I HAVE had lap mei farn five times since the “season” started, and have yet to tire of it. I enjoyed it twice at the Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel and twice at Elegant Inn at Menara Hap Seng, Kuala Lumpur – the two restaurants that many fans would vouch serve the best lap mei farn in town. In my mind, they are like two super bowls going head to head.
The traditional lap mei farn is a simple-to-cook dish that requires no other kitchen skills than boiling a pot of rice. It is the little tweaks and fine-tuning that a chef does that make all the difference.
“We wash and blanch the waxed sausages and belly pork, and steam them for 10 minutes before putting them on top of the rice when it’s almost cooked,” says Shang Palaces Chinese executive chef Tan Kim Weng.
For the waxed duck leg, he trims the fat and blanches and steams it for 20 minutes to reduce its saltiness, before deboning and slicing, and adding to the pot.
“The heat is lowered and the rice continues to cook for about 20 minutes, and the clay pot is turned a few times to ensure the cooking is done evenly.” That’s why you are told there is a wait of 40 minutes when you order the rice.
But it’s worth the wait when the lid is lifted and the aromas of the waxed meats float up and intensify as the rice is stirred with a dark sweet sauce. At Shang Palace, the waxed meats are served separately, on a bed of blanched vegetables.
I love that the meats are sliced to a certain thickness, so that I can savour all their yummy flavours and textures. Here they are sliced a little thicker, just the way I like it. The waxed duck is slightly salty, and the meat is moist and tender.
The duck liver sausage (fun cheong) is lovely and gives off a strong smell of Chinese rose wine – so too the lap cheong. Both are slightly sweet, with the right bite.
In my opinion, the rice is irresistible. And Chef Tan has a “secret” to share: he uses a mix of two types of rice in the pot – short grain Japanese sushi rice and long grain Thai fragrant rice of a certain brand, which he cooks in superior stock. “The rice has to be neither too dry nor too soft, and it cannot be too oily as well.”
Even better is the golden brown, crispy crust at the bottom of the pot. Drizzle it with a little of Chef Tan’s home-brewed sauce – simmered with premium dark and light soya sauces, superior stock and fresh coriander – and let it crackle between your chompers.
The lap mei farn at Shang Palace is robust and lusty; it’s good enough for anyone to throw caution to the wind and abandon their no-carb diet. Little wonder that Chef Tan has diners coming to the Shang Palace two or three times a week just for the lap mei farn.
“My customers tell me they grow fat towards the end of the lap mei farn season,” said the chef with a mirthful laugh.
Over at Elegant Inn, a banner outside the restaurant proclaims that it has the best lap mei farn in the city. It lives up to this claim year after year because its owner Jeannette Han is exacting where the quality of the lap mei is concerned (see main story).
For the lap mei farn at Elegant Inn, the sausages are thinly sliced, as is the waxed duck and waxed belly pork strip.
“The sausages have to be lean, with just a slight rose wine flavour,” says Han.
The delicate goose liver sausage slices are never stirred into the rice, but served separately. It’s a real treat to eat goose liver sausage. I love it for its moist, rich and aromatic bite, and intense, lingering flavours.
I also swear by the superior rice crust here. The drippings from the lap mei trickle down right through to the bottom so it’s very tasty and crisp, and I like how the chef lets it burn slightly.
It’s a 35- to 45-minute wait for a big pot of lap mei farn to be ready and this is an opportune time to try Elegant Inn’s festive specialties of Bountiful Harvest Salmon Losang, Steamed French Sturgeon Belly with Black Olive and Braised Seafood Soup with Golden Bird’s Nest. These are dishes from the various set menus for Chinese New Year available now.
Elegant Inn’s lap mei farn is RM88 for a small portion and RM168 for a big one The set menus start from RM1,288++ for 10 people to RM3,888++. Losang is RM68+ for a half portion and RM108+ for a full portion. Elegant Inn is at 2.01, 2nd floor Podium Block, Menara Hap Seng, Jalan P. Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-2070 9399.
Shang Palace’s lap mei farn is RM78 per portion, and the Winter Delight promotion ends on Jan 29. Lap mei farn is still available during the Chinese New Year but has to be ordered in advance.
From Jan 6, the Shang Palace starts serving six types of yee sang, and offers five Chinese New Year Prosperity set menus. The varieties of yee sang include Fresh Salad Salmon Yee Sang with Sesame Yuzu Dressing, Korean Snow Pear Yee Sang, Jellyfish Flower Yee Sang, Salmon Yee Sang, Japanese Octopus (Tako) Yee Sang and Sliced Abalone Yee Sang. Shang Palace is at the Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Sultan Ismail. For enquiries, call 03-2074 3900.