Banana Leaf ‘Institution’

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musings on food - food reviewsMusings on Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

Samy's 4Mention banana leaf curry in Ipoh and most aficionados who appreciate the hot fiery tastes of this South Indian meal will unanimously opt for Samy’s. However, the journey from Ipoh town can be a tad far for some, but for serious foodies, the trek there is worth every kilometre.

Samy’s Restaurant does have a following. Go there on a weekday lunchtime and the place is packed to the gills with office workers and people waiting in line for take away. On weekends and public holidays, golfers and families are a common sight.

The restaurant has been around for 50 years, and is now run by the son who has grown the business to the point where there is now a new extension next door and where before one had to wait for a seat, there is now ample seating at long tables where sharing tables is a convivial thing to do.

This is a place for banana leaves so you won’t see any plates around. Most people here will eat with their hands but for the squeamish types like me they do supply forks and spoons. First they place the banana leaf in front of you and promptly bring the rice which they’ll serve you by the ladle, and replenish when requested. Then comes the poppadom which are large crispy crackers made from chickpea flour. Again, they’re generous with these so you can ask for more as you nibble while waiting for the other curries to come. Next come the vegetables, a rotating selection every day, and on the day I went it was a mixed vegetable dhal with carrots and long beans, dry potato curry and always a cucumber, onion salad. This was accompanied by a Rasam, a sourish cup of well spiced ‘soup’ which is meant to stimulate appetite and aid digestion.

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Samy’s has one of the largest selection of wet and dry curries I have ever tasted (and I have been tasting them for over a period of 10 years). And some of the most exotic items too, not to be found in other places in town. This is the only banana leaf restaurant to offer Duck RM12 and Turkey Curry RM15 per portion. It is also the only place where I’ve been to where they serve Kambing Kepala or fresh Lamb’s Head Curry RM14. Being an offal lover, I was delighted to find Kambing Perut or Lamb Innards Curry RM14 as well as Kambing Hati or Lamb’s Liver RM14.

They also distinguish between regular Chicken Curry RM6 and Kampong (free range) Chicken Curry RM8, the latter cooked in the Varuval style – dry, more robust and more fiery. The same applies to their mutton. Regular Mutton (frozen) Curry goes for RM8 per portion while the Kampong Mutton (fresh) is RM15 per portion. I personally prefer the kampong mutton which is stronger in taste and fresh from the market, not frozen like the regular mutton which is from Australia or New Zealand.

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Now that I have mentioned all the meat dishes, let me move on to the fish which is equally tempting. The regular Fish Curry for one piece of mackerel is RM6 which comes with some brinjal and ladies fingers. They also have a choice of  fried fish. Their Prawn Curry goes for RM12 but it is their Crab Curry that is the pièce de résistance.

The crab curry sells out very quickly and its no wonder. Big fresh flower crabs at RM15 each come with a thick curry gravy which is absolutely delectable. This is one curry that I always look forward to and even if the crabs sell out, I’ll plead for some of that scrumptious gravy to go with my rice.

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Samy’s opens early for breakfast where Thosai, Roti Canai, Vadai, Curry Puffs, Appam and other Indian breads are available. Eating Thosai here is a delightful experience where they give you a variety of chutneys and dips. My favourites were the Coconut Chutney and the Ikan Bilis Sambal. They also provide you with a dhal and tomato chutney unlike some other places I’ve been to where you’re lucky if they still have the Coconut Chutney left and you’re left with an onion sambal and watery dhal. Needless to say, all this is washed down with Teh Tarik, thick black tea made with evaporated and condensed milk.

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Samy’s Restaurant
70 Main Road, Chemor
Tel: 05-201 4066
Business Hours: 7am-9.30pm, closed Mondays every fortnight.
GPS:  4º 43.171’N, 101º 7.275’E