Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ayam Bing (sans the 'ayam')

Barbecue Pork (foreground) and Roast Pork (background)
'Chicken Rice' (Kai/Gai Fan in Cantonese; Kai/Gai = chicken; Fan = rice) is one of my absolute favourite and most craved 'dishes'. In many Chinese establishments, irrespective of the country, the chicken is only one of several main meats offered at 'Chicken Rice' stalls or restaurants. Sure, there are some that specialise in chicken only, but most also serve a medley of roast or barbecue meats. The Poached (Pak Caam Kai) or Roast Chicken (Siu Kai) is most commonly accompanied with Barbecue Pork (Char Siu) and Roast Pork (Siu Yok). Roast Duck (Siu Ngap) is a little harder to come by and Roast Goose (Siu Ngor) is a rare find, in Malaysia.

In my opinion, the success of this dish depends almost as much on the rice, as it does on the meats. If you've ever had really good, fragrant, beautifully flavoured, thinly oiled 'Chicken Rice' rice, you know that you'd be almost as happy eating just the rice with the cucumbers and the tasty sauce that is drizzled over the roast meats. It's just absolutely delicious and a critical component to the dish. 

Roast Pork (foreground) and Barbecue Pork (background)

As with most things in life, however, you can't get it all from one place. I love the rice and roast chicken from the Nasi Ayam Hainan stall in Medan Selera, Taman Melawati, but when I'm craving roast pork, I go to Ayam Bing (ayam = chicken, in Malay) at Sri Rampai. Bing's roast pork is so good that you shouldn't even bother going at lunch time because it's usually sold out by then. I like to get there by 11:00 am, but I am told that they open really early - maybe even before 10:00 am. 

The skin is always deliciously crispy and savoury and the ratio of lean meat to fat and crackling is always perfect. Occasionally, if you're unlucky, you might end up with some pieces that are mostly fat, but that has only happened to me once, and I've been patronising Ayam Bing for over a decade now. The lean portion of the meat is just firm enough - neither too soft, nor too hard/overdone. I only point this out because I had some disappointing roast pork at Crystal Jade Restaurant, Pavilion, a few weeks after that. I am not sure if it was because they picked meat that was too marbled, or they over tenderised it, but the supposed lean portion of the roast pork was far too soft, smooth and texturally similar to the fat portion and the skin was a little sturdier than it should have been. I was not impressed, particularly because if I'm going to pay about RM 30 for a few pieces of roast pork, then it should be nothing short of stellar.

The barbecue pork at Ayam Bing is also pretty tasty, but not outstanding. It is properly caramelised and has the correct smokey, sweet flavour, but is a little too lean and sliced a bit too thinly, and thus fails to deliver the big flavour hit that it could. Nevertheless, Ayam Bing ranks at the top two on my list for best roast pork (the other being Imbi Palace), but if you factor in price, then Ayam Bing wins hands down. I'd take excellent, simple, cheap stuff at a roadside stall over pretentious, polished versions of the same street food at posh restaurants any day.

Restoran Ayam Bing
2B Jalan 46/26
Taman Sri Rampai
Kuala Lumpur 53300

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