By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
SeeFoon Finds Malay Gem in Kak Leha
Well I finally managed to meet up with my ‘Sir Galahad’ of food tasters, Shaifuzan Baharil who had offered to take me on the Halal food trail after protesting that I was way too pork oriented in my reviews. I jumped at his offer to be my Halal food guide and being taken off the beaten trail to taste temptations hitherto hidden from my habitual nose and palate.
Our first experiment was lunch at Kak Leha’s, an unprepossessing coffee shop in Bandar Ipoh Raya near the Menteri Besar’s office. The easiest direction I could give is to drive past YMCA on your left, cross the Kinta River and immediately turn left into an non-signposted road which is Medan Istana 7 (or so I guessed as I couldn’t see a sign at either end). Look for the sign Kak Leha in the middle of a row of shop houses on the left.
Kak Leha has quite a following I’m told. Formerly located in the Old Pasar Bulat (Yau Tet Shin market) in town, Kak Leha had been moving around since the market was torn down, renting space from eateries within Ipoh City some of which were in fact Chinese coffee shops. Considering the number of times she has moved, it is quite an accolade to her that her loyal customers always seem to find her and follow her wherever she goes. Now it looks like she is settled in Bandar Ipoh Raya to stay for quite awhile.
Kak Leha’s food is quite original and typical of the Perak style. Similar in some aspects to the style of Tasek Raban, the touch is light and recipes not as complicated as the larger restaurant which essentially specializes in grilled fish (and much more pricey). Nor is the variety as large, which makes selection and ordering a cinch.
The coffee shop is bright and clean and overhead fans provided some relief from the unrelenting heat on the day I was there. I left the ordering to my ‘guide’ and settled back to enjoy the new taste discoveries. And order up a storm he did. As all the dishes had already been pre-cooked and as is typical of Malay cuisine, most of it accept for the rice, is eaten cold. The dishes arrived fast and furiously and we almost ran out of space on our regular sized table for four. But we managed to find space for all ten plates of the various delectables and began tucking in with gusto.
My two companions ate with their hands but squeamish me settled for the spoon and fork, despite the availability of a wash basin with soap for washing one’s hands. First on the table was the Ikan Patin Gulai Tempoyak, a river fish cooked in a light curried, turmeric sauce with the addition of tempoyak a fermented durian paste. The tempoyak flavour was exceedingly mild and not as I had expected – a highly pungent mouth feel that the unadulterated paste can sometimes provide. If not for the fact that the fish was not my favourite variety, this is a most unusual dish and one that is rarely found in many eateries. RM3 per piece of fish.
The Beef Rendang had a tasty thick gravy and was most reasonably priced at RM2.50 per piece. Masak Lemak Rebung is bamboo shoots cooked in coconut milk, a mild sauce with quite a pungent smell of the bamboo shoots which are lightly fermented. This dish reminds me of the fermented bamboo shoots which I used to see quite often in Bangkok; addictive for those who love it and an acquired taste for those who don’t. Like durians.
The Pineapple Pacari was spicy in a red sauce, the sweetness of the pineapple contrasting nicely with the fiery gravy. Lala Masak Merah or clams cooked in red sauce was good value at RM2.50 and the fried fish Ikan Keli or catfish at RM3 each was very fresh. Although the sambal blachan (preserved prawn paste with chillies and shallots) dip was meant to go with the raw ‘ulam’ or local herbs and vegetables (we ordered a mixture of kacang botol or winged beans, daun ubi or potato leaves, ladies fingers and daun silom and brinjal) it made a beautiful sauce for the fish too.
An interesting side dish here at Kak Leha is their coconut sambal which can be eaten stand alone or with the ‘ulam’. This is not finely desiccated but rather a more chunky version with a spice mix, making it tangy and flavourful.
My favourite dish though was the Tempeh Kacang Panjang, or cultured soya bean cake, sliced and crisped and sautéed with long beans, crunchy and scrumptious.
Kak Leha is open from 7.00 a.m till 6.00 p.m and she does a roaring trade be it in the form of take out or eating in. At a total of RM31.60 for the whole lot of ten dishes which we had, and there is still another 15 more which I never got around to tasting, I would say that Kak Leha serves a very reasonable and satisfying meal indeed.
Restoran Kak Leha Corner
18 Medan Istana 7
Bandar Ipoh Raya