CHUAI HENG RESTAURANT,
231, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2141 5666
Business hours: 11.30am-3.30pm and 6pm-10.30pm (weekdays).
On Sundays and public holidays, the restaurant opens at 10.30am.
WHAT lengths would a Chinese restaurant go to please a British diner?
According to Chuai Heng restaurant manager Kelvin Oh, the chef personally went to the market on the fifth day of Chinese New Year to look for two old cucumbers.
This was so Prof Jennifer Ann Harikrishna from the Genetics and Molecular Biology Department in Universiti Malaya could have a taste of their signature Seafood Soup in Old Cucumber.
Made up of 10 different ingredients, it is double boiled in the gourd itself, resulting in a delicately flavoured broth filled with succulent prawns, scallops and the sweetness of cucumber.
A sip inevitably brought back memories of summer for this Nottingham native who came to Malaysia 23 years ago.
“Back in the UK, melons are in season in August. Usually we put the melons into the soup but not the soup into the melon,” she pointed out.
Unfortunately, melons are not in Prof Harikrishna’s scope of research at the moment.
Her attention is focused on the functional genomics of monocotyledonous plants instead. These, she explained, are basically florae and shrubs without branches such as orchids, bananas, rice and oil palm.
Among the interesting trivia from her research on palms is their ability to bear male and female flowers from the same tree. Her work now is to suss out the genes of these flowers for differences in their ribonucleic make-up. This foundation work, she said, would hopefully pave the way for future scientists to make a palm tree bear more female flowers to multiply fruit yield.
During the sampling of the Deep-fried Soft-Shell Crab and Capsicum Salad, Prof Harikrishna learnt that the crustracean was fried in palm oil. She took the opportunity to point out that no other crop had been able to rival the oil palm fruit in efficiency when it came to producing oil.
For the same acreage occupied by the current market of oil-producing crops, oil palm has the ability to give a yield of up to six-fold more.
“In answer to the controversy over deforestation, my retort is to question whether we should stop planting other vegetables for oil altogether,” she said.
Going deeper into her work during a course of Steamed Grouper in Egg White, the director of the Centre for Research in Biotechnology for Agriculture (CEBAR) revealed science would inadvertently play a vital role in farming.
In addition to ongoing research on how to improve the sizes of freshwater prawns and fish, the centre is also working on optimising potential for other plants like mushrooms to cater to Chinese apothecaries, for example.
Having declared the egg white custard in the fish dish an interesting juxtaposition of textures, the academic stressed it was vital for consumers to be aware about agricultural produce.
“In the West, you can sometimes see food products bearing labels like ‘No Tropical Oils’ to give the impression that they are of better quality. In truth, there is no scientific evidence of harmful effects in tropical oils,” she revealed.
As a matter of fact, as a vegetable oil, palm oil is cholesterol-free and a rich source of carotenoids and Vitamin E.
As a mother of two who uses butter, olive oil and palm oil in her own kitchen, Prof Harikrishna confessed she had attuned her taste buds to the spicy and pungent notes that is so prevalent in Asian cooking.
This was evident when she doused her soft rice sheet roll of eel and shredded cucumber with liberal amounts of sambal belacan.
Though Oh had mindfully stood by, teapot in hand, Prof Harikrishna had no need for “fire dousing” services. Instead, she told Oh how it reminded her of a soft, silky popiah.
Would she have preferred it better if the skin came in the form of an actual popiah skin instead of a chee cheong fun covering?
“No, I like to try different things,” smiled the academic, who also confessed to being a durian lover.
However, it was clear to see that Oh was a tad disappointed when Prof Harikrishna declined a serving of the lamb cutlet, beautifully prepared with a sweet and sour glaze which had unmistakable traces of Worcestershire sauce.
“I don’t eat red meat,” she revealed.
Harikrishna was put off the idea after realising meat production was not an environmentally sustainable activity while pursuing her doctorate in California. It has been documented that the livestock industry utilises at least 30% or 4.7 billion hectares of the world’s total land area — 300 times more land than that used by the palm oil industry.
“I am not telling people not to eat meat. Just don’t eat so much of it. This is because the same area for growing cattle can produce more than five times the amount of cereal needed to feed the world population,” said the semi-vegetarian.
But to Oh’s relief, Prof Harikrishna had no qualms about the Crab Fried Rice which came with a generous topping of pine nuts and mini anchovies.
“It’s got a nice salty seaside taste to it,” she declared.
Dessert came in the form of a mango and papaya combo and Prof Harikrishna was seen polishing off the fruit with practised elegance.
In that time, Oh gave Prof Harikrishna a short tutorial on how popular Chinese dishes such as yee sang and poon choy were usually served during Chinese New Year.
This was when the truth came out; in the hustle and bustle of a Chinese restaurant, both admitted to missing Irish and English food!
Oh, it seems had spent five years in Ireland and meeting the professor had reminded him of stewed beef. As for Prof Harikrishna, her problem was more easily solved. Her favourite food — fish and chips — is something she can easily make herself.