PETALING JAYA, Aug 13 — Kenny’s Food Cart’s origin story reads like a movie script... a young man’s wanderlust inspired by a movie and of course, food!
When he was in his 20s, Alex Lock May Onn, 69, was earning a good paycheck as an engineer at a cement plant in Chemor. However, money became a secondary concern when his friend died after breathing in too much concrete dust.
Fearful for his own life, Alex decided a change was needed.
Inspired by a popular 1980s HK movie Chicken and Duck Talk that depicted the goings-on of a roast duck restaurant, he decided to relocate to London to work in a Chinese restaurant.
The city was an obvious choice for Alex since he had a nephew studying there. He tells us that he learned how to cook Sichuanese and Cantonese food in London.
This also included crispy duck, a London favourite. Through his boss’s father, Alex also learned how to make HK-style porridge, the backbone of Kenny’s Food Cart’s business.
Alex finally returned to Malaysia in 1991 to reunite with his wife and children. He did a short stint as a chef within the hotel circuit.
When the hotel wanted to transfer him to their other locations in the country, he felt it wasn’t right to be so far away since he had two young sons.
Armed with his knowledge, he decided to open up a stall in 1992 in SS4, PJ or what most of us call the Alisan hawker street. He selected porridge since a survey of the market’s offerings revealed that it wasn’t found in most places.
Alex pulled in customers with his reasonably priced crab porridge and special items like HK-style chai yu (dried fish) porridge and his signature Teng Chai Chuk (boat porridge). He also gained favour with many Malay customers as his porridge was pork-free.
Assisting him at the stall is Alex’s son, Kenny Lock Weng Heng, 32. He has been helping out his father since he was young. Rather than pursue a formal culinary education, Kenny preferred to learn the ropes from his father.
This June, they moved to a proper shophouse in Aman Suria. Kenny explained that it was easier for them to set up a permanent brick-and-mortar place since the food stall took too much effort and time to assemble every day.
The business is a partnership with Kenny’s school friends; Ivan Teoh and Natalie Leanna, both 32, who manage the front of house. Not one to forget their roots, you can still find their faithful food cart taking prime spot in their kitchen...just like the old days.
To cater to the crowd around this area, the menu has shed its pork-free label. Previously just catering to the night crowd, the eatery also serves lunch now.
The main menu offers various types of porridge and noodles. In addition, at the request of their customers, they now offer a few classic Cantonese dishes. You also have their blackboard specials that rotate depending on availability of produce.
What you will find is the porridge served here has a nice thick texture. Kenny explains to us that the secret to their porridge is the boiling time and the heat of the fire.
You can find him closely monitoring the cooking progress of the porridge since a strong fire is used. It’s imperative otherwise the porridge may scorch which will ruin the taste. The duo also don’t take any shortcuts such as blending cooked rice with water; the porridge is slowly cooked for up to four hours to achieve its thickness.
Their signature Teng Chai Chuk (RM8) is what put their stall on every food lover’s map. What’s special about this simple dish are thinly sliced carrots and wood ear fungus that give it a nice crunchy texture.
It’s beautifully arranged with an array of goodies like century egg, peanuts, crunchy fried vermicelli, fried ikan bilis, sliced fried fish paste and chopped spring onions.
On the blackboard, you also find various specials including a Dried Veggie Porridge (RM8) that is packed with flavour from dried cuttlefish, peanuts and nuggets of minced meat.
Other porridge choices include dried oyster with sliced fish, shredded chicken with sliced fish etc. You can also add fried fish head. The place also serves salmon fish head, sourced from Japanese restaurants so it is sashimi-grade.
For those who love their rice, order up a portion of Lardy Rice (RM7.50) — rice topped with fried pork lard, minced pork and braised shiitake mushrooms. What makes it exceptional is the texture of the fried pork lard; fluffier and lighter.
Kenny attributes this to the way they fry the pork lard, a family secret used since the days his grandmother had a chicken rice stall in Perak.
Don’t dismiss the pale-looking Cantonese Style Loh See Fun (RM8), as it’s incredibly addictive with the mixture of fried dried prawns and shallots. Kenny tells us he was inspired by a stall in Ipoh that serves these noodles cooked with charcoal fire.
The creamy sauce mixed with the short rice flour “mouse tails” is best eaten with a spoon to slurp up every drop. Seriously good comfort food!
A must-have side item is the fried fish paste (RM8). Pop a piece into your mouth and you won’t stop until your plate is empty. Kenny tells us that it is made from a mixture of red snapper, mackerel and chicken.
The use of chicken versus pork imparts a spongier texture to the fish paste that is deep fried. The eatery also makes full use of whole fish that they purchase. The bones are used to make stock while the fish flesh is used for the porridge and to make their fish paste.
Kenny’s Food Cart
K-G-11, Jalan PJU 1/43
Aman Suria Damansara
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6pm to 10pm. Closed on Mondays