BY CK Lam

Poon choi or Big Bowl Feast is an indulgent affair with layers of ingredients in fragrant gravy. It is believed that this traditional dish originated in China, and the name of the dish came from the distinctive basin-like pot in which it was cooked and served.

There are only a handful of places serving this dish in Penang and one of them is Zi Zai Restaurant. Our group of 13 made our way to the restaurant  in Paya Terubong to try its traditional poon choi.

Treasure pot of Poon Choi goodness at Zi Zai by CK Lam at what2seeonline.com

The large poon choi is served in a metal basin, with layers of seafood and meat and its combination of   textures, flavours and colours. According to owner-cum-chef   Tan Hock Chai, the ingredients are cooked using different methods such as  braising, steaming, poaching, roasting and deep-fried.

The list of ingredients is not short. Among them are abalone slices, sweet-and-sour prawns, deep fried Hock Chiew fish balls, deep fried snapper fillet, broccoli, roast duck, chicken in sesame oil, sea cucumber, fish maw, black mushrooms, braised pork belly, yam, Chinese radish and Chinese cabbage. The dish is kept warm on a portable tabletop stove as it is being served. We enjoyed different flavours, starting from the top layer of abalone, followed by the prawns. We especially loved the prawns, served with the shell intact which helps to retain the flavour.

Treasure pot of Poon Choi goodness at Zi Zai by CK Lam at what2seeonline.com

Dig into a ‘basin’ filled with layers of seafood and meat, and rich gravy

 

The third and fourth layers are deep-fried items  such as homemade Hock Chew fish balls and snapper fillet. We almost ate the meal standing up, digging our chopsticks deeper down to the layer of chicken and roast duck. Next was the fish maw, mushrooms, sea cucumber, braised pork belly and yam. The Chinese radish and Chinese cabbage make up the last two most flavorful layers.

The ingredients blend in beautifully with each other, giving  the dish balance. We did not pass up the fragrant gravy which had a hint of oyster sauce, soy sauce and nam yue (red fermented beancurd) and enjoyed it with steamed rice.

Poon choi is a scrumptious dish which is hard to forget with its rich taste and elaborate preparation. It has to be ordered a day ahead. There are two sets of poon choi at Zi Zai; the half portion is RM258nett and serves four to five;  while the full portion, at RM400nett, serves 10 to 12. Any change to the standard  ingredients in the poon choi can be done with additional cost according to the ingredients. Both set comes with complimentary steamed rice  and herbal tea.

Treasure pot of Poon Choi goodness at Zi Zai by CK Lam at what2seeonline.com

 

Besides the poon choi, we had a couple of   seafood dishes — stir-fried lala and assam prawn. The stir-fried lala in Zi Zai is done with sambal and ginger. The generous plate of  assam prawns (RM32)  left a slightly lingering sourish flavour of the tamarind.

Treasure pot of Poon Choi goodness at Zi Zai by CK Lam at what2seeonline.com

Sir-fried lala at RM12

Treasure pot of Poon Choi goodness at Zi Zai by CK Lam at what2seeonline.com

Assam prawns (RM32)

 

For poultry, we had the belacan chicken wings (RM16)  which had been marinated and deep-fried till crispy, yet with succulent.

Treasure pot of Poon Choi goodness at Zi Zai by CK Lam at what2seeonline.com

 

The meal included plates of stir-fried yao mak (RM10) and bean sprouts with salted fish (RM12). The heads and roots of the sprouts were removed.

Treasure pot of Poon Choi goodness at Zi Zai by CK Lam at what2seeonline.com

Treasure pot of Poon Choi goodness at Zi Zai by CK Lam at what2seeonline.com

Stir-fried Yao Mak with garlic RM10

 

Restoran Zi Zai has been around for two years. The restaurant is open only during dinner time, from 4pm till 10.30pm and it’s closed on Tuesdays. Click here for the Map Location.

Zi Zai Restaurant (自在饭店)
1239-G Ground Floor
Jalan Paya Terubong
11600 Penang

Tel: 04 8265713  (Mr. Tan Hock Chai)

GPS Coordinates: 5.387212,  100.274013

* Many thanks to Criz for laying on this invitation.

* This is a reproduction of my article published in New Straits Times

 

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 am and is filed under Air Itam, Chinese, Chu Char, Invited Review, Media Preview, New Straits Times (Northern Streets), Non-Halal, Penang. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 comments so far

 1 

You know, I have always wanted to try this poon choy (as we call it in Cantonese) dish but never had the chance yet. The trick is getting the numbers! :D

P.S. Do let me know the next time you’re in KL, dear. Time to catch up for makan/yumcha! :)

November 23rd, 2011 at 3:48 pm
 2 

I’d tried Poon Choy once… .by the time we finishing it, honestly, we can’t have others.

November 24th, 2011 at 6:13 pm
 3 

P.P.S. Had a dream of poon choy the other day… a daydream, that is! LOL

(I was just being a glutton, as usual.)

November 28th, 2011 at 9:50 pm
 4 

I had the smaller version (RM258) ordered home some time back~ Seven of us could hardly finish it on top of the belacan chicken and stir fried vegetables side dishes we had… It’s a great bargain indeed.

December 1st, 2011 at 9:29 am
 5 

like Poon Choy…i even tried to cook it up once a couple years back…it took me 3hrs….might try it again this coming CNY…. Happy New Year 2012…have a great year :)

January 2nd, 2012 at 2:28 am
James Tan
 6 

Been to Zi Zai restaurant few times, having the big poon choi with abalone.. yummylicious assam prawn, yuanti, lala, gulai tumis fish and many many more… Highly recommended for good food lover

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Zi-Zai-Restaurant-%E8%87%AA%E5%9C%A8%E9%A5%AD%E5%BA%97/120393114693331

January 9th, 2012 at 7:48 pm
Kelvin Loh
 7 

Zi Zai Restaurant, very nice place and serve with nice food. The phoon choi very nice, worth to eat~ and the Yuanti, i think outside no once can beats him in the Yuanti he made,very geng. Everytime go must have Yuanti.

January 9th, 2012 at 10:53 pm
 8 

I would definitely visit it and give it a try when i drop by Penang in near future…gosh..it’s make me hungry at this hour…

January 9th, 2012 at 11:46 pm
James Tan
 9 

Just had another superb dinner at Zi Zai restaurant on 10th march. Yummy Boston Lobster and normal lobster, Braised Yee Mee with Crab Meat & Scallop , Braised Chinese Mushrooms and Fish Maw with Special Sauce on Brocolli , belacan chicken, double yuanti, delicious fish, lala and of coz, special dessert from Chef Hock Chai… Highly recommended for food lovers

March 13th, 2012 at 7:29 am

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