Zi Zai Restaurant (自在饭店), the name of the restaurant made me recall a Chow Yun Fat movie (和平饭店) “The Peace Hotel”. The place of the hotel in the movie was located at a secluded area and the whole place was full of gun fire and it was dramatic. As for Zi Zai Restaurant, the location is similarly secluded. However, instead of gun fire and dramatic, this restaurant serves good and reasonable food.
In the movie of (和平饭店) “The Peace Hotel”, you will see cool and cold-blooded Chow Yun Fat pulling out his dual guns and shot at the bad guys. However, in real life at Zi Zai Restaurant (自在飯店), you will see the owner Hock Chai as a very bubbly and friendly chef, cooking on dual woks and bringing you delicious and unforgettable dishes.
As mentioned, the restaurant is located at a secluded place. Finding this place for the first time won’t be easy unless you keep turning your head around when you are driving. Zi Zai restaurant is located at the main road of Paya Terubong, Air Itam. If you are driving along Lebuh Thean Teik from town area heading Paya Terubong, you will be driving all the way passing by 4 traffic lights until the end. At the last T-junction traffic light you will need to turn right into Jalan Paya Terubong. Keep driving for 400 meters, you will see a big signboard of Zi Zai Restaurant on your left along a stretch of shop houses.
If you have the time to wait for Hock Chai to finish his cooking, you will know more about each dish and his explanation on his food passion to you. First of all, the introductory dish among that day’s long list of dishes was Korean Army Hotpot – RM45. This dish is actually prepared to suit those American soldiers who were stationed in South Korea. This dish is a mixture of Korean and Western. The ingredients of this hotpot consist of Cheese, Kimchi, Ham, Luncheon Meat, Cheese Sausage, Spring Onions, Chili Slices, Mushroom, Baked Beans and Tofu.
For first timers, you will find it very hard to accept how could the richness of the cheese be mixed with kimchi. Also it was funny to see sausages mixed with kimchi and baked beans as well.
Besides special order like the Korean Army Hotpot, there are regular dishes such as Stir Fried Sambal Lala – RM8. The lala clams were stir fried with sambal (shrimp paste and chili), added with some ginger slices and garnished with some spring onions.
Lala cooked in sambal chili really tasted good and it was aromatic. Although the size of the lala really depends on the catch of that day, the size that we had was not too big and yet the taste was delicious.
Stir Fried Bean Sprouts with Salted Fish – RM8. The head and the root of the bean sprouts were peeled off . They were then stir-fried with garlic, ginger, salted fish and finished with some touch of spring onions and red chili.
Although this looks like a very simple dish to prepare, the skill on making the bean sprouts to maintain its freshness and juiciness and at the same time with a sense of wok aroma, is not very easy. Hock Chai also took the extra effort to cut off both head and root of each bean sprout therefore making this place the most outstanding from the other restaurants.
Fish Fillet with Tofu Claypot – RM18, the fish fillets and tofu were pan-fried and added together with a fried egg , carrots and cabbage then boiled in a claypot. It was then topped with spring onions.
The taste of this dish was very unique and this is suitable for kids and those who don’t prefer spicy food.
Stingray Cooked in Tumis Curry RM12 – RM20 (depend on market price). The stringray fish was cut into pieces and cooked in curry with lady’s fingers and some curry flowers.
The aroma of the curry was very strong and Hock Chai didn’t use much salt or sugar on this dish. The taste of the curry was merely generated by the spices and the garnish of the dish. Caution to non-spicy lovers, you might need to skip this one as it is spicy and will make your tongue numb.
Chili Stir Fried Egg (2 Eggs) – RM4, a very simple and easy to prepare stir fried egg with mixed spices and chili.
For some people like myself, you will find this dish very simple and nothing special. However, for those that ever studied in Chung Ling High School before, this will be a very memorable and nostalgic food. This dish was served in the canteen of the school some time back and a lot of the ex-CLHS students are looking for this kind of cooking. Fortunately, Hock Chai is able to bring this olden memories back to his restaurant today.
Assam Prawns (8 pcs) – RM20, Good sized prawns were marinated with tamarind juice, sugar and salt prior to being fried to perfection.
This easy to cook Nyonya cuisine would get many yearning for more as the tamarind infused prawns had that slightly acidic sourness on top of the briny sweet taste.
Overall, this is a very nice place to be for simple and reasonable dining. The friendly Hock Chai will explain to you all about the food if he has got the time. However, the drawback is that you need to be very alert of the location when you pass by Lebuh Paya Terubong.
Editor’s Review (5 Stars Rank):
Operation hours: 10:00am – 2:00pm; 4:00pm – 10.30pm (Tuesday Closed)
Contact: 04-826 5713
Address: 1239-G, Ground Floor, Jalan Paya Terubong
GPS: 5° 38′ 72.12″ N, 100° 27′ 40.13″ E