Yu Xia Xie

Special thanks to Yu Xia Xie for extending this food review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

Aroma City, also known as Butterworth Business City Centre, is a strip mall at Raja Uda similar to Icon City at Bukit Tengah. Located within a short walking distance from Aroma Hotel, Yu Xia Xie Steam Cuisine (鱼虾蟹鲜蒸馆) is a 2-floor restaurant which specializes in steam-cooked seafood.
Steam-cooked seafood is particularly susceptible to freshness. This is exactly why the restaurant goes great lengths to keep live stocks of various seafood. For example, there are live crustaceans like horse crabs (肉蟹) and lobsters (龙虾) in oxygenated water tanks.
Other types of shellfish include mantis shrimps (虾蛄) and oysters (蚝). As for fish, brown-marbled grouper (龙虎斑) and flounder (比目鱼) are some of available stocks tonight. Many of these marine creatures are sourced from local fishermen or aquaculture farms to ensure utmost freshness.
Yu Xia Xie's dining concept was inspired by similar restaurants in China. Although steam-cooked seafood has been wildly popular in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the concept is still relatively uncommon in Penang. Instead of allowing soup to alter the taste of seafood as in the case of boil-cooked steamboat, steam-cooking allows seafood to maintain its texture and flavor in the most natural state.
Built into each dining table are a tank of purified water and an electronically operated water boiler. Steam from the boiler is released at the bottom of a stone pot for a set duration. A steamer pan covers the mouth of the pot, where raw food is placed and is to be cooked by emanating steam underneath. A lid covers the entire setup to keep the pot pressurized.
Before the dining session, the bottom of the stone pot is filled with partially cooked rice, minced pork and beaten eggs. This is meant to take advantage of seafood oils which will drip down from the pan above. The outcome will be evident towards the end of the dining session.
Yu Xia Xie prepares all condiments from scratch in the kitchen. Each of the 4 types of sauces represents sweet, salty, spicy or sour flavors. The sweet version is the crowd favorite, but I generally prefer to enjoy seafood in its natural state where possible.
To begin, most customers order one of the combination sets. For instance, the Signature Set (鱼虾蟹套餐, RM108.00) features the restaurant's titular seafood: grouper (石斑鱼), shrimps (明虾) and flower crab (花蟹). Also included are scallops (扇贝) and clams (蛤蜊). Each set meal is designed for 3 or 4 persons. Of course, customers may also order additional items from the à la carte menu.
Each type of seafood requires different duration to cook, ranging from 3 to 6 minutes at maximum power. If customers can afford the time, seafood should be cooked in separate batches in accordance to cooking duration. Customers do not need to be burdened with technicalities as the staff handles most of the cooking. After all, the opportunity for interact and socialize with each other while waiting for food to be cooked is priceless!
The shrimps (明虾) are originally dark gray in color, but they turn bright red as soon as they are cooked. As the shrimps were kept alive till ordered, I can still feel the delectable juices within their flesh. Savory "brain matter" in their heads is also as gratifying indeed.
Some of the scallops (扇贝) have orange roe which feels yolky and are succulent. As soon as scallops are cooked, there is a shallow "puddle" of juice in each shell. This is a mixture of scallops' natural juice and condensed water vapor. Meanwhile, Grouper (石斑鱼) is cut into thin slices so that they become cooked thoroughly. The firm flesh of grouper is best enjoyed with some dipping sauce.
The next delicacy is a Flower Crab (花蟹). Served with pumpkin (金瓜), broccoli (西兰菜) and sweet corn (玉米), the color scheme of this dish is very attractive indeed. Contrary to my prior prejudice, the flesh of flower crab also delectable - as long as the crab is fresh. In addition to the naturally sweet flesh, underneath the crab's carapace is a mass of yellowish roe.
The nominal cooking duration for Clams (蛤蜊) is 3 minutes. But if you are fond of exotic dining, the flesh is much juicier when the clams are exactly done. The visual cue is when the shells open abruptly. Give it a try; you will not regret this!
One of the main highlights this evening is the Jade Perch (宝石鲈), a freshwater fish native to Australia but nowadays raised in local fish farms. The fish is slit open at the bottom so that the flesh flattens on the rattan tray. Its silvery skin is garnished with ginger and parsley, while fish balls (鱼丸), bunapi shimeji mushrooms (白玉菇)) and golden needle mushrooms (金针菇) flank both sides.
Jade Perch is unique for its extremely fatty texture. Even when cooked, parts of its flesh near the dorsal fin appears translucent. Although this may be visually disturbing, the fish is surprisingly delectable - as soon as one gets past the oily sensation and starts to appreciate its delicate flesh. Jade Perch is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which is vital for physical well-being.
Leaving behind the marine kingdom, the next course involves the swine. It is not often to have Pork Belly (五花肉, RM8.80) being cooked by steaming. Due to moisture-rich cooking environment, the pork retains most of its moisture but does not have the crispiness provided by roasting. The flavor is quite mild, so pork belly is better paired with dipping sauces.
Cooked in the same session are two servings of Pork Slices (猪肉片, RM6.80), which have been deliberately rolled up to provide a gradient of doneness. As expected, the outermost layer is coarser as it is cooked most rapidly. Moving towards the center, the texture retains more springiness and succulent juiciness reminiscent of semi-cooked state. When chewing the entire roll, the mouthfeel within each bite is heavenly indeed.
Pork Meat Balls (猪肉丸, RM3.80) are sourced from a supplier. As the meatballs are typically used for soups, they are quite salty when eaten directly.

Remember the rice that was added to the stone pot at the beginning? After batches of cooking, the rice grains have disintegrated and reduced to porridge (米粥) of milky consistency. Enhanced by excess oils from seafood above, the broth now carries delectable flavors on its own.
Plain rice would have resulted in porridge with homogeneous consistency. Therefore, it was a good call to include minced pork and beaten eggs earlier. To enhance flavor, fried garlic, scallion and parsley are added just before eating.
Optionally, diners may also use some sesame oil (麻油), soy sauce (酱油) and ground pepper (胡椒粉). I think a light sprinkle of sesame oil really helps to improve aroma and enhance appetite, despite the porridge being the last course of the meal.
At Yu Xia Xie, most drinks are prepared in-house in line with the restaurant's concept of healthy dining. Passion Fruit Juice (百香果汁, RM3.50) contains seeds that appear as translucent pearls with "eyes". Meanwhile, Lime Mint Soda (青柠薄荷苏打, RM4.80) is a carbonated drink with thirst-quenching tanginess of lime and refreshing breath of mint.
Overall, Yu Xia Xie offers a unique dining experience very unlike mainstream steamboat restaurants. Natural juiciness is what really appeals to my palate. Coupled by the fact that most seafood is kept alive until ready to cook, food served at this restaurant is unquestionably fresh.

Name: Yu Xia Xie Steam Cuisine (鱼虾蟹鲜蒸馆)
Address: 15, Butterworth Business City Centre, Jalan Raja Uda, 12300 Butterworth, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-313-3611
Business hours: 5:00pm-1:00am, closed on Mondays
Website: Click here
Coordinates: 5.41600 N, 100.38112 E
Directions: Aroma City is located near the intersection between Jalan Raja Uda and Jalan Permatang Pauh. This commercial area is accessible from the road next to Petronas gas station at Jalan Permatang Pauh. Yu Xia Xie is one of the restaurants in this strip mall. Parking is available in front of and behind the restaurant.

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