Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Yen King Restaurant and Social Connections


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This is the first "big" restaurant in Sibu established when Sibu expanded just before the 1963 formation of Malaysia. One of its many attractions besides being in a new building was that it was fully air-conditioned, a new thing at that time. Owned by the Tong family and operating at the new Wong Nai Siong Road its food was "cheap" then considering that the total meal could cost only %25 and as whole chicken $5 only!!

But then in those days money was big!! And things were dirt cheap!A kati of corn for chickens was only 8 cents. I used to load my bike with 10 katis of corn in a paper bag every week.

If you look at this old advertisement you can see that it advertised its Peking Chicken. Perhaps many well travelled Foochows then already knew about Peking Duck (now made more famous by the Beijing Olympics 2008) but this Peking Chicken was the rave at that moment.

The Yen King Shark's Fin soup was nice I remember. No Foochow dinner even today can go by without this signature dish. It was just so wonderful to eat shark's fin.

But nowadays I do not eat Shark's Fins any more ever since I saw a mother shark being sliced open by a huge cleaver in the Miri fish market next to the Tua Pek Kong Temple and her baby sharks floated out of her ambionic fluid filled open stomach. I saw her giving me a very motherly stare. The baby sharks shrieked with fear on the very unfriendly pavement and the mother fluttered her eye lids again. If only she could talk. The men laughed loudly and started to count the number of baby sharks! It was tragic that they did not have any maternal feelings for child birth. It is pitiful that to them life is only dollars and cents and not blood and tears.

Most families would entertain their visitors with a table of good food (8 courses at least including the complimentary fruit platter) in this restaurant. Many bridegrooms had to consent to throwing a wedding banquet here. And most birthdays were celebrated here. Hence this restaurant made its fortune in the its first five years because it was the best and newest in town.

In due time other restaurants and hotels started to catch up and the restaurant competition went on. All had to find a niche market . Besides they must have certain signature dishes. And chefs had to leave their barefoot image behind by going "overseas" to learn new dishes.

I must admit that my family always had good and memorabloe meals there when it became fashionable to eat out towards the later part of the 70's before Blue Splendour became THE PLACE to be seen.(LOL) Sometimes three weddings could be concurrently held there and quite often some guests (who could not read Chinese)might just sit in the wrong compartment! A few crafty people I heard had some free meals from time to time and no one would be the wiser.

Cheapness and special rates must also be all the restaurants' forte otherwise the Sibu folks would not consider them as their venue for any celebration. In days to come political connection became very important so the towkays became party members.

Sibu thus became a town of obvious and blatant "connections" way ahead of many other cities in Malaysia .

One could see it very clearly when one went to restaurants like Yen King Restaurant and other Sibu restaurants. I might not be exaggerating if I say that you could see the lines of connections too obviously. We used to say that some people would shout about their wealth and connections from the roof top but in Sibu it was more or less just from the tables laden with good food.

If you have the right connection you might even get a free dinner some one once told me. But usually ordinary people like us have to pay everything including the 15% tax.

But one must always remember that the Yen King Restaurant was indeed the first modern and up to the mark restaurant trying its best to beat the traditional all time favourite Hock Choo Leu.

2 memories:

Alex said...

Good day. First thing i must say, although i do not read chinese i'm very excited to see that piece of newspaper cutting. Do you presently own it?

I do not eat sharks fin soup anymore too.Stopped when i was 14. Yes, the sharks fin soup from yien king is probably one of the best out there :)

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