KUALA LUMPUR: It was 4pm on a Friday afternoon and the iron grills at Restoran Sek Yuen in Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, were still closed. The staff were taking a well-earned break from being on their feet serving customers all afternoon.
At 5.30pm, hungry customers began to trickle in, log their names, have their temperatures taken and place their orders.
Except for the newly established Covid-19 SOPs, this routine has been going on at Sek Yuen for the past 72 years. It is one of Kuala Lumpur’s oldest surviving restaurants and it specialises in Cantonese cuisine.
In the early 1940s, before Sek Yuen became the institution it is today, three brothers – Phang Chew Kan, Phang Meng Yun and Phang Shue Tang – were selling wantan mee from a mobile hawker cart.
“They settled down here in Jalan Pudu along with a couple of other hawkers and sold their wantan mee. But when the war broke out they fled.
After the war was over, they came back here and restarted their business. Unfortunately, some of the other hawkers never returned. More dishes were added and, in 1948, we officially opened as a restaurant,” said 61-year-old Phang Yew Kee, a third generation Phang and one of the partners of Sek Yuen.
According to Phang, the word “Sek” means a cosy area and “Yuen”, a place to gather or garden. The restaurant remains largely as it was in 1948, except that the original cement floor has been upgraded to tiles.
One notable feature of Sek Yuen are the high ceilings. Phang said that back then, because of the hot weather, ceilings were built high for better ventilation so the space would not get hot and stuffy.
There is a second Sek Yuen right next door to the original restaurant. In the 1970s, the lot next door was acquired and an extension was built that is said to be one of the first air-conditioned eateries in KL.
Another fun fact is that the restaurant was a popular wedding venue in the 1960s.
Sek Yuen has a huge menu, offering about 800 dishes. There are dishes that are suited for a simple and affordable family meal and those that are fit for a king’s banquet, with price tags to match.
Some of these luxurious dishes, such as the Eight Treasure Duck, must be ordered in advance due to their complexity. And there are many dishes that are hard to find anywhere else, possibly in the whole of Malaysia.
Given the vast selection at Sek Yuen it would be easy to miss out on certain must-try dishes during a visit to this storied dining establishment.
A dish that comes to mind is the Cold Jelly Chicken with Jellyfish, which is hard to find anywhere else in the Klang Valley. It tastes surprisingly good and, because it is served cold, it could be a great dish to eat on a hot afternoon.
It helps that the jellied chicken is accompanied by crunchy jellyfish in a secret, special sauce created by the kitchen crew at Sek Yuen.
The sauce has a hint of mayonnaise and a sweet and savoury flavour that goes well with the cool jelly. Scoop up a generous spoonful of the sauce and drizzle it on the rice, cut a piece of jellied chicken and enjoy the unique flavour.
As a Cantonese restaurant, it goes without saying that roast meats are a must, and Sek Yuen’s Pei Pa Duck deserves a moment in the spotlight.
Named after the Chinese stringed musical instrument, the duck is roasted to brown perfection with its skin crisp and the meat juicy.
Unlike the typical roast duck or the famous Peking Duck, Pei Pa Duck is split open and flattened to resemble the pipa before being marinated and roasted.
Enjoy crunching on the roast skin, before cutting into the juicy meat and dipping it into the lemon sauce served alongside.
For those looking for something more bite-sized, the Handmade Crab Balls are surely deserving of attention. Every bite of these little morsels is a celebration of flavour and the distinct taste of seafood.
And what would a meal be without a tasty vegetable dish to go along with the meaty main course? Sek Yuen has a dish that offers the best of both worlds in its Stir-Fried Leek Flower with Roast Pork.
A simple but delicious offering, the scrumptious roast pork blends well with the crunchy leeks, which can actually be quite addictive. It would be a surprise if the plate is not picked clean by the end of the meal.
So, the next time some good food in the heart of the city is on the menu, try Sek Yuen, for the adage “old is gold” certainly rings true here.
Restoran Sek Yuen (Non-halal)
313 Jalan Pudu
55100 Kuala Lumpur.
11:30am- 2pm, 5:30pm-10pm (Closed on Mondays)
Contact: (03) 9222 0903