Saturday December 1, 2012
By MICHAEL CHEANG
Fong Lye, which started out 18 years ago as a little Taiwanese restaurant on Jalan Imbi, has grown into a food empire.
IT all began with the promise of a simple, hot, Taiwanese-style home-cooked meal. That was the initial concept of the first ever Fong Lye Taiwanese restaurant on Jalan Imbi in Kuala Lumpur, which opened its doors 18 years ago. The Taiwanese cuisine that is the restaurant’s signature reminded the customers so much of their mother’s cooking that they just kept coming back for more.
“You can never tire of home-cooked food!” said Wang Yu Chi, co-founder of Fong Lye. “Our food is similar to what our mothers would cook at home – simple, convenient and tasty.”
Today, Fong Lye has grown into a veritable food empire, spreading its fresh and simple culinary philosophy via five other branches all around KL. The latest addition to the empire is Fong Lye Taiwan Fusion Cuisine Restaurant, which serves a combination of their usual Taiwanese stir-fried dishes and steamboat along with Japanese-style teppanyaki, and is located on the third floor of The Gardens, Mid Valley City.
The first thing you notice about Fong Lye Fusion is how large the place is. Unlike the smaller and decidedly more cramp Fong Lye Teahouse just in front of it, the new restaurant is a lot more spacious, with lots of space between each table and even a dedicated teppanyaki bar for patrons who want to see the food being cooked in front of them.
It was here that we met the amiable Wang, who was more than happy to share the story of how she and her husband Hsueh Po Jen, both 46, built their business.
Wang, who used to be in the timber industry in Taiwan and hence a frequent traveller to Malaysia, first caught wind of the availability of a little shop on Jalan Imbi 18 years ago, and the couple decided to take the plunge and open their own little restaurant.
“I used to visit KL quite often, and realised that there are a lot of Malaysian Chinese people here who might like our style of home-cooked Taiwanese food. So when I heard about the shop lot, we decided to start a restaurant to introduce our cuisine,” she recalled in Mandarin. “We started out really small, with only about 10 tables in the restaurant.”
Instead of settling for the usual “Taiwanese so-and-so Restaurant” name, the couple decided to call their little restaurant “Fong Lye”, paying tribute to Taiwan’s fabled fertile soil.
“In Taiwan, whatever you grow will flourish, especially the fruits and vegetables, which are all very delicious. That’s why it is sometimes called “fong lye bao dao” (Bountiful Treasure Island),” she said, adding that the shop struggled to gain a footing at first because most Malaysians were not used to Taiwanese style food back then.
“The simpler, basic dishes were not as popular at first – the customers kept asking for their food to be spicier or saltier!” Wang recalled with a laugh.
“Taiwanese food is quite distinct, and we tend to focus a lot on smaller dishes with different flavours. We use a lot of different spices and sauces – even our own chefs had problems remembering all the ingredients at first!”
With Hsueh in the kitchen cooking and Wang handling the daily operations, the restaurant soon began to get quite a number of regular customers, some of whom would come back two or three times a week. As the restaurant grew more popular, and long queues began to form outside their little restaurant, Wang and Hsueh decided that it was time to expand. They opened their first branch in Sri Hartamas, before venturing into The Gardens in 2007.
Realising that their usual dishes were too slow and simple for the traffic at the mall, they decided to import another popular Taiwanese meal style, focusing on fast and small set meals instead. The concept quickly took off, and they have opened another two outlets since – one in Sunway Pyramid and another in Suria KLCC (under the name Kiki), which is the only one of their restaurants that is pork-free.
Not people to rest on their laurels, Hsueh and Wang’s latest addition to the Fong Lye family – Fong Lye Taiwanese Fusion Cuisine Restaurant – is another entirely new concept.
The outlet serves a combination of their usual stir-fried Taiwanese dishes, as well as Taiwanese Steamboat and teppanyaki.
“The food we have here is based on three different styles of cooking which are very popular in Taiwan. First of all, there are the usual fast and simple mini stir-fried dishes, then there is steamboat and teppanyaki,” said Wang. “With the large space we have in this new outlet, we decided to incorporate these three elements of Taiwanese cuisine into a fusion-style restaurant.”
One of the new restaurant’s specialties is the Taiwan Style Stone Pot steamboat set, which is meant for two. For RM78++, you get a full bowl of fresh seafood (including prawns, squid, clams and mussels), as well as fish balls, dumplings and others, which you then cook in a quaint little stone pot on your table. The soup itself is a heady mixture of spicy and rich savoury flavours that get tastier and tastier with each portion of food you cook in it.
Other than that, Fong Lye Fusion also has other steamboat soups such as Spicy Hot Pot, Tomato Soup and even a Taiwan Style Seaweed Health Pot.
We also managed to try some of the mini stir-fried dishes that are part of Fong Lye’s speciality, including the fried squid with basil (pretty decent; just don’t let it sit too long because it tastes a lot better when hot), and the Wok Fried Pork Liver, which was delicious and did not have the overpowering pungency that many pork liver dishes tend to have.
Paired with a bowl of fantastically fragrant fried garlic rice (one of the best I’ve ever had), the affordable selection of stir-fried dishes there would make a nice, simple meal for two.
If you are looking to indulge yourself, however, then you really can’t go wrong with their speciality, teppanyaki-style grilled Australian lobster. Fresh, juicy and extremely tasty, the lobster was definitely the highlight of the meal, and was the perfect example of the focus on freshness and quality that Fong Lye takes pride in.
“One of my jobs is to make sure that the quality of our food is always consistent. We source many of our sauces and spices from Taiwan to make sure a dish tastes as authentic as possible, and as for our vegetables and meats, we try to get them from the best suppliers in Malaysia,” she said, adding that she welcomes all customer feedback, regardless of good or bad.
“We get feedback from our customers all the time, and our chefs would usually go out of the kitchen and talk to the customers as well. If there are any problems with our food, we will try our best to correct it,” she said. She is grateful for the support of her regular customers.
“Our regulars are the ones who are the hardest on us and push us to keep doing our best – they are always the first to complain when something is wrong with the food!” she said with a laugh.
“I have regular customers who are now bringing their grandchildren to the restaurant ... that’s three generations of Malaysians who have been eating at Fong Lye!”
Fong Lye Taiwanese Fusion Cuisine Restaurant is located at Lot T209, 3rd Floor, The Gardens, Mid Valley City, Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-2283 2889).
The original Fong Lye Restaurant is located at 94 Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-245 6061).
Other Fong Lye outlets are at Sri Hartamas (Plaza Prisma Ville, 9 Jalan 19/70a, Tel: 03-6201 7998), The Gardens (Tel: 03-2282 8699), Sunway Pyramid (03-5633 3699) and Kiki Taiwan Cuisine (Level 4, Suria KLCC).