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Saturday May 17, 2008

A taste of home Oriental Cravings

By ALICE CHING

Oriental Cravings
359, Ground Floor (new wing)
1 Utama Shopping Centre
Lebuh Bandar Utama
Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya
Selangor
Tel: (03) 7727 2581/7726 3801
non-halal

Known for its hearty and unpretentious home-styled Chinese fare, Oriental Cravings has its regular customers agreeing that dining here is as good as partaking of Mom’s cooking.

So familiar are some patrons with the outlet’s offering that they don’t bother with the printed menu.

“They only need to check the chef’s specials and the new dishes from our white board next to the cashier’s counter,” laughs June Yap, one of the three owners.

Chee Cheong Fun

Ensconced in a cosy corner of 1 Utama Shopping Centre, this five-year-old eatery warrants a visit if you yearn for simple specialities like Yam Cake (RM3.90) and Hand-rolled Chee Cheong Fun (flat rice flour noodle rolls).

The former is popular because it has plenty of soft, powdery yam dices in it. Making it even tastier is the generous amount of dried shrimp, sliced Chinese sausage, minced pork, spring onion and minced red chilli topping it.

The smooth Chee Cheong Fun (RM5.90) also stands out for its delectable stuffing of minced pork, shredded sengkuang (yam bean), choy poh (chopped preserved turnip) and dried shrimp.

For a light, tempting snack, sample the Homemade Char Siew (RM15.90). The grilled belly pork slices coated in a dark, subtly caramelised sauce is sublime when eaten together with steamed pillow-soft man tou buns, spring onion florets, and crunchy cucumber strips.

A newly introduced speciality is the Fish Head in Chinese Rice Wine (RM33.90).

Comments co-owner Fay Cheng, “It is inspired by the classic dish of wong chau kai or chicken braised in yellow rice wine. Nowadays customers are getting increasingly health-conscious. Since many prefer to eat more fish, we thought it would be a good idea to try braising fish instead of chicken with rice wine.

“We use more than half a bottle of top-quality fermented yellow rice wine to obtain the well-rounded and voluptuous flavour.”

Indeed, the proof is in the eating – not only are the deep-fried fish head and fish fillet fully imbued with the wine’s robust accent, but the rich, heady gravy also belies the loving care that has gone into producing this heart-warming speciality.

It even eclipses the subsequent Pineapple Curry Fish (RM17.90). Aimed at reeling in diners who enjoy setting their palate alight with spicy dishes, this is the only dish that fails to excite me.

While the piquant curry’s tangy, sweet and spicy nuances are in perfect balance, the overall taste is marred by the over-fried fish fillet in it. Still, this is a minor hiccup on the chef’s part, so don’t let it deter you from sampling the dish.

Many Chinese enjoy eating pork shin and tendons as they are said to aid in the rejuvenation of our own joint cartilage. Since supply is scarce, the Chee Kan Poh (Braised Pork Shin in Claypot, RM36) is an eagerly awaited treat amongst the regulars. As such, I count myself lucky to have had the chance to savour it.

Cheng explains that in preparing the base stock alone, they spend hours braising chicken feet with dried octopus and fermented red rice sediment. The viscous broth is then strained and used to braise the pork shin and tendons, resulting in a truly rustic and flavourful dish.

It speaks volumes of the owners’ commitment and passion.

Another noteworthy, occasional special is the Seafood Hot Pot (RM58.90). With stock made from deep-fried and boiled tenggiri bones, the hot pot is a delectable soupy concoction with soft beancurd, squid, prawns, fish slices, crab, homemade fish balls, and stuffed omelette dumplings.

White peppercorns, tomatoes and lemon grass lend their distinct accents to the sweet broth. A standard serving is ample enough to feed three or four.

Cheng says, “We only serve this whenever our supplier brings us ample supply of fresh tenggiri bones. Otherwise we can’t make the dish as you need lots of fresh fish bones to prepare the stock.”

The homely quality of the food is also evident in the desserts, which consist of such sweet broths (RM3.90 per bowl) as Lo Hon Gor (Siraitiae grosvenorii or monk’s fruit), red bean, and mung bean soup. If you prefer a cooler alternative, then try the Kalamansi and Cucumber Juice (RM4.90).

Overall, this is one outlet that serves food with pride. Service is informal and speedy. The ambience is simple but accentuated by retro decorative items like charming vintage lamps, old family photographs, floral Malaccan Nyonya tiles, and vintage collectibles harking back to the days of old Malaya.

Ah, just the type of place to satisfy one’s old-fashioned oriental cravings.

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