Teach me…

In the good old days, nobody went to schools or colleges to learn the culinary arts.

If it was a family business, they helped out at the shop or stall and picked up the skills from their parents or elders, the ones who would teach them everything. If they were working for somebody, they would start from the bottom with the menial tasks like peeling and slicing onions, cutting the vegetables and what not and with the teaching and guidance from their peers and seniors, they eventually graduated into the actual cooking.

No, there were no qualified or certified chefs then, no Michelin stars, nothing – just real hard work, sweat and toil and true grit but were they able to dish out really awesome dishes? That, of course, goes without saying and some of the dishes were so good that none today, even with their list of credentials, could replicate.

All this came to mind when we went out for dinner here…

Hai Bing Seafood, new

…last Friday night to celebrate my girl’s birthday.

This is the sparkling new branch of this old place

Hai Bing Coffee Shop, original

…that has been around for such a long time but nothing has changed there since Day 1, this dark, unimpressive place with no decor whatsoever to shout about but what it lacked in appearance, it more than made up for it with the awesome dishes they serve here, notably its crabs – second to none. Why, as a matter or fact, my West Malaysian blogger-friends loved it so much and chose it to be, in their opinion, the best in town!

The new place is very nice, very spacious – I love its simplicity, not horrendously over-decorated like some places and it is so white, so clinically clean. They do not have a lot of tables, those marble top ones with simple but beautifully-designed chairs, which I feel is a good thing at this point in time. Even if they had a full house, there would still be a lot of spaces in between the tables to swing a cat! There were at least 10 tables that night but it did not feel like there were so many people – otherwise, I would have left and gone some place else.

Of course we HAD to have the crabs and for a change, I ordered the Singapore chili crab (RM120.00)…

Hai Bing Singapore chili crab

…instead of their usual style that everyone here is very familiar with. I asked what their going price for crabs was and the young man said RM120.00. Gosh!!! And I thought what I bought that day at RM80.00 a kg was expensive – and those were huge ones. What we had that night were rather small, nothing much to eat and it certainly did not taste anything like those very nice ones I had way back in 1973 at Bedok or Changi with French baquette to dip into the wonderful gravy to enjoy.

No, we did not have any of those loaves, just golden-fried mantao (RM4.00 for a set of 4)…

Hai Bing Seafood, golden fried mantao

Well, there were 6 of us so I had to request for 2 sets so there would be enough to go round.

According to the guy, this is the chef’s signature dish, his golden beancurd (RM15.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood, golden tofu

…and yes, we all thought it was nice. The tofu was yellowish, not white, inside so my guess was that it was their own-made egg tofu or what people call Japanese tofu. I would say that it was like something you can expect at a classy Chinese restaurant, most likely in a hotel or some Hong Kong franchise – not that great but not entirely all that shabby either.

Their Thai-style Mango three-layer pork (RM20.00)…

Thai-styl mango three-layer pork

…was all right but nowhere near the Thai-style mango chicken here – that one there is definitely a class above this one. Why, this one did not even look half as nice. As a matter of fact, for a place like this, I would expect more effort in their presentation, not the dump-in-the-plate-and-serve impression that I got.

My girl said the salty crusty prawns (RM58.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood salty crusty prawns

…were nice but the rest felt there are a lot of places around town that can do it a whole lot better than this and a whole lot more cheaply too even when they use those huge udang galah (freshwater prawns) like this place here.

We had two vegetable dishes, the baby kai lan, ching chao/fried plain (RM15.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood baby kai lan ching chao

…and the sambal kangkong (RM15.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood sambal kangkong

…both of which I did not get to try as there were so many things to eat but the ladies said they were o.k.

They also loved the zao cai fresh fish soup (RM25.00)…

Hai Bing Seafood zao cai fresh fish soup

…but good grief!!! It was so so so very sour that I had a sip and left the rest in the bowl. My brother-in-law shared the exact same sentiments. I guess guys do not like sour things all that much but honestly, if it was dependent on the preserved vegetables for its sour taste, it would not be so sour, no way! I don’t know what was added to it and personally, I did not think it tasted anything like our traditional Foochow zao cai soup, far from it!

While we were eating, I saw the chef stepping out of the kitchen to have a look at the customers enjoying what he had dished out. He was dressed in his white chef uniform, complete with his tall chef hat. I am quite sure he has all the formal qualifications of a chef to show but I’m afraid I did not think what we had that night, on the whole, was anything to shout about, nothing to get us rushing back for more.

The aforementioned guy, who took our orders, happened to be that same guy at the very nice chicken rice place (they’re all inter-related, one way or another) and he did ask me how the food was and I was very straightforward and honest in my reply, “Much nicer at the old place!” Indeed, what we can get there or at any cheap restaurant or chu char (cook & fry) stall in a coffee shop from the cooks doing all the cooking, not professional qualified chefs, would be a whole lot nicer.

It did not matter that the bill, inclusive of rice and drinks, came up to RM290.00 but I had my hopes up high, hoping that it would be so good as I wanted something really very special to celebrate my girl’s birthday. Unfortunately, what we had kind of dampened our happy mood over those two days but at least we tried and now we know. Maybe we did not know what to order as looking at the photographs on their Facebook page, some of the dishes look really good. Would we take the chance to go back there again to try? Probably not. Once bitten, twice shy!

HAI BING SEAFOOD since 1980 (2.290414, 111.820900) is located at No. 5, Lorong Lau King Howe 1. Tel. No.: 084-311975.

Author: suituapui

Ancient relic but very young at heart. Enjoys food and cooking...and travelling and being with friends.

11 thoughts on “Teach me…”

  1. Of all the above dishes, only 2 looks appealing to me, golden beancurd and Thai style Mango 3 layer pork. For me, crabs will be out of the list when dining outside. Come to think of the sourish zao cai fresh fish soup, it reminds me of the zai cai hung ngang I had once at Peach Garden. I think instead of adding preserved vegetable they add more vinegar to make it sourish, save cost, just my personal opinion.

    I don’t know what they added. There was a lot of the zao cai, enough to make the soup sour enough. I’ve had very sour tom yam soup and it was all right, I was o.k. with it – maybe they used lemon or lime, not vinegar.

    If the crabs were big, lots of meat to enjoy, I sure would not mind getting my fingers dirty! In the end, I just ate the mantao with the gravy…mostly.

  2. Wow the sauce of that Singapore chili crab!

    That was what I ate…with the mantao – I last had it in Singapore in 1973 and I remember it to be nicer, dunno…so long ago!!!

  3. a happy belated birthday to your daughter 🙂 some of the dishes do look delicious in the photos, and i would happily lap up that thick gravy for the crabs. i guess without the crabs tho, that meal would have seemed a lot more reasonably priced!

    Not the prawns – RM58 is way too expensive for those tiny shrimps. The price for the crab would be all right if they had been big with lots of meat, most disappointing. Thanks for the birthday wishes!

  4. The zao cai fish soup supposed to be so sour??

    Dishes all looked good. I had crabs last weekend at my parents’ house. Big and meaty. Don’t know how much per kg as my dad and bro went to tapau lunch to eat at home.

    It did not even have the fragrance and taste of the zao cai – it was just so so so so so sour! I had a sip, no more!

    I would buy the crabs again if I see any at the shop near my house and I would not complain it’s expensive anymore, worth it!!! They tell me they are selling crabs, all with eggs at the kampung here…frozen alive, from Sabah, only around RM40 a kilo but some say those are farmed ones. I sure would not want to buy!!!

  5. Chili crabs! My mom’s favourite! I would hv finish up all the gravy with just the mantou. The prawns are so expensive!

    Happy belated birthday to your girl!

    Thanks. Yes, I thought the prawns were grossly overpriced, small, not all that succulent and juicy. My missus said she had one, didn’t like it and that was it – did not have anymore.

    Even how it was cooked was not great…and they could have done something about the presentation – a few leaves of lettuce underneath perhaps plus a couple thin slices of tomato. So disappointing!

  6. What a nice birthday celebration for your beloved girl! Though the food may not be as good as those whipped up by old school cooks, I am sure it was still enjoyable nevertheless.

    It was o.k. but none that made us go wowwwwww…this is so good, not at all. The soup especially was a disaster!

  7. RM 120? I thought crabs were supposed to be cheaper in East Malaysia? O.o

    This is the restaurant’s going price – never known to be cheap but usually big and meaty and succulent at the old place – what we had that night was a disgrace, definitely not worth the price.

    I dunno how much at the market but I bought huge ones from the shop near my house for RM80 a kg, smaller ones (they did not look that small) for RM65 a kg.
    A friend told me that she gets her frozen crabs from Sabah at a place here – they freeze them alive and send over or something, ALL WITH EGGS…only around RM40 a kg but some people tell me they’re the farmed ones so no, I am not keen on going to buy.

    I wonder how much the going prices are over in the peninsula! I hear you all get them cheap from Sri Lanka…or Indonesia. Are those fresh or farmed like the ones from Sabah?

    I just saw on Lazada, over at your side RM158.00 for 700/800 gm, not up to 1 kg…for a set of two. So yes, crabs ARE cheaper over here. Period!

  8. It’s interesting listening to older chefs share their stories of training – some are actually horrifying tales!

    Is that so? When they worked under people like Mr Ramsey? LOL!!!

All opinions expressed in my blog are solely my own, that is my prerogative - you may or may not agree, that is yours. To each his/her own. For food and other reviews, you may email me at sibutuapui@yahoo.com

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: