When I was researching for my Ipoh trip, I realised that there are many signatures to try, and yet, the options are only that many. Been there and back, tried and tasted most of what were being recommended, some indeed live up to expectations, some disappoint. However, what really sticks are those unlisted, found on alternative web sites and discovered by foot.
Ayam Tauge & Koitiau
Lou Wong and Onn Kee are widely publicized as serving the best Bean Sprouts Chicken (Tauge Ayam), hence they are often filled and seats are limited. While researching options for our very first dinner here in Ipoh, I chanced upon Cowan Street Ayam Tauge & Koitiau. Accordingly to the writer, this is just as good, without the crowd.
You will notice that most orders comprise a plate of chicken, beansprouts and an individual Kway Teow soup. As both my travelling partner and I were not that into chicken, we ordered a single portion instead (RM11.00 for 2 dishes).
The texture of the chicken is unbelievably tender and light. The Kway Teow, soak in the sweet and well-bodied broth, is soft and silky. I was often told that it is the water that makes it so superior above all other flat noodles. However, afterwhich I learnt that it is really the locals' dedication and devotion that set the bar - Stringent quality control over the past decades to ensure that nothing inferior goes out into the market. Indeed, it is a humble dish that comforts many, just like a bowl of good Pho.
Whether or not it is better than what have had been widely publicised, you will need to try it for yourself. This is good enough for me.
COWAN STREET AYAM TAUGE & KOITIAU
44, Jalan Raja Ekram,
30450 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Wed-Sun: 7pm onwards.
(Closed on Mon & Tue)
While making our way back to our lodging, a live chapatti-making station in a Mak Mak shop caught my eyes, or should I say that their aromatic curries lured me in first. Somebody's order past my view, piping hot from the flat pan. That tempted me into ordering one.
At first glance, I couldn't tell that it was chapatti. My imprinted version is much smaller in size, looks and taste dry. However, what I saw was much bigger, and much fluffier, almost like naan. Without knowing what it really was, I just pointed to the staff what I wanted, and I was served with this:
Chapatti with 2 curries of different intensities, together with sardine dip, and it only costs us RM1.50! Even the not-so-great Teh Tarik is more expensive. The sardine is mashed with onions, and the freshly made chapatti became the best vehicle to deliver it into your mouth, and with your bare hands by the way. That's the best way to enjoy it, just like how you may enjoy bone marrow with crostini.
It is not difficult to find this place. The aroma of their Indian curries will guide you in. Trays and pots of curries are there for you to pick and choose to go with your nasi.
RESTORAN M. SALIM (Since 1985)
No 20, Jalan Yang Kalsom,
30250 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Daily: 630am - 1am
It is easy for food to gain fame when they are located at the heart of the tourist areas, one of which is Funny Fountain Soya Bean. We tried it and frankly speaking, what we have in Singapore is just as comparable.
This tiny shop caught my eyes when we were crossing the road. A couple of customers sitting outside, and a few in the queue. Besides traditional Beancurd, Grass Jelly is available as well, hence I ordered a combination (RM2.20, if I didn't remember wrongly).
You can choose from 3 kinds of syrup - Chrysanthemum, Ginger and Brown Sugar. The texture of the beancurd is amazingly soft, between a Hongkong steamed milk and our regular beancurd. The grassjelly is rather average, and I feel it would go better with the beancurd if it's in thin strips instead of cubes.
Young and innovative, the owners created one that comes with crushed peanuts. This bowl didn't come easy for us. We went back 3 times before it finally opened its door to us. (We were there twice earlier in the morning but faced with closed doors. However, my determination to have it again before our departure drove me to go back for the 3rd time!). I had one bowl of Beancurd Grass Jelly on the spot and this to takeaway (RM2.70) to the airport. Takeaway cost a lot more than dining in.
32-38A (Bawah), Jalan Ali Pitchay,
30250 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Daily: 1pm - 5pm
The sun in Ipoh, is merciless. Apart from herbal tea, the next best thing to have is their Herbal Jelly. I always lament that those available in Singapore are too mild. Even in Hong Kong, there was only one among all which I had tried requires me to add in the honey. To think that I could find one that is comparable is unexpected. Over here at Gui Ling Tong, their herbal jelly comes in original and sweetened versions. I had their Original (RM7), of course. I love its level of bitterness, which is not monotonous, but exudes from a blend of herbs.
We also ordered their Steamed Coconut dessert. The first time I ever had a warm coconut dessert was at Fu Man Lou at Intercontinental Singapore. I can still remember how it warms my senses with its aroma and comforting sweetness. Basically, instead of using a bowl and water to boil your ingredients, you make use of the entire coconut to double boil your dessert. Akin to 8 Treasure, this bowl of goodness contains lotus seed, dried longan, white fungus, dates etc, all for less than RM10.
KEDAI HERBAL GUI LING TONG
68 Jalan Yau Tet Shin,
30300 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Daily: 11am - 9pm
If you are tired of their local food, how about an authentic Belgian cuisine? This is rally something out of my repertoire, hence I was quite excited when my partner listed it on our must-try. North Sea is a bistro that has a seaside feel, with its brickwalls and off-white furnishing. They have a fairly focused menu to offer some quintessential Belgian dishes, as well as a list of Begian beers. Hopus is their popular Belgian beer, which is quite bitter to me. Served with a shot at the side, that's the last bit from the bottle after pouring the top into the beer glass. The owner explained that the bottom usually contains sendiment, causing that portion to acquire a slightly different taste from its body. Segregating it allows you to taste the different profiles.
As we were really full from dinner, we only ordered a dish of 2 Pork Meatballs (RM29.90) to accompany the beer. Unlike Swedish meatballs which comes with a meaty creamy sauce, this sauce tastes like a red wine sauce typically used for steaks. I didn't manage to check with the chef owner on the recipe, but other than the raisins that came with it, I gathered from my online search that there is usually beer and onions. Seldom that I would like to have more sauce, but I did wish there was more of this. The meatballs were juicy and well flavoured. It wasn't too dense, hence I didn't have the feeling of it 'sitting in my stomach' after finishing one.
NORTH SEA GENUINELY BELGIAN
44, Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil,
30450 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Mon, Thu-Sun: 630pm - 1030pm
(Closed on Tue & THu)
Flavours lost, smiles gone, that happen when cities become tainted with tourists. Fortunately, I haven't had too much of that in Ipoh. It is still rather sleepy, in a quaint way. Drive or walk out of the tourists areas whenever possible. I will be back for sure, to eat the exclusives, and try what I have missed out - Ming Court's glutinous rice, Hakka Mee.
Photograph and written by Si An. A girl who is allured by travelling, loves the feel of freedom, smell of the rain and the aroma of fine coffee and food.