Sunday, December 9, 2007

Bowled over

I was going to pen some original thoughts about a recent trip to Restoran LYJ in Sungai Buloh to have poon choy, a riot of foods cooked in one (huge) bowl, usually served during festive occasions. But I broke one of my cardinal rules of blogging – I googled the term before I started writing. And as expected, the torrent of information that flowed made my stillborn creative attempt small, old and superfluous.

However, all is not lost. Beaten BUT NOT broken, I present to you The Best of the Rest, a plagiari… I mean, aggregate hodge podge (much like the dish itself, actually) of what you will find when you type “poon choy” into Blackle.

But first, a picture, which at least I can claim authorship (Pictureship? Imageship? Okay, ownership) of…

What, then, is poon choi or poon choy? According to the Internet’s most reliable source of information (one that is constantly and only policed by experts in their fields who despite their busy workload spend their precious free time updating, without payment, public-access information for the benefit of mankind while being bombarded with requests to donate to that very same site), the dish is a layered kalaidescope of “pork, beef, lamb, chicken, duck, abalone, ginseng, shark’s fin, fish maw, prawn, crab, dried mushroom, fishballs, squid, dried eel, dried shrimp, pigskin, beancurd and Chinese radish”, served in one gigantouraus basin or bowl.

[You know how those Buffet Buffoons scurry around and cut queue so that they can pile their plates high with all the best stuff on view, then stagger back to their seats while performing a world-class balancing act? Well, this is like someone’s done the scurrying, stacking and carrying for them!]

It seems the dish came about when the Cantonese served it to the retreating Song Emperor, who was then fleeing the Mongol expansion. Putting all the goodies together could have been a form of tribute, or maybe they just ran out of plates [J and J, take note: this last reference comes from a New York Chinatown restaurant blurb – look for the A&B Lobster King House on the page]. Or it could have been that the wily pro-democracy southerners were sending a subtle message to their northern overlord, forcing him to experience eating cheek by jowl with his underlings from one bowl.

A blogger, who I take at face value is a Babe and lives in the city with her boiboi, gives a detailed description of the make-up of this restaurant’s version. But if you're the type that learns best visually (or you're just plain lazy to read more text), here's another view of the dish, taken from another angle, which gives you a different picture because it is truly huge!

Now, logic tells us that it would be impossible for all the stuff in the poon choy to be uniformly excellent. Every dish is unique and needs careful and different preparation from other types of food for it to sing when it touches our palates. And so it was with this poon choy – most of the components were good, as befitting the excellent kitchen – but not all hit a home run.

But as legitimate as this observation was (by the fastidious J), I felt the point of this dish was more social than gastronomic. You need to bring together 14 other people you enjoy being with, so that tucking into this Feast In A Bowl becomes an uproarious special occasion. Eating poon choy is a shared culinary adventure as a whole table picks through a communal basin, the wonderment of discovery heightened by a generous amount of beer or wine. There was a lot of “Oooh, look, I found this,” and “Here, you on the other side of the continent, you gotta have that” going on that night.

Of course, the food itself has to be good to make the merriment worthwhile – and it was. We know, since we ordered a roast suckling pig and a braised claypot fish off their a la carte menu as well!!


Yeah , yeah, there wasn’t enough food already, huh? We were as happy as stuffed little emperors that night. Anyway, we’ll be back there next weekend, to feast on their other wonderful non-poon choy stuff.

I should leave the final word to Miss Babe, who helpfully gives the address of the restaurant, on a napkin!


lainey said...

i showed the pic of the poon choy to okm ... now we're both feeling depressed. :)) ALL your fault :P

never heard of poon choy before - wow - do you think santa will bring me some for christmas? i've been so good this year ...:D

Aromatic Beans said...

Heh, when you guys get back, I'll definitely take you and mr. okm along. One can only survive NC for so long without the wonders of home food, eh?

Santa grants every wish, but he's running low on poon choy this year. Turkey, banyak ada!