Shi Li Xiang Hakka 十里香餐室 Restaurant is an unpretentious eatery located in a corner lot along Jalan Keris in Taman Sri Tebrau. Shi Li Xiang is opposite the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and beside Zainal Place (famous for its Hj Wahid Mee Rebus).
Shi Li Xiang was recommended of my foodie friend Joe and I was brought there by makan kaki Kumes. Our buddy Alan Cole was also with us.
Inside Shi Li Xiang restaurant, the decor was basic. The interior was bright, flooded with sunlight and yet it was comfortable with air conditioning. Everything was no frills and practical.
We ordered a few Hakka staples from their extensive menu.
The first dish was "abacus beads" 客家算盘子 which is a Hakka comfort food. The quaint name is because the star of the dish looked like those beads on an abacus (the ancient Chinese calculating device).
I rarely had abacus beads, and even then, only at family homes. Shi Li Xiang's abacus beads felt homemade. The abacus beads were made with tapioca flour and stuffed with a filling of yam paste, minced pork, cuttlefish and dried shrimp. The abacus beads were then stir fried and garnished with shallot crackles and green spring onions.
This is a delicious dish. The abacus beads had a bouncy gummy mouth feel and when we bit through the skin, the filling was savoury and released the homely aroma of yam and dried shrimp.
Of course, we took the opportunity to indulge in Hakka belly pork 扣肉.
The popular dish consists of thick slices of pork belly with layers of skin, fat and lean meat smothered in a blanket of preserved mustard greens bathed in a sauce of dark soy sauce and five spice powder.
The belly pork was tender and the flavour was a blend of sweet and savoury. The fat, in particular, was smokey smooth and melts in your mouth soft. No wonder this dish is so addictive.
Yong Tau Foo 酿豆腐 is probably the best known Hakka dish. Yong Tau Foo can be found in many street corners in Malaysia and Singapore. At Shi Li Xiang, we ordered a mixed plate to try out the various pieces. The heart of Yong Tau Foo is, of course, its fillings.
I am so glad that the Yong Tau Foo fillings at Shi Li Xiang are still made with a blend of minced pork, salted fish, cuttle fish and condiments.
The filling was savoury and had good mouth feel and interesting textures. In the average Yong Tau Foo shops, the filling is made almost entirely with fish paste and had a very different taste.
Our final order was the Hakka deep fried pork. The chunks of pork were marinated with red fermented bean curd and then deep fried. At Shi Li Xiang today, the pork didn't have that deep golden hue which I associate with the best Hakka deep fried pork.
Still, the taste and flavour of Shi Li Xiang's Hakka fried pork was robust and the slightly crispy outside, tender inside bite was pretty "shiok".
My favourite rendition of Hakka deep fried pork is still the one at Kah Kah Loke at Jalan Bakawali in Taman Johor Jaya.
After I got home, a thought came into my mind. I suddenly realised that I missed the spicy and sweet dipping sauce used with Yong Tau Foo when I was a child. Come to think of it, I haven't tasted or smelled that old style Yong Tau Foo sauce aroma anywhere for a long, long time. Got to hunt for this and share.
Our total bill including juices came to a reasonable RM44. We had kept to just a few Hakka traditional staples while Shi Li Xiang's menu is rather extensive, including droolicious looking steamed fish dishes which I saw other customers ordering. I shall remember to order these, the next time.
If you are looking for authentic traditional Hakka food that feels homemade, check out Shi Li Xiang.
Restaurant name: Shi Li Xiang Restaurant 十里香餐室
Address: 93, Jalan Keris, Taman Sri Tebrau, Johor Bahru
Hours: 10:30am to 9:30pm (closed on Weds)
Date visited: 6 Dec 2012