Wow, pau!

Yon Lai pau kept warm in a steamer
Wow, these are great pau!

Long before we were familiar with burgers, there were pau.  The pau, essentially a Chinese burger because it has a tasty meat filling inside the pastry, can be a snack or a full-meal.  Just like 24-hour fast food, the ubiquitous pau can be eaten for breakfast and supper or to satisfy any snack attack.

For more than 10 years, pau by Yon Lai has been popular among locals in Kulaijaya and as the fame of this superior quality pau spread far and wide, travellers passing through the town will not fail to stop for a pau snack and leave with takeaways. 

Natalie Ngu presents a tray of delicious
pau and lor mai kai
These delicious dumplings taste best when they are eaten hot but even when they are bought back and heated up at home, they still taste great.  

Natalie Ngu and her family in Kulai are the makers of these popular Yon Lai traditional pau and a range of dim sum favourites.  Their father, originally from Sitiawan, had a successful business making and selling pau in Kuala Lumpur for over 20 years.  Using their father’s recipe and experience, they have established the Yon Lai brand name with a reputation for superior quality pau among traditional dumpling connoisseurs. 

Yon Lai makes three main varieties of pau with savoury fillings of sliced pork meat or sang yuk, barbecued pork or char siew, and sweet fillings of tau sar (red bean paste) and leen yong (lotus seed paste).  The sang yuk pau comes in two sizes, one of which is a tai pau or big pau, which is big enough to be a satisfying small meal.

Amazing how the top-skin lifts and peels so smoothly!

Yon Lai pau are made fresh daily and production starts from 2.00am every night.  While these dumplings were traditionally handmade, today the demand for at least 10,000 pieces of pau and lor mai kai (steamed glutinous rice with chicken) per day in Kulai alone requires the help of some automation in the production process.  A skillful blend of hand kneading and machine mixing is used to make their special pau pastry so soft, fluffy and delicious. 

So what makes Yon Lai pau so popular?  They are not only affordable, tasty and totally satisfying, its pastry is thin and the stuffing, generous.  The quality of this pau pastry is so superior that the filmy top-skin can be amazingly easy to lift and peel off smoothly.  And just like any good quality pau pastry, it does not cling to your teeth as you chew into its juicy insides.

Thin pastry and generous fillings in Yon Lai pau
There’s a secret to how the sweet fillings of tau sar and leen yong in Yon Lai pau are of an unusually smooth blend.  Their experience and high quality standards in production have certainly helped this family to establish themselves firmly as the makers of superior quality pau in Johor. 

Try cutting open a steaming hot sweet dumpling and see for yourself how the filling slowly oozes out, just like a chocolate lava dessert.

Restoran Yon Lai is the parent shop with four other outlets in and around Kulai, namely Yoon Lai, Yeen Lai, Soon Lai and a stall in TJ Mart, Saleng.  They also supply to outlets in Taman Mt Austin, Taman Bukit Indah and Taman Setia Indah.  Restoran Yon Lai is located at No. 37 Jalan Anggerik 2, Taman Kulai Utama, 81000 Kulaijaya, Johor.  Tel: 607 – 662 1600.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 6 May 2011

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