KUALA LUMPUR: It is 2pm and the lunch rush at the busy Yut Kee kopitiam in Jalan Kamunting is finally over. A couple of regulars have straggled behind, waiting patiently for their regular cup of jet-black coffee to be enjoyed with a Hainanese dessert or two.
Their parents and grandparents are likely to have enjoyed exactly the same post-lunch treats because the recipes here have not changed in 92 years.
There is a deep sense of nostalgia in the air, with faded newspaper and magazine clippings proudly displayed on the walls of the kopitiam.
At the counter, 41-year-old Meryvn Lee, the restaurant’s third-generation owner, cheerfully greets hungry customers by name, a testament to Yut Kee’s loyal patronage.
Although it looks like Yut Kee has always been operating from this spacious three-storey outlet, this particular kopitiam is only six years old.
In 2014, Yut Kee relocated from the 86-year-old building it occupied in Jalan Dang Wangi and its loyal customers followed.
“It all started when my grandfather migrated from Hainan Island, China. He was a chef for the Choo Kia Peng family. He ran the restaurant until he died in 1947.
“My dad was just three years old (when he came to Malaysia). My grandfather’s three wives took it upon themselves to run the business until my dad came of age in the mid-1970s. I joined the family business full-time in 2003,” said Lee.
Yut Kee’s menu has remained unchanged since 1928, he said, with the exception of the beef noodles and beef stew, which were introduced in the late 1990s.
The delicious Roast Pork Roll was put on the menu 13 years ago, and is only available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday because the preparation for this delicacy is time consuming.
The kopitiam’s signature dessert is its buttery Marble Cake and scrumptious Kaya Rolls that Lee takes pride in baking in-house. The rich, aromatic kaya is also homemade, using the traditional double-boil method as dictated by the recipe passed down through generations.
Assuming a table can be found at breakfast time, a perfect way to start the day would be with a serving of hot toast with homemade kaya.
The freshly toasted bread is soft and light as air, unlike the usual store-bought loaves while the kaya has a thick yet easily spreadable texture and is richly flavoured.
For hungry carnivores, try the gastronomical wonder that is Roti Babi. The bread is chewy and tasty, but it is the filling of shredded and ground pork, Chinese sausage, onions and crabmeat that makes it a crowd favourite.
All tables are provided with a bottle of Worcestershire sauce that is said to be the perfect accompaniment with the Roti Babi.
The lunchtime crowd often comes in search of Yut Kee’s Hainanese Chicken Chop that is head over shoulders above the competition.
The flavourful gravy, the tender chicken with its crusty top that is to be enjoyed with the sides of potatoes and mixed vegetables, makes for a hearty meal that is quite unforgettable.
It should be mentioned that the portions are generous, so best come ravenous or share with friends.
If you’re a fan of all things seriously spicy, the Belacan Fried Rice should be right up your alley. This dish is best eaten with cili padi, just for that added kick.
Lum Mee, a noodle dish more commonly associated with Penang, also deserves a mention. This dish is served with yellow noodles bathed in a thick gravy of seafood, with a generous garnish of prawns, fish and crabmeat.
The stir-fried Hailam Mee at Yut Kee is a strong contender for the best noodles in Kuala Lumpur. Cooked with fresh pork, squid, fishcake and vegetables, this variant of Hailam Mee is prepared dryer than the usual fare one may be used to.
The noodles are stir-fried until the stock is completely absorbed into each strand, resulting in extremely lip-smacking flavour that you can’t get enough of.
“I am the third generation running this place and I have seen fifth-generation customers. It’s nice to be able to see this continuity and the evolution of families,” says Lee.
Will Yut Kee continue serving traditional Hainanese dishes for another 92 years?
Lee is unsure. “I truly appreciate the support we have received throughout the years, which has allowed us to operate even during the Movement Control Order.
“My joy comes from meeting people and running this place but, honestly, it is a means to an end for me.
“Do I want this for my daughter? I would leave that option entirely to her, but I am prepared to call it a day when the time comes. To quote Luke Skywalker, “It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
Yut Kee Restaurant (Non-halal)
1 Jalan Kamunting
50300 Kuala Lumpur
7.30am-3pm (closed on Mondays)