SeeFoon Discovers Ayer Tawar

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When Dato’ Daniel Tay offered to take me for some Hock Chew food in Ayer Tawar, I was completely at sea as to its whereabouts and willingly accepted. Dato’ Daniel who is a true blue Sitiawan boy should know, I figured.

So when my friends Edward and Ginla Foo said they would come by to pick me up at 6.00 p.m., I was surprised. “So how long is the drive”, I enquired. “At least one hour”, I was told. Sitting comfortably in the back seat, chatting away (mostly about food), the hour went by very quickly and soon the sign for Ayer Tawar loomed. Thinking we would be turning off into a side street, I was surprised to discover that this corner restaurant, Sun Hon Siong is right on the main Lumut highway easily accessible to anyone on their way to Lumut.

Sweet and Sour
When the Hock Chew migrants from China settled in Sitiawan in the early 1900s, they brought with them a host of interesting specialities. Distinctive for their sweet and sour taste, this Hock Chew or Fuzhou cuisine is significantly different from most other kinds of Chinese cooking.

There is a tendency for deep fried, sweet and sour and the taste difference whether it be fish, pork or chicken is minimal. So it’s purely a matter of what takes your fancy in sweet and sour for that particular meal. There are some dishes though that are very distinctively Hock Chew and certainly worth the drive there.

Signature Mee Sua
For starters, the first dish to arrive was a steaming big bowl of their Mee Sua, fine wheat vermicelli cooked in a homemade fermented rice wine broth with ginger and chicken. The rice wine which has a characteristic red colour is sweet in its original form but mixed with the vermicelli and chicken and made tangy with ginger, loses its cloying sweetness and presents itself as a refreshing sweet broth that lends its flavour to the vermicelli and chicken. RM10 for a tureen enough for 10.

Next to arrive was the oyster omelette, small oysters buried in an omelette pancake of eggs, crispy on the edges and succulent inside. It was so good that we promptly ordered another. RM9. Sweet sour pork ribs followed, crispy succulent morsels combined with cucumber, potato chunks and a tangy dark sauce that was just right, neither too sweet nor too sour. RM25.

A Must-Have
Plain sautéed kangkong with garlic RM5 followed as a respite from the sweet and sour taste to be followed by a typical dish to be found on every Hock Chew banquet, the Fish Maw delight, a steaming soupy tureen of fish maw with minced pork, carrots, wood ear mushrooms and thickened with egg white. For those who like sea cucumber, this dish also comes with that option. This dish is also slightly on the sweet side and the fish maw with its characteristic jelly-like texture lends itself well to the contrasting crunch of the wood ear mushrooms. RM38 plain and RM50 with sea cucumber.

Soupy Fare
I noticed with interest that a lot of Hock Chew dishes are brothy or soupy and the number of bowls we had to change for each dish was quite exhausting. As observed, the next dish to arrive was the Fish Ball seaweed soup. No ordinary fish balls, these, these fish balls are different from most as they are stuffed with salted minced pork and prawns making them distinctively Hock Chew. For me I felt that they could have done with less seaweed in the soup as the fishy tang was somewhat overwhelming…so readers be warned…when ordering, tell them to go easy on the seaweed.

Distinctive Biscuits
Now a visit to Sitiawan and its vicinity, in this instance Ayer Tawar, will not be complete without either tasting or bringing back the mouth-watering Hock Chew ‘Gong Pian’ biscuits. These savoury biscuits are one of the oldest favourites brought by the Hock Chew settlers from China. Unlike the ones found in Ipoh, these are hard and crispy on the outside, slightly salty and filled with a choice of fried onions or char siew. They did not look like much to my naked eye but one bite into one and I was sold and became a fan. In fact the night we were there the group ended up taking back a whole bagful. These ‘Gong Pian’ were ordered with the proprietor of Sun Hon Siong, who instead of buying from the more popularly known outlet in Sitiawan purchased them from an outlet in Ayer Tawar itself. So order in advance.

Restoran Sun Hon Siong142 Jalan Sekolah
(corner with Lumut highway)
32400 Ayer Tawar
05-672 6544