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Poon choi with a twist: Restaurants in Malaysia pivot Chinese New Year offerings amid COVID-19 curbs

KUALA LUMPUR: It was a busy morning for Tham Peng Cheong, his spouse Sow Kwee Choo and the kitchen employees at Yu Yi Bak Kut Teh as they rushed to organize a number of bowls of poon choi for supply.

Mdm Sow, 67, organized 26 sorts of meat, seafood and vegetable substances that make up their poon choi dish and handed every completed bowl to a employee to wrap them in cling movie and aluminum foil. 

Meanwhile, Mr Tham, 67, fished out a bundle of insulated luggage, and as soon as the bowls had been prepared, they packed them into the luggage. Then there have been a number of vacuum-sealed packets of bak kut teh gravy and a complimentary field of yee sang (or yusheng) to be delivered as effectively. 

“Sometimes we begin work a lot sooner than this, particularly if there are a lot of deliveries to make,” Mdm Sow advised CNA. 

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Mdm Sow doing a little final minute arranging on some units of poon choi due for supply the identical day at Yu Yi Bak Kut Teh. (Photo: Vincent Tan)

READ: Malaysia eases COVID-19 restrictions for Chinese New Year reunion dinner, days after announcing new curbs

Poon choi, or pen cai, is a festive dish common in Hakka and Cantonese communities. The communal dish has layers of various substances and is historically served in a giant picket, porcelain or metallic basin referred to as poon.

This yr, it appears to have turn into much more common as a Chinese New Year dish, with many eating places rolling out poon choi a simple, one-pot competition feast. 

With dining-in limited to groups of two people underneath Malaysia’s second motion management order (MCO), eating places see takeaway poon choi as a option to drive gross sales throughout a quiet yr. For meals at residence, as much as 15 individuals from the identical household are allowed to assemble. 

The 37-year-old Yu Yi Bak Kut Teh used to have two shops in Kuala Lumpur. However, Mr Tham mentioned the department in Jalan Kuching was shut final yr, as they needed to consider maintaining their unique restaurant in the town centre working. 

READ: Away from their families, Malaysians in Singapore brace themselves for a quiet Chinese New Year

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Yu Yi Bak Kut Teh’s poon choi providing contains 26 substances, mixed with the well-known natural bak kut teh flavours common in the Klang Valley. (Photo: Vincent Tan)

Previously, the restaurant didn’t do any Chinese New Year promotion, as its focus was extra on vacationers. 

But with worldwide journey principally out of the query, the restaurant needed to “quickly change our focus in order to survive”, mentioned Mdm Sow. 

The store can be selling its easy-to-make, DIY bak kut teh packs. “Doing the poon choi meant we could promote this as a ‘one dish, two different flavours’ concept,” mentioned Mr Tham. 

“POON CHOI EMBODIES FAMILY REUNION”


Across city in Petaling Jaya on the 8-month-old Tavern Hotpot, proprietor Michael Tan, 28 and his workers had been busy fielding calls from patrons for his poon choi and hotpot mixture. 

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The Tavern Hotpot’s proprietor, Michael Tan, poses with a few of the substances the restaurant is providing as a part of their Poon Choi promotion. (Photo: Vincent Tan)

READ:Malaysia’s private hospitals step up to fight COVID-19 as cases surge 

“Poon choi embodies the idea of the family reunion. Usually during Chinese New Year eve, it would be mum cooking, or if we order from outside, it will usually be poon choi because the ingredients are more premium and the taste will be quite standard, but good,” Mr Tan mentioned.

His rendition of poon choi comes collectively with a entire hotpot serving, with prospects in a position to select from platters of beef and pork stomach, or a choice of seafood, together with giant freshwater prawns and an assortment of fish slices.

“The idea is that you order the poon choi for a family meal, then if you can’t finish, you wrap them up in the refrigerator.

“The collected gravy from the earlier steaming combines with the double-boiled abalone soup we’ve created for this promotion, and you can have hotpot for the second meal too,” he defined. 

He mentioned that one purpose to supply a poon choi and scorching pot mixture was to strive to distinguish the restaurant from different eating shops’ Chinese New Year offerings. “We are a hotpot place and if we were to offer just hotpot again for Chinese New Year, it would seem very ordinary.”

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After the poon choi is consumed, the gravy could be reused for a second hotpot meal, the place diners can throw in substances, comparable to these giant freshwater prawns. (Photo: Vincent Tan) 

Together, he and his employees examined varied soup bases, from clam soup to tomato and even Sarawak laksa base, which was a chef specialty.

“But in the tip, we determined to go with abalone, as a result of for a particular dish like this, you may’t stray too far,” said Mr Tan. 

READ: Shah Alam eatery draws diners with Sarawak delights and laksa ‘wrapped’ in omelette 

RUSHING TO FILL ORDERS

In Penang, the 13-year-old T&T Prawn Mee, so named after its married proprietors’ surnames – Terence Tiow and Catherine Tang, is also selling poon choi but with the state’s trademark prawn mee soup base.


While business in Penang has been slow this year, mainly due to many restaurants marketing poon choi for the festive season, Mr Tiow, 47 said there has been a surge in interest from the Klang Valley. In fact, the latter forms the bulk of orders in the lead up to Chinese New Year, he added.

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T&T Prawn Mee’s poon choi set, which contains conventional substances comparable to prawns, broccoli, abalone and pork is paired with a prawn mee soup base. (Photo: T&T Prawn Mee)

“Even then, I only dare to ship about 10 sets of poon choi to Kuala Lumpur every day. And today, when you called me, it’s the last day of outstation deliveries. I still have less than 10 pots left, but those have all been reserved for customers in Penang,” mentioned Mr Tiow on Monday (Feb 8).

Poon choi served with a prawn mee soup base has truly been a seasonal staple for the previous 5 years. “The idea to serve poon choi came up after a local food blogger who came to write about our claypot prawn mee, asked us to consider expanding the idea to include poon choi,” Mr Tiow recounted.

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T&T Prawn Mee proprietor Terence Tiow (picture) with a giant Poon Choi set. (Photo: T&T Prawn Mee) 

READ: Crispy chicken cracklings the star ingredient in this halal Hokkien mee in Petaling Jaya

It can be going to be a busy time for Mr Tan and his employees, who plan to begin work earlier over the last couple of days earlier than Chinese New Year, packing and sending out their poon choi hotpot.

“People need the substances as recent as doable, that’s why you get a lot of last-minute orders and enquiries,” Mr Tan said.

For the bak kut teh establishment, the poon choi dish has been sold out on the eve of Chinese New Year. “In fact, we’re trying to tell potential customers to come by and pick up from our shop on Feb 10, said Mdm Sow.

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