WONG MEI KEE@PUDU KL THE BEST ROAST PORK IN SOUTH EAST ASIA – A labor of love, smoke and hidden secrets

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I tried Wong Mei Kee or Wong Kee Roast Pork a long time ago, maybe 10 years.

The moment I tried it, I declared it the best roast pork in KL.  Since then, life hasnt been the same as far as roast pork is concerned because nothing has come close. I’ve made comparisons in all the countries I travel to, and I am now declaring it the best roast pork in South East Asia.

The Chef owner in his sixties has, what I thought, a stern countenance (turned out he just took his trade seriously and was always completely focused) and because he had a spiky crewcut and always had a huge cleaver in his hand, I thought he was gangsta and not to be trifled with.

I went to his shop recently with a group of my dining friends who flew in to KL just to eat (such is our dedication).  I told my friends his shop was in this industrial part of town called Pudu where previously the prison in KL was located.  His shop in particular was located in a section in Pudu tightly flanked by a row of shops on both ends  (largely automotive related if I am not wrong).  His shophouse only contained his stall and was not big (maybe 8 to 10 small tables) but his business spilled out to the walkway outside his shop where 4 to 6 large rectangular tables were set up.

Before 1230, you will see a glass counter which was completely bare with literally nothing – not even hooks hanging on it.  At 1145am onwards, the tables will start filling up and by 1220 pm, you probably found yourself without a table and you will see a long line snaking out of the shophouse and this was just for takeaway.

We arrived at 1145 pm and the idea was just to secure and sit at a table.  The ladies in our group did just that.  I then noticed one of our friends standing at the back alley at the back of the shop observing food preparations.  A few of us went to join him.

Chef was there and we started snapping pictures.  I was a little apprehensive when I saw his grim disposition and half expected his cleaver to appear.  To my utter surprise, he broke out into a wide smile and answered one of the questions one of us asked him.  He turned out to be one of the nicest and friendliest man I ever had the pleasure to meet and he entertained our incessant questions for the next 45 minutes, always obliging and always with a smile.

His Craft

This was a man who loves his craft.  Everything was done with precision, calculated, timed, exacting and everything was done by him personally or supervised by him.

Chef shared with us that he did not learn his craft from a “sifu” or teacher. When he was younger, he worked in a restaurant and observed how others would cook roast pork. He experimented and honed his skills for some years before deciding to open up his own restaurant.

He told us that he was advanced in age and his 2 kids did not want to come into the business so the business will die with him.  He knows that there are detractors who think his food is overpriced but he said there was effort and he will not cut corners so he will charge a rate to reflect that effort. He explained he got the best plump chickens with a premium although there were cheaper alternatives. Right down to the charcoal he uses, he does not compromise and will seek out suppliers carrying a certain higher and more expensive grade because it apparently burns cleaner and reduces carcinogen.  Supply is becoming more and more problematic, he says.

He has little social life because he wakes up every day at 4am to deal with the suppliers and to season the meats himself.  He will be the first at his stall and the workers will come in later.

He commented that he cannot even attend weddings of relatives in the evenings as his life is centred around this routine.  He has to be the one to do the morning tasks.

He lamented about the difficulty of finding good workers and that it was difficult to find people who would want to work with him day in day out for the long haul.  He pointed out one worker who has been with him for more than 20 years and another about 10 years.  He says when these workers want to stop work, he will also retire because he cant do it on his own.

And this was not too far fetched because I noticed that they were part of his clockwork – they knew exactly what to do and at what time to do it.  Things appeared before him without instructions and they moved seamlessly . It was a dance of flawless symmetry.

Clockwork Precision

We noticed as he worked and fielded our questions, he was constantly peering at his watch.  Then I realised that everything he did was timed for 1230 when he would present his food piping hot.

Roast Pork Belly

Prior to 1145 am, everything was centred around the roast pork belly.  The belly side was seasoned with the usual rice wine, five spiced powder and other condiments while the skin was salted.   He prepares about 15 slabs per day.  He said he doesnt want to prepare more and all his food will finish by about 230 pm.

The total roasting time of the roast pork took about 2 hours.  The pork would be positioned on hooks and hung on the insides of a huge oil drum.  At the base and in the centre of this oil drum was a charcoal burner.  You can see him replenishing the charcoal from time to time.  So all the roast porks would be hung in a circle at the side of the drum and the lid would be closed so the slabs would effectively be smoked in intense heat in the drum with indirect heat coming from the bottom burner.

Periodically, the slabs will be taken out and other slabs will be put in.  One worker was continuously scrapping the black charred carbon off the slabs taken out.   After scrapping, Chef will put the slabs back to hang and smoke in the drum.  He will do this 4 times for each slab.

By 1220 pm, all 15 slabs are done and retrieved from the drums.

The ultra crispy fried chicken

He first hangs the plumb chickens in a gigantic metal vat.  We didnt ask him whether the chickens were seasoned but I assume it would be.  He explained that this was a drying process so that the chicken would be crispy.

Between 12pm to 1230pm,  6 to 7 chickens each time would be taken out of the metal vat and plunged into this huge scalding pot of oil .  The heat was clearly intense and the cooking process did not take as long as I thought it would probably because of the intense heat.   When the chickens were removed from the oil, they were a beautiful rich golden colour and the aroma was unbelievable.  I counted roughly about 25 chickens being prepared and cooked.

The Char Siew

At 1205 he started threading about 10 long and thick slices of pork belly onto a long skewer. He did this with another skewer so there were probably about 20 slabs of pork belly.  The pork was sitting in a big pot of marinate and when they were all taken out and skewered, one of the workers put the pot of marinade onto a charcoal burner to heat up the marinate, stirring the pot continuously.

The two skewers of char siew pork were hung in the drum to smoke much like the roast pork. You could see the pork belly sizzling away and it was a sight to behold.

Halfway through, the two skewers were taken out and again coated thoroughly with the marinate which was now warmed up. It was then put back into the drum to smoke. The entire smoking process took 20 minutes. By 1225, two skewers of gleaming charred char siew were ready to be devoured.

Sharpening the Knives

The man was a perfectionist. Throughout the entire process, you saw him walking energetically to the front and side of the shop and back again to the alley. He was obviously supervising all aspects.

At 1228 when all the meats were out of the smokers and ready to go, I saw him at the side vigorously sharpening the cleavers. This was obviously the last task in the ritual that he had to do it himself.

The Procession

I recall when I came to his shop 10 years ago, the Chef walked in and led a dramatic procession of his walkers with a slab on each arm at the stroke of 1230 pm. This time around it was his workers trooping in with the meats at 1230 pm without much fanfare.

We were determined to capture the procession and had positioned ourselves like paparazzi at a strategic position in his shop to capture his entrance. We did capture his entry after all his workers had hung up the meats and he offered a friendly smile like a reluctant celebrity.

The Chopping Ritual

This was another sight to behold. I couldn’t believe how much of the roast pork he shaved off.

Essentially he shaved off all the burnt carcinogenic parts leaving a clean slab of pork with a crispy skin. He then cut the somewhat squarish block into symmetrical strips before chopping it into thick chunks.

The chunks were then arranged neatly on top of the sliced cucumbers laid out on the plate before drizzling a light sauce (light soy and sesame ?) over it.

The Taste

We ordered all 3 types of meat. The funny thing was that it was the wives who were quite exuberant when ordering and our table became filled with enormous plates of meats, not that we were complaining.

There was consensus that the fried chicken and roast pork were nothing short of amazing. The roast pork was exactly as I remembered it to be – the body was moist and supple and you could see how beautifully the three layers of the pork had been cooked.  The pork was cut into thicker chunks than most places allowing you to have a mouthful to savour. The skin was just an exquisite layer of shattering orgasm and the crunch just went on and on.

The fried chicken was also swoon worthy and would easily have taken centre stage if not for the roast pork. The meat was moist and the seasoning was not overpowering like in some places which smeared their meats with overwhelming five spice or salt. Again it was the skin that was outstanding.

As for the char siew, it was quite decent but KL is the land of char siew so I have tasted better. I would say stay focused and just stick to his roast pork and fried chicken.

Epilogue

I felt truly blessed to have had the privilege of observing the rituals, and for the Chef sharing the intimate secrets of his craft.

The intricate steps and the love that goes into his cooking explains why Wong Mui Kee Roast Pork deserves the coveted title of the best delectable Roast Pork that you can find in South East Asia.

Go feast on it before he retires.

Restaurant Wong Kee

30, Jalan Nyonya, Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-2145 2512 ) Business hours: 12.30pm to 3pm (Monday-Sunday).

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