See Foon Chan-Koppen
Ask any Chinese food connoisseur in Ipoh if he knows Tuck Kee and chances are a positive nod of the head. In fact if you drive down Jalan King, off Pasir Pinji you’ll notice a queue beginning to form from around 12 noon onwards outside number 1, where Tuck Kee is located. They’re all lining up to purchase the takeaway roast duck, char siew (roast pork), suckling pig, and roast pork for which Tuck Kee has solidified its reputation as one of Ipoh’s leading Chinese restaurants.
In the early days when I first arrived in Ipoh 14 years ago, I used to go to Tuck Kee for their braised Sharks fin Tureen which at that time was a great value at RM45 each. These days as it is politically incorrect to eat or order sharks fin, I have reluctantly eschewed this dish and moved on to other gustatory explorations. And since Ah Tuck has returned to his roots in Ipoh after learning all the tricks of the culinary trade in Kuala Lumpur over a period of 20 years and taken over the kitchen and restaurant from his father; new epicurean delights beckon to me as Ah Tuck applies his wizardry in the kitchen, reinventing the culinary wheel to woo new fans while working on seducing the diehard traditionalists who have patronized his father’s restaurant for years.
And he is succeeding. Judging by the raucous ambiance, every square foot of both the upstairs and downstairs area was packed like sardines on the two occasions when I dined there recently. And for good reasons too. Tuck Kee today does not print an ala carte menu. Yes there was a menu of sorts for Chinese New Year with various options for tables of 10 but for the rest of time, one can sit down with the serving staff or Ah Tuck himself and discuss what they’d like for their meal, tailored for individual tastes.
Hawker Dishes Upgraded
On his own, Ah Tuck has upgraded two popular local hawker dishes and brought it up to ‘Michelin’ (the yardstick by which the cream of restaurants around the world are rated) status. His ‘Har Meen’ or prawn noodle soup, commonly available at most hawker stalls for a mere RM4.00 is now served in his restaurant for a whopping RM13.00. But what a dish and worth every ringgit we pay! A meal by itself, two very large prawns sit on top of velvety smooth rice noodles complemented with the addition of two bunches of the Japanese crunchy ‘shirataki’ yam noodles, garnished with local chives, the soup base redolent with prawn essence. Totally addictive! Ah Tuck assures me that his soup base is pure stock, made without the slightest smidgeon of MSG, that scourge of Chinese food and often the reason why I seldom eat this dish at hawker stalls.
As if any other noodle dish could get better, but it does. His ‘Wat Dan Hor’, literally ‘smooth egg rice noodles’, the same rice noodles but pre-fried to give it the essential ‘ wok hei’ (that quintessential Chinese expression for high heat, wok fragrance) was melt-in-mouth smooth, with the same prawn fragrance that comes from the same stock that he uses for his soup base.
Unbeatable Duck’s Breast
I have been so busy raving about the noodles that I am putting the cart before the horse literally. I must go back to the beginning, the starters. Here again forgive me if I wax lyrical. Ah Tuck’s smoked duck breast will beat any ‘Magret de Canard’ (same duck’s breast in French and a very popular dish served in a myriad of ways) hands down. Using fresh duck breast, he marinates and smokes them before putting a slight crust on by grilling. Served on a bed of lettuce still slightly pink, this is one dish I can eat ad infinitum. RM18
Following this was another appetizer with Frogs legs, smoked garlic and onions. The frog was fresh and succulent with the garlic and onions lending flavour to what is usually a bland meat. RM40
This was followed by a ‘fusion’ dish, that of Foie Gras (imported from Hungary), pan fried and served with a brown sauce. I found this an unusual offering from a Chinese restaurant and testimony to Ah Tuck’s creativity. RM35 per portion.
Next came individual portions of braised beef short ribs served on a bed of greens that was divinely tender, every mouthful smothered in a rich creamy sauce.
Piece de Resistance
The piece de resistance of the evening had to be the dessert. Fragrant coconut steamed with a still -quivering egg white custard inside. This suited my palate to a T as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and the custard was just sweet enough to be a dessert without the usual cloying sugary mouth feel that accompanies most desserts. For RM8.00 per portion, it’s great value considering that just buying one of these coconuts at the supermarket already costs around RM3-4 without the other ingredients and if you consider labour and the time required for steaming (at least 2-3 hours). Another wonderful dessert is their homemade almond cream, a combination of US almonds and apricot kernels. RM12.
So if you’re into experimenting or have a jaded palate do go to Tuck Kee and experience their ‘laboratory’ and reinvent the gourmet wheel. Speak to Ah Tuck or one of their experienced staff who’ll be more than happy to help you.
Tuck Kee Restaurant
1 & 3 Jalan King, Off Pasir Pinji
31650 IpohTel: 05-255 3870 or 05-241 9071