Note: Our contributor walked around the Imbi Pudu area to sample the famous food trail. Please note that most of the dishes featured in the article are non-halal.
The Imbi area is one of the oldest Chinese neighbourhoods within the city centre. It’s no surprise then that this is the place to go if you’re hankering for some delicious, authentic and affordable local Chinese food.
The best place in Imbi for a great diversity of tasty and affordable choices is the Pudu Integrated Commercial Complex (ICC Pudu).
Regular customers May Jane, Grace Tan and Andy Loh all praised the ICC for the sheer variety of superior quality dishes available under one roof. There are pork-free and vegetarian options available here too.
Be warned, however; many of the best dishes will be gone by noon so get there early!
All under one roof
As you enter ICC Pudu on the ground floor, look right and you will see the tables for the famous Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea & Coffee shop.
Opening coffeeshops was a popular choice for Hainan immigrants in the late-19th and 20th centuries, and the fare became a Malaysian breakfast staple.
Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea & Coffee originally opened in 1964 in what was then Bukit Bintang market, on the site of Lot 10 today. It then moved to Imbi market.
After the ICC was constructed to replace the outdoor Imbi market, the coffee shop became one of the most prominent tenants.
Daily operations are now run by Danny Kam, the grandson of the original founder.
His father and mother are still actively involved in the business, and all three simply radiate friendly energy as they rush around to fulfill all the orders coming in for arguably the most satisfying “roti bakar” (toast with kaya and butter) breakfasts to be had in KL.
The unique quality of the roti bakar meal here comes mainly from their kaya (coconut jam), which has been blended from various types into a signature flavour, and the food’s pairing with their rich specialty tea and coffee combo known as cham.
“Breakfast with toast and butter was introduced by the British, but local coffee shops created their own styles, especially using kaya, which is the version we all know and love today,” Danny says.
Their curry chee cheong fun is also worth a try. The curry is not as thick as some other places make it, and the result is a lighter but equally tasty offering. If you want something heavier, opt for the curry noodles which uses the same sauce.
Another perennial favourite is Ann Nasi Lemak, which also relocated from the now-closed Imbi market. Ann Kweh, founder and chef, still runs the kitchen today, assisted by her daughter, Yuki.
Famous for pairing pork with the traditional Malay dish of nasi lemak, Ann’s offerings usually run out by noon on weekends. Especially popular is nasi lemak with minced pork made with dried shrimp and petai, as well as the pork skin curry.
The neighbourhood vibe of the ICC is another selling point. People greet each other merrily and linger over the day’s gossip.
Andy Loh and his family’s must-stop stall is Anson Chee Cheong Fun. Not only is the food delicious, but the owner went to school with both Andy’s mother and his aunt, and the whole family enjoys catching up every time they visit for a meal at the ICC.
Legendary food trail
At the northern boundary with Bukit Bintang, you will find the Imbi Oversea Restaurant, famed for its char siew (barbecued pork), dim sum and steamboat.
We recommend pairing the steamboat with porridge, so you can drop steamed seafood, like succulent scallops and prawns, on top of the porridge, as soon as it is cooked.
“The steamed seafood and the soup will make the porridge sweet and tasty,” Grace Tan, a communications specialist, says.
“Although there are other branches, the one in Imbi is the most authentic because of its longstanding chef. The char siew manages to achieve the perfect burnt fragrance,” Mr Hong, retired contractor says.
Another Imbi favourite is Wong Mei Kee, which has become legendary in KL for both its siu yuk (roast pork belly) and hailam chicken rice.
This place always has a line so you can expect to wait at least an hour if you order the siu yuk, only available after 12.30 pm.
“Although the siu yuk is prepared around noon, it remains crispy even into the evening. If it lasts that long, before selling out!” May Jane, blogger and Nanyang Siang Pau’s food reviewer, says.
Any food trail in Imbi is not complete without stopping at Sek Yuen. Housed in a Deco-style building on Jalan Pudu, the restaurant, an institution for more than 60 years, has existed since before Malaysia’s Independence.
Two generations of unbeatable handmade Cantonese fare with minimal modifications through the decades has kept the customers coming.
“Some of the dishes are now virtually impossible to find elsewhere,” Mr Ee, a regular customer shares.
Mr Ee recommends the eight treasures duck, but warns that it requires advanced booking. The scrumptious jelly chicken with pork oil is also a must.
Just a short walk away is another gem – Yung Kee Beef Noodles. The original used to operate out of the Kwai Hup coffee shop, but upgraded to its own premises across the street a couple of years ago.
Although the new digs don’t have the same old-world atmosphere, it is cleaner, brighter and more comfortable. Most importantly, the noodles have lost none of their deep, melt in your mouth, beefy goodness.
“The beef noodles are delicious. It’s a very traditional recipe, just like in the good old days,” says Andy Loh, who comes all the way from Bukit Jalil.
The bestseller is brisket, and you can add tendon and beef balls. The bowls sell for between RM10 and RM15 a bowl. There is a dry version of the noodles available, but the hearty and meaty soup option is definitely the superior choice.