Where generations of hawkers leave their mark.
In this second part of our Sedap Food Trail series, we bring you to Ipoh. Famed for their local delights and white coffee, it was a journey of happiness in our bellies as we devoured these culinary delights.
Rich, sweet with a hint of bitter and absolutely aromatic, there was no other way to start our hunt for Ipoh’s best cuisine than at Sin Yoon Loong Original White Coffee. A preferred place for breakfast by locals since it opened in 1937, the coffee shop looked like a scene straight out of a Wong Kar Wai movie with its gentle light, tables of chatty elderly bantering in Cantonese and busy servers whisking cups of coffee, toasts with kaya (coconut jam) and curry chee cheong fun (rice rolls).
We move on eagerly to Ipoh’s famous Dim Sum street, helmed by big guns such as Ming Court Hong Kong Dim Sum and Foh San Dim Sum. Staying away from the throngs of people, we decide on the smaller Chang Keong Dim Sum restaurant, lured partially by its display of steaming baskets.
Cheery duo chef Chang Keong, who has had more than 30 years of experience across various Chinese restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore, has been running the stall with his wife Sakura since 2002. He said: “Dim Sum is a way of living for the locals. We keep our food simple and close to their hearts.” A stream of people line up for their takeaways as we wolf down our hot big buns, har kow (prawn dumplings), fish skin dumplings, glutinous rice, bean curd skin rolls and carrot cake, which was stir fried with generous helpings of chives, eggs and bean sprouts. Of course, there is always room for dessert.
We make a quick dash for a bowl of soybean curd at Funny Mountain Soya Bean. Established in 1952, Brothers Ben and Cliff Tan, who took over the stall from their father, dish out bowl after bowl to customers sitting in their cars under the blazing heat. What a drive-through experience! The tau fu fah, as locals call it, is smooth and served steaming hot with pandan syrup. Spoonful of bean curd slide down my throat. The desert is also served mixed with cincau (herbal jelly) or soymilk.
A stone’s throw away along the famous tourist street Jalan Yau Tet Shin is the Wan Li Xiang Salt Baked Chicken and Duck. Having been on the market for over 30 years, boss Cheng Koi Sow, 46, runs a family business of chicken and duck farming. His signature salt baked chicken is flavorful with the aroma and taste of medicinal herbs bursting with each bite. It comes in eight treasures, ginseng, black pepper and dang gui (angelica) flavours.
Stomachs satisfied and ready to do some shopping, we take a drive out of Ipoh town to Tambun, a small town in the Perak state. On the way, we stop by Ching Han Guan Biscuit Manufacturer to pick up a box of freshly made meat fl oss lotus paste biscuits. Mr Edison Cheng, 32, whose grandfather started the business in 1949, shares that everything is still made from scratch within the shop’s premises. “It’s very meaningful to continue a traditional craft left by my grandfather,” he says.
Tambun is well known for its majestic limestone cliffs, but more so for its pomelos at Kebun Limau Bali (Tambun) Chin. Limau Tambun (Citrus of Tambun as the locals call it, are juicy, fragrant and thrive in an area of calcium-rich natural fertilizer throughout the year. Sweet pomelos are pale or cream in color, while the sour ones have a bright pink flesh. Other tropical delights like star fruits and guava are also available.
We drive across Ipoh to Buntong, a cosy Indian and Chinese residential community. Away from tourist traps in the new town, locals swear by Cheong Kee Wanton Noodles and Restoran Ayam Tauke as top of their leagues for staples of noodles and bean sprout chicken.
Over a boiling pot of soup, it is poetry in motion watching Mrs Chen Lai Kuen, 46, whose father started the business from a rickshaw in 1969, repeat actions of tossing and flipping noodles between pots of hot soup and cold water. The actions are deliberate and intuitive; the process quiet and neat. Since the age of 11 years old, she has spent most of her free time wrapping dumplings.
A white-haired couple at the next table, whose weekly routine include driving here for a bowl of wanton noodles, is full of praise for the family’s business. “What we do with our hands is precious,” she shares. From pork to dumpling and flour to noodle, every aspect of the process is kept within the family, within home. “I eat a bowl every night after we close,” she adds. “People are sentimental and have feelings for food they love so we need to put our hearts into whatever we do.”
Over at Restoran Ayam Tauke on Jalan Guntong, tables of hungry families slurp up plates of poached chicken, hor fun (flat rice noodles) and bean sprouts, often touted as the holy trinity of a decent bean sprout chicken (nga choy kai) meal in Ipoh. Unlike anywhere else, Ipoh’s bean sprouts are short and fat. Locals believe that mineral-rich water from the surrounding limestone hills have resulted in extra delicious and crunchy bean sprouts, seasoned with pepper, light soya sauce and oil.
The eatery is a hidden gem and popular among the Buntong community. In fact, the entire set up is located in the front porch of someone’s house. A sure way of discovering Ipoh’s hospitality at its finest.
Sin Yoon Loong Original White Coffee
15A Jalan Bandar Timah, 30450 Ipoh, Perak
Tel +605 241 4601
Opening hours: 6.30am to 5.30pm
Chang Keong Dim Sum
34 Jalan Raja Ekram (Cowan Street), 30450 Ipoh, Perak
Tel +6016 541 5877
Opening hours: 5.30am to 4.30pm
Funny Mountain Soya Bean
50 Jalan Mustapha Al-Bakri, 30300 Ipoh, Perak
Tel +6012 588 6167
Opening hours: 10.30am onwards, daily.
Wan Li Xiang Salted Chicken and Duck
47 Jln Yau Tet Shin, 30300 Ipoh, Perak
Tel +6016 591 9374
Opening hours: 9.30am to 8pm, daily.
Ching Han Guan Biscuit Manufacturing Company
145 Jalan Sultan Iskandar (Hugh Low Street), 30000 Ipoh, Perak
Tel +605 254 5126
Opening hours: 9am to 6.30pm, daily; 9am to 12.30pm on Sun.
Kebun Limau Bali (Tambun) Chin
158258A Jalan Ampang, Tambun, 31400 Ipoh, Perak
Tel +6016 593 5912
Opening hours: 10am to 4pm, daily; 10am to 6pm on weekends.
Cheong Kee Wanton Noodles
542 Jalan Sekolah, Buntong 30100 Ipoh, Perak
Tel +6019 516 6781
Opening hours: 6.30pm to 11pm, daily. Closed Sun and Public Holidays.
Restoran Ayam Tauke
849 Jalan Guntong, Buntong, 30100 Ipoh, Perak
Tel +6017 578 7251
Opening hours: 6pm onwards, daily. Closed on Tues