My favourite Ipoh food (and no, I’m not talking about bean sprouts chicken)
OCT 10 — "So what's good there, Nga Choy Kai?"
I hear this cliche so often that it makes me want to tear my hair out in frustration. Yes, people I meet for the first time say this out of a genuine desire to establish a common ground — I am not blaming them — but heck, there's so much more to Ipoh than just bean sprouts chicken!
At the risk of inundating the stunned listener with TMI (Too Much Information, not The Malaysian Insider), I always ensue with a random list of my favourite foods in my hometown (and you'll notice Nga Choy Kai conspicuously missing):
1. Kap liew
Kedai Makanan dan Minuman Desa Indah
3 Persiaran Desa Rishah 1, Taman Desa Rishah, Ipoh
Tel: 05-281-0668 Opens 11am-4pm (Tues-Sat), 8.30am-4pm (Sun), Monday Closed
"Kap liew" is that umbrella moniker for an Ipoh delicacy: vegetables and beancurd sheets stuffed with fish and either blanched or deep-fried, which the customer picks up ("kap") and eats with noodles tossed in soya sauce and oil. Compared to other places, this old shop does not have that much in terms of variety, but its "liew" is well-seasoned and consistently good. Excellent "tai yuen" (beef tendon balls) and deeply flavoured soups that are good to the last drop.
2. Prune cake
60 Persiaran Greentown 1, Pusat Perdagangan Greentown, Ipoh
Tel: 05-242-4133, 012- 520-0772
Opens 12-11pm (Mon-Fri), 12-12 (Sun and eve of public holidays)
In a few short years, this quiet cafe in Greentown business centre has established a name for its nostalgic, down-to-earth goodies.
While all her cakes are excellent, I have a special place in my heart for her humble prune cake — it's pillowy soft when warmed, and every crumbly morsel oozes fruity love.
3. Soupy noodles
Sin Fonzie Coffee Shop 53
Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil, Ipoh
Opens till late (breakfast-dinner)
A little pricey by Ipoh standards, nevertheless the comfy ambience, quirky service (restaurant manager Tham Sir, who dons a bowtie, is quite a ham), and excellent noodles keep us coming back for more. Home-made egg noodles steeped in a claypot of simmering broth soup that's good enough to drink on its own, and exudes a satisfying sweetness that could only be drawn from hours of painstaking nursing, and tons of nourishing herbs.
4. Apam balik
Manned by an Indian man
Jalan Taman Cherry, Taman Cherry (opposite Kompleks Mahkamah Syariah), Ipoh
He used to also sell at Merdeka Garden, but he's hardly seen there these days. Somebody told me he operates at Cherry Park (that famous kuih centre) now. Even from afar, I can drool over his paper-thin crepes, crispy as roti tissue, the luscious filling of creamy corn kernel, crunchy pounded peanuts, sugar crystals and melting margarine that practically leak out from the sides.
5. White coffee
Kedai Kopi Nam Chau, 54, Jalan Bandar Timah, Ipoh
Opens 8am-4pm Closed Saturdays
Bastions Sun Yuan Fong and Loong have been quietly usurped by Nam Chau. I balk at empirical methods for old-school shops but apparently, it works, at least in its case. Those human robots churn out a smooth, rich brew like clockwork — every single cup.
6. Siew yoke (roast pork)
Kedai Kopi Yun Ji
Jalan Labrooy, Taman Merdeka, Ipoh
Opens 11am-2pm (Closed every alternate Sunday)
Manned by the soft-spoken young man at my neighbourhood kopitiam. I am not sure for which reason I like going there — to ogle surreptitiously at this baby-faced cutie-pie, or to drool at their slabs of roast pork.
7. Fried noodles
22 Tingkat Taman Ipoh 6, Ipoh
Garden South, Ipoh Tel: 05-545-7030
Opens lunch-late evening (closes Mondays)
This restaurant doesn't just brim with good eats (and naturally, crowds), but attitude: the ladies here can give the cranky octogenarians at Coliseum Restaurant in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur a run for their money. Although the restaurant made its name with its affordable set lunches, eclectic menu (curried deep-fried gizzards, anyone?) my favourite fix here is their humble fried noodles. One look at its appearance — loops of spindly noodles smothered in a smoky sauce that's as black as night — and you know this evil plate of heaven will send you straight to cholesterol hell, and you'd still lick the plate clean.
8. Kaya puff
Sheng Cake & Café
60 Jalan Ng Weng Hup, Taman Pertama, Ipoh
Opens morning-late evening
Tel: 05-527-5014 or 016-558-6215 (Addison Ng); Angie Lee (016-558-3304)
Can you believe one of the loveliest kaya (coconut jam) puffs in town can be found at a bakery which specialises in (ironically) healthy breads? Yes, Sheng has a secret weapon in its arsenal: come after 2pm, grab them buxom beauties hot from the oven, bite through ethereal layers of golden brown pastry that's so crispy that it's "pok pok chui", and encases a moisty, creamy kaya.
9. Soya bean milk
Emas Food Centre
Jalan Mas, Taman Mas, Falim, Ipoh
Personally, I think that famous place in New Town near Foh Shan (foodies will know where I am talking about) is great, but for those who crave an even more pronounced bean flavour, try this sprawling food court near Farlim factory area. Ask for "tau ching" (soya bean essence) as opposed to "tau sui" (soya bean water) — they have both versions. On some days, it's as thick as melted ice-cream.
10. Tom yam fried rice
Jalan Ng Weng Hup, Taman Pertama, Ipoh
Opens late breakfast to dinner
This unassuming neighbourbood cafe run by my friend's mother's church friends has good drinks, great burgers, and even more terrific fried rice. The secret is in the rice they use — not clumpy, a queer glutinous quality that's almost like Japanese rice. They don't go overboard with the tom yam paste either, it's just enough to infuse the rice with heaps of flavour without razing your tongue.
After all that, can you blame me for looking forward to my next trip home already with gushing salivary glands?
Alexandra Wong (bunnysprints.blogspot.com) thinks gluttony is in her genes.
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