is a generous plate of what the menu announces as Siew Yoke Aglio Olio. Despite its fusion nature, the parts are perfectly rendered on their own: the siew yoke equal measure of crackling and fatty roast meat, the spaghetti aglio olio slick with garlic perfumed olive oil.
Better yet, this is a case of where the whole is greater than the sum of its (already impressive) parts. There’s something undefinably moreish about pairing roast pork with pasta.
Makes one believe all the stories about Marco Polo bringing the precursor to modern pasta back from his travels in noodle-originating China. (Which is probably why I adore Italian cuisine so much, but more on that later.)
This simple but pleasantly surprising Siew Yoke Aglio Olio is one of the signature dishes at the similarly sparsely furnished Elsie’s Kitchen. The eatery is nestled away in one of the well-maintained apartment blocks of Section 17 PJ’s Happy Mansion; perhaps even a secret to those who aren’t regulars to the area.
More’s the pity for this fuss-free neighbourhood diner really would satisfy jaded appetites bored with yet another open-faced sourdough sandwich or overpriced Big Breakfast platter.
Indeed the interior is plain but not entirely without its quiet charms. Pantry paraphernalia such as tiffin carriers and heavy clay pots add to the homey feel. But this is not the sort of place where you come for the aesthetics anyway (despite what the vertical garden of artificial plants outside the doorway might otherwise indicate).
You come here for the food, for comforting favourites you never knew you needed in your weekly rotation of meals.
Such as a plate of their Nam Yue Fried Chicken Wings that just begs for devouring with your hands rather than cutlery, your fingers sticky with grease and the umami savour of red fermented bean curd.
Another popular dish: their Curry Pork Rice, that reminds me of the wild boar curry at the Nyonya nasi lemak stall in Taman Desa. Lightly battered Fish & Chips. All the chops you can imagine — chicken, lamb and pork.
There’s even a Siew Yoke Salad for those who require some greens to go with their gluttony. More fusion — this time Italian waltzing with a touch of Vietnamese — in their Meatball Sub, where densely packed pork meatballs are cooked in tomato sauce, before being stuffed into a crusty bánh mì roll.
Want something more minimalist? You can’t go wrong with their Chu Yau Cha Fan — a bowl of rice studded with nuggets of fried pork lard and topped with a fried egg. Sublime.
What really moved me is their Siew Yoke Fried Rice. Not only because it has enough wok hei to satisfy even the most demanding of palates, but because of how dark the grains of rice shine.
This is likely due to a liberal use of dark soya sauce, which makes me feel nostalgic. It’s the way my mother used to cook fried rice for me when I was a kid, to take to school for recess. Dark, deep in flavour, perhaps a little bitter, to ready a child for the real world out there.
Now as an adult, the taste brings back fond memories. Though, I have to confess, Elsie’s Kitchen’s version is probably more decadent thanks to the chunks of roast pork. Siew yoke will win out against processed hot dogs and their insidious nitrates any day.
We savour and sip, there’s no hurry to gobble up our meal. This is an unhurried lunch of comfort food, after all. Even the presence of a sunny side up feels like a benediction: Sometimes the simplest fare is the best.
Here is a place that reminded us of hunting down the best siew yoke in Macau, that we found in a small side alley not far from Ruínas de São Paulo; of no-nonsense spaghetti aglio olio made by Italian friends in the city of Milano.
We didn’t realise it before we came here but we all need a place like Elsie’s Kitchen to feed us simply and feed us well, with the taste of the good times that we had in the years that had passed and the promise of better times yet in the years to come.
Elsie’s Kitchen by WanEli
AG-6, Ground Floor, Block A, Happy Mansion, Jalan 17/13, Section 17, PJ
Open Tue-Sun 11am-2:30pm & 5-9pm (closed Mon)
Tel: 012-297 3202
For more slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.