This clay-encased, herb-marinated chicken dish dates back to Qing Dynasty China. I'd had it in many places, from the hoity-toity China Club atop the old Bank of China building in Hong Kong, to the historic Lou Wai Lou Restaurant on the shores of Westlake in Hangzhou. The origins of the dish is well-known amongst the Chinese:
Today, I tried the Beggar's chicken in the 50-year-old New Heong Kee Restaurant, located near the National Zoo in Ulu Klang on the outskirts of KL (it moved into its current location in 1983).
Well, it's not every day that we get our main dish dug up from a large smoldering pit & delivered table-side in a wheelbarrow by the waiter. The waiter hammered away the clay covering, then removed the 3 layers of baking paper & heatproof plastic wrapping, releasing an aromatic whole chicken which had been cooked overnight (the restaurant required 24 hours' advance booking). The chicken was moist & juicy, with a nice, not-too-strong herbal scent. Unlike the version in China, the sauce here wasn't thickened with cornstarch & had a lighter taste. Quite delicious!
One other dish required advance order when we called to book: the chicken soup steamed in a whole Chinese wintermelon. The resultant soup wasn't as tasty as I'd expected.
Other dishes we had:
- a whole fish which had been de-boned, then stuffed with a fish-paste. It was one of the restaurant's signature dishes, but I thought the stuffing was a bit too bland.
- Stir-fried sweet potato leaves with garlic. These were perfectly-cooked and the leaves were freshly-plucked from the restaurant's back garden.
- Crisp-fried golden tofu fritters. A bit bland, too, and needed the restaurant's home-made chilli dip to spice it up.
I'd come back here for the beggar's chicken, none of the other dishes really stood out though. But the rustic atmosphere was pretty charming.
New Heong Kee Restaurant
446, Batu 7.5, Jalan Ulu Klang
Tel: 03-4106 8698