Category Archives: Musings on Food

SeeFoon revisits an old favourite


musings on food - food reviewsMusings 0n Food

By See Foon Chan-Koppen

Yum Yum was one of the first restaurants I was introduced to when I first arrived in Ipoh 17 years ago. I became an instant fan, for nowhere had I tasted such an interesting blend of Nyonya, Thai flavours with Chinese influences thrown in. Essentially the style of cooking is Peranakan and over the years, embellished by the creativity of the chef.

A meal at Yum Yum is incomplete without the Asam Fish Head which arrives usually as half a head, absolutely fresh from the market, swimming in a delightfully colourful soup/gravy punctuated by chunks of ladies fingers and tomatoes. The sauce is robust, acidified by asam or tamarind which gives it its eponymous name, tangy without being fiery, well seasoned and umami.

Yum Yum - 4

I am a creature of habit and will tend to order my favourite dishes whenever I go there. Aside from the Asam Fish Head, the must-haves for me include the Asam Petai Sambal Prawns, again that ubiquitous ingredient, asam or tamarind blended with belacan or shrimp paste, shallots and chilli and sautéed with a mixture of petai and prawns. Petai has earned its nickname ‘stink bean’ because its strong smell is very pervasive. However, it is touted to be very good for health and many locals love it.

Yum Yum - 8

Another dish here that I invariably order, especially if I have friends from overseas, is their Pandan Chicken, well marinated morsels of chicken, wrapped in coconut leaves and deep fried. These tasty titbits are great as appetizers.

Yum Yum - 5

One dish that appears innocuously simple, the fried eggs topped with minced meat, for some reason of kitchen wizardry, never fails to appeal to my taste buds, the fried egg with its yoke still intact and not totally hard, topped with well seasoned sautéed minced meat. Another of my favourites is their soft tofu topped with minced meat, the tofu, silky smooth contrasting with the grainy texture of the minced meat.

I especially like to go there on Fridays when they have their special Siamese Laksa. Unlike the Asam Laksa which is found everywhere and different from the curry mee which is equally common, a lemak laksa is hard to find in Ipoh. The one served here at Yum Yum is fragrant, creamy, and the sauce coaxed from a generous boiling down of fish bones and flesh.

Yum Yum - 9

Also on Fridays, they may have other specials. Ask for them. They are usually yummy at Yum Yum.

Suggested Dishes:

Gulai Tumis Style or Fish Curry without coconut milk – 400g RM26 onwards
Assam Fish Head Curry – 400g RM26 onwards
Assam Petai Sambal Prawns – RM15 (S)
Yum Yum Pandan Chicken – RM3.60 per piece
Thai Kerabu Mango – RM9 (S)
Yum Yum Fried Eggs with Minced Meat – RM9 (S)
Yum Yum Fried Brinjal – RM9 (S)
Friday Special Siamese Laksa – RM6 per set
Hot Dessert (Fried Fu Pei)

Yum Yum - 2

Yum Yum (Pork Free)
5 Persiaran Greenhill (New Town)
Tel: 05-253 7686
Business Hours: noon-3pm and 6pm-10pm; closed Wednesdays
GPS:  4° 35.953’N, 101° 5.283’E

Banana Leaf ‘Institution’


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.

Samy's 1

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.

Samy's 5

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.

Samy's 2

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.

Samy's 3

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

SeeFoon Explores Desa Rishah


musings on food - food reviewsMusings on Food

I have always maintained that husband and wife teams operate the best restaurants especially when one is in the kitchen and the other is serving guests. Wong Sheng restaurant in Desa Rishah is a case in point.

Introduced (yet again) by my peripatetic foodie friend Ginla Chew who has this propensity for wandering off the beaten trail and uncovering small gems of culinary delights, Wong Sheng is helmed by Andy Chan in the kitchen who has worked as chef in the UK and in Tai Thong in Ipoh, while his wife Christine Wong Sheng is capably taking orders and handling customers out in front.

Wong Sheng 2

A relatively ‘new’ restaurant, Wong Sheng has been open for more than  a year. Located on a corner shoplot with a lane right next to it which is used to full effect at night with tables filled to capacity, this restaurant is bright and airy and surprise, surprise, where the toilets are the cleanest I’ve ever had the pleasure to use in a coffee shop style restaurant. Kudos to the couple for maintenance.

It was a feast of sorts when I went there with a group of friends one evening. Dish after dish arrived on our table in rapid succession, every single dish worthy of mention. The first dish to arrive was the Wu Tao Kao Yoke or Taro braised with pork belly. Now this is quite commonly found on a lot of ‘Tai Chao’  (Cantonese for ‘Big Fry’) restaurant menus but the difference between this one and some others I’ve tried is like chalk and cheese. This Wu Tao Kao Yoke is one of the best I’ve tasted, the Taro soft and melt-in-mouth and the pork belly tender, succulent and layered with enough fat to give the dish its velvety smooth mouth feel without being too cloying and guilt inducing – RM16.80.

The next dish to arrive was the Baby Pak Choy sautéed with an eclectic mix of dried prawns, diced taro, cashews and topped with some crispy fried cuttle fish which lent its fragrance to the whole dish, aided and abetted by the dried prawns imparting its unique flavours – RM8.

Wong Sheng 5Then came their signature fish – a Fresh Tilapia Fried and served swimming in an interesting sauce reminiscent of our usual asam containing tamarind and belacan (prawn paste) yet, leaning more towards the Thai in flavour than the Malaysian – RM3 per 100g depending on size of fish.

Wong Sheng 3

The rest of the feast was still to come, with two sweet and sour dishes, pork ribs and chicken, crispy, crunchy morsels, not too sweet or sour – RM10 pork and RM9 chicken. Next was the Nai Yao Har or Milky Butter Prawns, fried prawns with a coating made from evaporated milk and butter and topped with a mesh of the same sauce made solid – somehow (chef’s secret) – RM15. Then came another fish, another Tilapia but this time it was called Patong Fish, steamed with a sauce redolent with ginger flower or bunga kantan – RM23.

Wong Sheng 6The Nam Yee Kah Heong Chai, a vegetarian dish comprising cloud ear mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, baby corn and regular mushrooms, with the Nam Yee, a fermented bean curd that is red in colour imparting its inimitable flavour and binding the ingredients in a flavourful melange, was delightful – RM7.

Wong Sheng 1Finally groaning from the surfeit, Christine persuaded us to taste one more of their signature dishes, the Smoked Spare Ribs, thick meaty ribs coated in a semi sweet sauce, the meat tender and juicy – RM16.80.

Wong Sheng 4

All in all a memorable meal and worthy of many more visits.

Restoran Wong Sheng
131 Persiaran Desa Rishah 1
Desa Rishah, 30010 Ipoh
Opens 11.30am-2.30pm & 5.30pm-10.30pm
Tuesdays closed every fortnight
Shop: 05-281 1805
Christine: 010-380 0875
Andy: 012-565 1046
GPS: 4° 34.872’N, 101° 3.040’E


SeeFoon revisits a Perennial Favourite


musings on food - food reviewsMusings on Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

When a restaurant has been around for 28 years and still garners a faithful following of diners, then you know that it is a restaurant of note. This  has always been my impression of Pakeeza, the one North Indian restaurant that has consistently stayed on top of the list in Ipoh for people hankering for North Indian food.

A recent facelift to the premises has now brought it even more prominence, as diners now walk into a beautiful small foyer and into the dining room where everything has been refurbished and one can sit in comfort on contemporary large tables and order up a storm.

Talking to Rizal, the proprietor who had to quit his tertiary education in 1996 and take over the running of the restaurant after his father’s demise, I could sense his commitment to carry on with his father’s legacy. Especially, as his mother who is the doyenne in the kitchen and still presides over the preparation of some of the dishes which bear her imprint and are secret recipes guarded over the years, needed to keep cooking as an outlet for her culinary energies and to showcase her skills.

Pakeeza serves North Indian food of a very high quality. Beautifully plated and presented, the dishes arrive in quick succession served by very courteous and knowledgeable waiters who can happily describe the food as they portion it out.

The pièce de résistance in Pakeeza has to be the Tandoori Chicken, succulent pieces of chicken marinated in their own secret mix of spices and yoghurt, and cooked in the clay oven which has pride of place in their kitchen. The Tandoor or clay oven is the secret to Tandoori Chicken (hence the name). Using only charcoal, the chicken is cooked to perfection, the outside just slightly charred for a smokey flavour and the inside meat still juicy and succulent. Here at Pakeeza, the chicken is plated beautifully allowing a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate. Served with lemon slices and the smoothest, tastiest, lime, mint and coriander chutney, the Tandoori Chicken is a ‘must-have’ at Pakeeza. RM34 – whole; RM17 – half; RM8.50 – quarter.

PakeezaThe menu is extensive, with a large selection of breads coming piping hot from the Tandoor. One can choose from the Garlic, Almond and Cheese Naan (sort of like an Indian pizza which one eats with the various curries), the Khima Naan stuffed with minced beef, chicken or lamb, the Masala Kulcha filled with vegetables, the Tandoori Roti, thin crispy whole wheat bread, or the Puri, fluffy puffs  of bread which has been deep fried. Altogether 15 varieties of bread to choose from.  From RM1.20 for Puri to RM6.80 for the Garlic, Cheese naan.

PakeezaThere is also a choice of different styles of rice to go with the various dishes. From plain steamed rice to their Briyani which come plain or with vegetables, chicken, mutton or beef. The rice here is the longest grained variety I have ever laid my eyes on, each grain distinct, fluffy and tasty. From RM2 for plain rice to RM12 for the meat Briyani.

In terms of ‘wet’ dishes, I highly recommend the boneless Buttered Chicken, deboned chicken morsels cooked in butter and tomato puree with a creamy gravy that is melt-in-mouth velvety smooth – RM9. Mutton Kerahi was robust and served in a small wok – RM9. The fish curry came in a sauce that was difficult to fathom and understandably so as it was one of Rizal’s mother’s secret recipes, mysterious and delectable – RM22.

Pakeeza3In the prawn and squid section of the menu, I had the opportunity to try their Prawn Masala which is described as peeled prawns in a Moghul thick sauce, the prawns fresh and the sauce mild and creamy – RM26. Reeling from surfeit, there was more to come in the way of vegetables, first the Cheese Palak, creamed spinach with cheese, a thick creamy puree just a tad too sugared for my taste but others at my table loved it. Eaten with either the Puri or Naan, it was a vegetarian’s delight – RM7. Another vegetable dish which I found delightful was the Brinjal Pajeri, deep fried brinjals or eggplant in a sweet and spicy sauce – RM6.



Of course no meal is complete without the obligatory dessert and here we had the Kulfi, the quintessential Indian ice cream made from powdered almonds, milk and sugar – RM6.50.

Pakeeza may look deceptively small when one first enters the restaurant (seats 80) with one private room for 10-12, but stairs leading to the second floor reveal a room that can accommodate up to 100 people. On busy days or nights, diners are led upstairs where they can dine in comfort. The room naturally, is also available for functions.

All in all, I found the Pakeeza Restaurant to have great quality of food, service and good value. This is one restaurant I shall return to again and again for more of that Moghul taste.

PakeezaPakeeza (Halal)
15-17 Jalan Dato Seri Ahmad Said
Tel: 05-241 4243 & 05-253 0407
Business Hours: 11am-3pm; 6pm-10.30pm
GPS:  4° 35.996’N, 101° 5.228’E

See Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant review

SeeFoon gets sliced and loves it


musings on food - food reviewsBy See Foon Chan-Koppen

Ed Levine, contributor for the New York Times Dining section calls it in his book, ‘A slice of heaven’. He is referring to Pizza, that slice of baked dough topped with mouth-watering ingredients, and baked to crisp perfection. Well I certainly agree.

But there are pizzas and there are pizzas. Pizza and its current popularity began around the turn of the last century when adverse economic conditions brought millions of Italian immigrants to America. It was then an inexpensive peasant food, made casalinga (home-style) by southern Italian immigrant women in their kitchens.

It was through the opening of Pizza Hut in 1958 and Domino’s in 1960 that the pizza phenomenon spread around the world and today, most people who claim to like pizza only know the fast-food variety which is a far cry from the original American pizza started by Italian founders in the early 1900s.

Thanks to its rise in popularity, the pizza has come full circle and more people’s taste buds are being ‘educated’, giving rise to a return to the original ‘casalinga’ style of preparation, that is by hand and using a wood-fired oven.

See Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant reviewMichelangelo’s is one of these pizzerias, an authentic American Rock ‘n’ Roll Pizzeria where the music is loud, the staff are fun and the food is exactly like what you would find in the US. Having lived a year there as an impressionable teenager, it brought back nostalgia for me.

Michael Owen the proprietor/chef who started Michelangelo’s with his wife Siew Li, pride themselves on the fact that every single recipe is homemade from scratch like their sauces, cakes, dough, etc. They spend hours researching, testing, tasting and changing recipes to make them their very own before any item goes on the menu.

Michael is completely uncompromising on the total concept, from the food quality, to the presentation, the service and the ambiance. He will not succumb to local pressure to ‘Malaysianize’ the taste and nor will he turn down his music which is put on at quite a high decibel level. For his attitude I applaud him; in my opinion, the downfall of many restaurants is pandering to local tastes instead of striving for excellence and authenticity.

The pizzeria is designed after both a Chicago and New York City Pizzeria. The pizzas are cooked inside a custom-made real wood-fired brick oven. There is an actual fire at all times and pizzas take about 90 seconds to two minutes to cook directly on the stone about 3-5 inches from the fire itself. As a result the black on the bottom of the pizzas is meant to be there, and adds flavour.

See Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant reviewThey serve large 15- to 16-inch pizzas at a reasonable price. One can also order one pizza in two different styles both for dine in and carry out which  takes only about 5-10 minutes  to get your food once they take the order.

My personal favourite pizza from the list is The HOG. With an overload of PORKY goodness; bacons, homemade Italian sausages and hams, how can one resist this barbaric/carnivorous creation? RM39.80. The Bacon and Eggs pizza is also a terrific combination, with over-easy eggs cracked on top of layers of cheese, then topped with smoked streaky bacon – RM33.80. They also use ½-inch-thick bacon slices which are divine.

See Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant reviewAll in all there is a choice of 12 types of pizza to choose from including a Tuna for the fishtarians and a vegetarian one. Then, there is the ‘create your own pizza’ with a crust of cheese and sauce at RM25 and toppings of choice ranging between RM4 for the vegetables to RM8 each for the premium meats.

Being a pizzeria does not mean they serve ONLY pizza. Their appetizer of note is the grilled jalapeño peppers stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon, the fiery jalapeños being tempered by the mild creaminess of the cheese and the bacon lending a hearty taste and bite to the whole package – RM19.90.

See Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant reviewThere is also a small selection of Pastas with the Spaghetti Carbonara being my choice, the spaghetti ‘al dente’ with tantalizing chunks of bacon bits cooked in a rich homemade carbonara sauce, featuring fresh eggs, olive oil, cream, parmesan cheese, fresh ground pepper garlic and a few secret items as written on the menu – RM22.90.

See Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant reviewAnd if there is still room in the belly, there are the two ‘to-die-for’ desserts: the New York cheesecake and the ‘Insane Brownies’. Michaelangelo’s as they say on their website: “This ain’t your ordinary place”.

See Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant reviewSee Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant review

Michelangelo’s Pizzeria
No. 40, Jalan Medan Ipoh 1B,
Medan Ipoh Bistari, 31400 Ipoh, Perak.
Business Hours: 6pm-10pm
Fri/Sat: 6pm-10.30pm
Closed Mondays.
Tel: 05-549 9099. No reservations.

See Foon Chan-Koppen's restaurant review

SeeFoon feels ‘offaly’ good in Bercham


Musings on Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

I used to believe that there was no Thai food worth eating in Ipoh, especially since I often go to Phuket and Bangkok and get to eat the authentic dishes there. Whatever I used to get here that passed as Thai were usually sweetened to local tastes and I could never find the very typical simple Thai dishes or ‘peasant’ food that are ubiquitous in Thailand and for which I have developed a hankering.

Suphata Trupsum 5One such dish is Larp Moo, a minced pork (or it could be chicken) cold dish with its own distinctive characteristics. Minced pork is often mixed with slivered pig’s skin and tossed with lime, chilli flakes, coriander leaves, some shallots and a special dry-fried raw rice powder that lends an interesting roasted flavour and texture to the mixture. At Suphata Trupsum (the name of the chef proprietor), the Larb is most unusual with added pigs’ small intestines and liver chunks. Being an offal lover, I found it delectable. RM15.

This is a brand new restaurant and when my friend Chan Seow Lok invited me to sample the food here, I jumped at the opportunity.  Lisa as she is called, serves a mixture of Thai and Chao Tsou dishes, the latter stemming from the large Chinese population in Thailand known for their regional specials.Suphata Trupsum 2

A long time settler in Ipoh, Lisa goes often to the Thai border to pick up her fresh ingredients and as the sole chef in the kitchen, dishes up her creations in a jiffy. Her dishes are hearty and robust, nothing pretentious about them but the taste is distinctly, authentically Thai as are her Chao Tsou dishes which compare to some of the best I’ve had in China.

Even her Chicken Rice (which is quite popular in Thailand) comes close to what I grew up with in Singapore, the rice fluffy and tasty from the chicken broth, the chicken fresh from market, tender, succulent and the accompanying chilli sauce fiery enough for my taste buds. RM50 for a whole chicken.

Being an offal lover, I have often lamented not finding in Ipoh, the Chao Tsou version of the soya braised large intestine done to perfection, like the ones I used to get in HongKong where there is a large choice of Chao Tsou restaurants. Here at Suphata Trupsum, I have found offal heaven.

The large intestine arrived on a platter with braised pigs trotters and tofu. The pigs trotters were tender, the sinews and tendons soft and chewy and the meat falling off the bone while the pièce de résistance, the large intestine was braised to perfection, very well cleaned and nary an offensive smell, succulent and ‘umami’. RM18 per plate.

While all this talk of offal may be repulsive to some of my dear readers out there, let me assure you that Lisa has many other dishes up her sleeve to satisfy any taste buds and budget. The steamed Plakapong or Barramundi (Siakap in Malay) was done Thai style, with garlic, chillies, herbs and lime. Fresh and light RM35 for whole fish.

The next fish dish was the Pla Tu or Kembong fish a kind of small mackerel that is popular both locally as well as in Thailand. This is served steamed and lightly grilled or fried with a hot dipping sauce and a heaping plate of raw herbs and vegetables which is meant to be eaten with the fish. The herbs especially the fragrance of the Thai basil, lend a refreshing contrast to the fiery sauce and the firm flesh of the fish. RM25 for a set of two whole fish.Suphata Trupsum 3

The ‘Lo Ngap’ or braised duck, again done Chao Tsou style, was tender and tasty RM35 followed by deep fried “Tsa Tsui Yu’ or Whiting was well seasoned, crisp, crunchy and can almost be eaten whole, bones and all. RM18 for 5 whole fish.

We then had the Goong Chien Nam Pla, which although ubiquitous in many Thai restaurants in Bangkok, was the first for me in Ipoh. This is Thai sashimi if you will, raw prawns (must be very fresh) ‘cooked’ in fresh lime juice, fish sauce and amply seasoned with fresh garlic, chillies and cilantro. I tasted the first prawn with trepidation, always being suspicious of eating seafood raw, especially ones purchased from local markets. To my delight, the prawns were very fresh and the marinade of lime, fish sauce and garlic had removed any fishiness from them. RM22.

Now no Thai meal for me is complete without the following two dishes: the Green Curry and the Kao Pad Pla Kiem or the fried rice with salted fish. The Green curry chicken arrived looking as it should: smooth thick sauce in the classical green colour, cooked with egg plant, herbs, chillies and spices. I asked if the paste was a packaged one and was delighted to discover that it was not, rather, hand ground and prepared by Chef Lisa herself. This was excellent, the sauce umami and spicy enough without being searing.Suphata Trupsum 5

Finally after all the innumerable dishes and die-hard Foodie that I am, I had to ask for the one dish I invariably end a Thai meal with – the Kao Phad Pla Kiem or salted fish fried rice. This arrived in typical Thai fashion, in the shape of an inverted rice bowl, each grain of rice firm but fluffy. The rice was tasty enough and the only lament I had was that there wasn’t enough salted fish being used and instead of the dried salted fish, perhaps the next time I’ll request for the ‘Mui Heong’ (decaying fragrance) variety. RM5.Suphata Trupsum 6

Restaurant Suphata Trupsum
354 Lorong Bercham 11, Kampung Bercham
Tel:  Lisa 016-591 8272

Suphata Trupsum 1

SeeFoon walks down memory lane at Festival Walk


musings on food - food reviewsMusings on Food

By See Foon Chan-Koppen

Ah for the nostalgia of my two years living in Japan. I can still recall as vividly as if it were yesterday, my first en-counter (pun intended) with sushi, perched at the traditional counter, watching the chef deftly slicing up the various fish, and when our order finally arrived, I was totally blown away by the spectacle. The fish head with its mouth still flapping and the gills moving, the central bone revealed and artistically displayed with the fish meat slices arrayed on either side, was beckoning to be eaten. No sashimi could be fresher than that my friends told me, egging me on and cajoling me to use my chopsticks on the still pulsating fish slices, dipping into the wasabi and soya sauce and popping it into my mouth.Sushi Zento-07

Sushi Zento-03Well it took me a few minutes to summon up enough courage to do that, never having eaten raw fish in my entire young life (20 something then) but what a big step that was. Since then, as the saying goes, “I’ve come a long way baby” eating as much sushi and sashimi as I can lay my hands on and always trying to reproduce that quintessential freshness of that first Japanese experience of the still breathing fish. These days, with the plethora of Japanese sushi places popping up all over, I find myself eschewing sushi restaurants, finding most places ‘wannabes’, with little respect for the fine tradition of craftsmanship that sushi chefs in Japan undergo years of training to achieve.

Sushi Zento-05   Sushi Zento-02  Sushi Zento strives to be different, prepared to stand out from the crowd with a large and varied menu and specialty fish, air flown from Japan and USA every Tuesday and Friday. With Chan Nam and Dato’ Chan Yew Mun who are avid fans of Japanese cuisine, we descended on Zento one lunch time and taking one of their three smaller private rooms (one large for 20 pax and two smaller ones for 8-10), we proceeded to order up a storm given that the menu was so interesting and inviting.

Sushi Zento-06I still remember the words of Dato’ Chan Yew Mun at the wedding of an Ipohite when he praised the qualities of Ipoh ‘boys’ repeatedly calling them kind, considerate and generous to a fault and these are the exact words I would use to describe my host Chan Nam especially when the bill came to a grand total of RM850.

But then when the bill of fare included a whole live lobster served two ways, first as sashimi, each slice, umami freshness and perfection in every bite, followed by a broth (Nabe) made from the head, shell and claws, its understandable that the bill would be so high. Lobster RM220 medium RM240 large.

Sushi Zento-04Lest I put my readers off with the prices I just quoted, let me assure you that there is a good meal to be had for much, much less. There is the usual carousel from which one can pick the revolving plates of sushi and tidbits which vary from RM1.80 for the egg sushi to the most expensive of RM7.80 for the seaweed, jelly fish and clams or whelks. The quality of these are good and highly popular.

Or one could opt for one of the sets which are priced from RM35 to RM58. These would consist of minimum six dishes of soup, rice, main course of meat or fish, fruit, steamed egg or chawan mushi, and a salad. The RM58 set has an extra dish with both raw fish and meat.

On the day of our lunch, we had as appetizers, the fried white bait RM15 and fried baby shrimps RM10, both crispy and utterly delectable. A fresh salad topped with soft shell crab and salmon skin at RM20 followed by a plate of salmon belly sashimi RM35 kept the hunger pangs at bay. Then the magnificent lobster sashimi arrived, more shell and decoration than actual meat but nevertheless most impressive.

Naturally we were still hungry as we were ten people around the table so it was time to have the Buta Kakuni Stewed Berkshire pork belly with sauce RM18, tender morsels braised to perfection, not unlike the Chinese ‘Dong Po Yoke’. It was so good we had to have two portions.

For those on a budget and who love Japanese food, I would certainly recommend their Ramen, apparently one of the signature dishes of the house. The Kyushu Ramen comes in a robust pork broth which the manager assures me has been coaxed from pork bones overnight, the noodles still chewy on the bite, with slices of barbecued pork, a perfectly cooked half-boiled egg with the yolk still runny and topped with fish paste slices. Other combinations are available and makes for a satisfying meal on its own – RM18-20.

The last to come was the Nabe made from the lobster shells and claws. This was a hearty broth with the two claws which we shared amongst ourselves, with leeks and scallions lending additional flavour to the broth. A satisfying ending to a great meal.

Sushi Zento

Festival Walk, Jalan Medan Ipoh 1

Medan Ipoh Bistari. Tel: 05-545 2966

Open: Mon-Thurs: 11.30am-2.30pm; 6pm-10.15pm

Fri-Sun: 11.30am-10.15pm

Sushi Zento-01

SeeFoon finds affordable gems in Menglembu


musings on food - food reviewsBy See Foon Chan-Koppen

The instructions from my friend Ginla were cryptic: head for main street in Menglembu (Jalan Besar, Menglembu) and just at the corner of Public Bank adjacent to it is a small lane. Turn in and head for the open field and there on the right under some big shady trees, is a shack. So with those simple directions I set off and sure enough there was the unprepossessing Kedai Carol.

The kitchen is open for all to see, right there next to the tables and chairs which have certainly seen better times (no red table cloths here!). Ginla was already there, having ordered the food half an hour earlier. Nevertheless, we still had to wait for the first dish to arrive, a further 15 minutes which seemed interminable as we were all hungry. However, a nice cool bottle of wine kept us occupied and despite the excruciating heat of the day, we were kept pleasantly ‘sweat free’ from the fan and the greenery surrounding us. Because there was open field all around us, the oppressiveness of the heat was kept at bay. This is definitely not a location to entertain the visiting Chairman of the board. Nevertheless the food more than makes up for the lacklustre ambiance and the prices even more mollifying.

    The first dish to arrive was their signature fish, a fairly large Tilapia, deep fried to a crispy finish and topped with a most appetising sauce chock-full of ginger, chillies, garlic and spring onions. The fins, collar and tail bits were crispy enough to crunch through and the fish meat was not overly dry. The four of us at the table unanimously voted it a ‘must-return-for-more’– RM25.Kedai Carol2

The next dish was the four-angled bean fried with chillies and dried prawns in a sambal style. There was certainly a good ‘wok hei’ (meaning the wok was hot enough) to the dish, the four-angled beans still crunchy on the bite, the dried prawns lending flavour and texture and the chillies pungent enough to draw oohs and aahs around the table – RM7.Kedai Carol4

Steamed Kembong (a type of local mackerel) fish followed, topped with a stack of chopped ginger and bathed in soya sauce. This fish was less to my personal liking as the meat of the Kembong is quite firm and oily. In fact I was surprised to find a Chinese restaurant using it for steaming as the fish is preferred in Indian and Malay cuisine and usually served fried. However, the fish was very fresh and we could have asked for it fried – RM8 for two fish.

Our next dish was the Kampung chicken braised with bitter melon in a black bean sauce, which turned out to be robust, tasty and full of flavour, the melon leaving no bitter aftertaste – RM12. Next came the sautéed roast pork, coated in a dark soya sauce with onions and a hint of chillies. Tending on the sweet side, the flavouring appealed to my friends at the table while I kept my nibbles to a minimum given my predilection for non-sweet dishes – RM10.Kedai Carol5

Then came the pièce de résistance of the meal, their signature Fried Rice with Lap Mei or Chinese preserved sweetmeats, a generous helping of rice fried with large prawns, egg, and morsels of sweetmeats which lent its inimitable fragrance to the dish. Utterly irresistible and great value at RM4 for the portion.

Kedai Carol3Foodie that I am, I was reluctant to end my meal at the rice and wanted to taste their noodles so a plate of their fried noodles was promptly delivered. This was a combination of thick yellow noodles and flat rice noodles fried with pork, prawns, egg and vegetables. Juicy, scrumptious and again great value at RM4.

Kedai Carol1Speaking to the mother and daughter team in the kitchen, I was surprised to discover that the whole stall is run and manned by women. I was told that on Sundays, they have many specials depending on market availability of ingredients. These could vary between their ginger duck with black bean sauce, their braised pork knuckle with large pig’s intestine, their vinegar pork knuckle, their steamed Kampung chicken with Chinese wine and many more dishes. So I will definitely be making another trip here on the first available Sunday on my calendar.

Kedai Carol
Swastia Jalan Ming Min
Menglembu 31450
Tel: Carol: 012-580 2312; Wendy: 012-576 6566
Open: Noon till 5pm (last order but can stay till 9pm drinking)
Sunday’s last order 6pm. Closed Mondays.
GPS: E 101° 2’ 44.2 N 4° 33’ 50.7

SeeFoon checks out the new life in Old Town


musings on food - food reviewsBy See Foon Chan-Koppen

When Julie Song told me the name of their new outlet Buku Tiga Lima, next to Burbs and Giggles, my first question to Dexter Song, scion, manager and co-owner with Mum Julie, was “So can I establish credit for food and beverage here?” He laughed and explained that the name came about because there were already a few of these tiny exercise books being used as decoration in Burbs and Giggles when they opened, so instead of scratching around for another fun name to match, they decided on the quaint little books which were ubiquitous in the old days when credit would be recorded in them, one for the trader and another for the buyer. This honour system was probably the forerunner of our current credit card system today.

Musings - Burps & GigglesBurbs and Giggles and now its adjoining sister outlet, Buku Tiga Lima, is certainly bringing the life back to old town. Where hitherto, the only reason to wander into that part of town was to either go to the bank or to eat at the twin hawker food mecca, Kong Heng and Thean Chun; now foodies and the hip and trendy have a new venue to eat, drink, sip coffee, meet, and to see and be seen. And it’s all happening at these two iconic cafes/restaurants/bar/coffee house depending on your preference for naming venues.

Musings - Buku Tiga LimaLike its equally iconic neighbour, Sekeping Kong Heng, an example of minimalistic heritage conservation with 21st century artistic flair, Burbs and Giggles and its newly-opened sister outlet Buku Tiga Lima, is a fine showpiece of modern creative interior design married to old framework, with a large proportion of the old walls, stairs, ceilings, windows and doors left in its original dilapidated state, some parts even embellished with additional plaster work to accentuate the feel of peeling plaster, faded signage, flea market pickings of odds and ends and pieces of furniture.

Musings - Buku Tiga LimaVibrant wall art, whimsical lamps with outrageous shades, mismatched chairs and throw away tables from abandoned houses, quaint yet attractive ‘artsy’ arrangements like an assortment of wooden stools, contrast starkly with bottles of expensive single malts and a few champagnes adorning the bar shelves, all assaulting the usual staid Ipoh sensibilities as one walks in from busy Jalan Sultan Yussuf. More odds and ends catch the eye and modern toilets that work combine in an eclectic mix of the old with the new; bold splashes of colour juxtaposed against the drabness of unpainted walls; chatter and laughter assail the senses as one goes in search for a table or during peak hours, just a chair to perch on.

The decor was a collaboration between Julie Song of Indulgence fame, her son Dexter who runs the place and his girlfriend Rachel Yeow who assists him. Rachel who was responsible for all the lampshades and the very creative art arrangements, also dabbles in painting and helped to do some of the calligraphy dotted around. According to Dexter, the three of them used to go scavenging at abandoned homes, flea markets and even furniture dumps, picking up pieces that people had discarded and yet with a creative eye had been resurrected and given a new lease of life in Burbs and Giggles and Buku Tiga Lima.

And it all works. Not only in decor but also in the menu offerings. Buku Tiga Lima specialises in Crepes and Bagels while Burbs and Giggles dish out fancy hamburgers. In between there are the usual savoury and sweet delectables available behind the glass counter which one can choose to take away or eat on premises. There are no printed menus and all items are hand written on huge boards hanging on the walls.

Musings - Burps & Giggles - Bam-Bam Musings - Bagel @ Buku Tiga Lima - Reverend MamaChipped enamel plates to eat from lend humour as we were first served a bagel with cream cheese arriving on the usual fancy serving platter. The bagel was crispy on the outside and softer on the inside than most bagels I have eaten in other parts of the world particularly in the US where they are most popular. The ‘Reverend Mama’ which comes with soft egg, smoked salmon, dill gherkin and ricotta cheese is a mountain of a ‘sandwich’ – RM15; as is their ‘Bam-Bam’ a whopping stack of a wagyu beef burger, skewered with a steak knife. This is served with egg, cheese, tomato, beetroot, carrot, horseradish and onion – RM28. Hale and hearty and perfect for lunch. Other burgers are more scaled down with a choice of chicken, lamb, fish, and the vegetarian one with portobello mushroom, brie cheese, broad bean and salad ranging in price from RM18 for the Angus beef to RM15 for the portobello. Additionals include their chunky cut chips with cheese, chillies RM4 and if you add truffle oil which imparts a heavenly fragrance, it’s RM6 a portion.

On the crepe selection, I tried the seafood crepe which was generous in its serving of prawns, fish, basil and cheese in a thick tomato sauce, the crepe arrived crisped at the edges but alas was eventually overwhelmed by the sauce turning soggy very quickly – RM16. I had more luck with the sweet crepe, the Hazelnut Choc with crushed hazelnuts and Creme Brulee dollop. This arrived crispy all around, the nuts lending even more crunch and the chocolate cream velvety smooth, providing a textural contrast that was delightful – RM14.

Musings - Burps & Giggles - Chocolate OrgasmThe crème de la crème was just that at the end of the meal – a large scoop of chocolate ice cream called ‘Chocolate Orgasm’ which quite lived up to its name, called the Lola, sandwiched in a special handmade brioche. An absolute must-have should you ever go for coffee or tea.

Dexter, a true blue Ipoh boy who spent some years in Australia, has certainly come home to roost and is keen to do his bit for Ipoh. He loans out the upstairs premises of Burbs and Giggles for charity fairs and functions for free and to date has hosted five functions. He hopes to generate more activities upstairs and is planning a children’s play later in the year.

I for one certainly wish him all  future success for not only has he brought life back to old town but he has raised the bar on iconic preservation of old premises, and other potential heritage conservationists need to take note.

Burbs and Giggles and Buku Tiga Lima, 93 and 95, Jalan Sultan Yussuf. Tel: 05-242 6188.  Closed Tuesdays      Open: 8am-7pm

Musings on food, See Foon Chan-Koppen

Seefoon Yearns For Some Home Cooking In Ipoh


musings on food - food reviewsBy See Foon Chan-Koppen

Ever have one of those ‘been-there, eaten-that-so-what-else-is-new’ moods and your jaded palate just longs for that home-cooked taste of dishes that Mum or Grandma used to make? That happened to me recently in the run up to Chinese New Year, rushing about in preparation for celebrating with family in Singapore and friends in Phuket. So when Ginla Foo suggested some home-style cooking at Restaurant Ipoh, I jumped at the opportunity and gathered a group of my foodie friends to sample the dishes.

Musings on food, See Foon Chan-Koppen     The restaurant, situated on the corner of Jalan Masjid in old town, is an unpretentious 2-shoplot coffee house that looks newly renovated, with white tiled walls which, while clean and hygienic in the conventional sense, is unfortunately the least conducive to noise reduction. So combined with outside traffic noise, the chatter ricocheting off the walls in the non air-conditioned space can reach uncomfortable decibel levels.

However, the food more than makes up for intimate conversation. With an extensive menu and an efficient kitchen, the dishes we ordered came fast and furiously, matched only by the speed with which we wolfed down the food.

Musings on food, See Foon Chan-KoppenThe first to arrive was the pork belly sautéed with scallions; juicy, tender morsels just a tad too sweet for my personal palate but well received by the rest of my friends – RM10. More to my taste was the pork dish that followed, a pork and salted fish fried patty, hot off the wok, the sides still slightly crisped, the insides succulent, redolent with a ‘Mui Heong’ (literally translated to mean ‘decaying fragrance’) salted fish flavour which was particularly pungent – RM10. Two poultry dishes, the ‘Kon Jeen Kai’ dry fried chicken with a sweet tangy caramelized coating rendering the skin crisp with the meat remaining juicy and succulent inside, utterly delicious at RM12 and the smoked duck’s breast, though slightly on the bland side was good value at RM13.

Musings on food, See Foon Chan-KoppenTwo fish dishes came next, the first, black pomfret cooked Assam style was tangy, flavourful and the fish was firm and fresh – RM42. This was followed by the steamed Grass Carp belly, a very bony fish with delectably sweet flesh. Smothered in mashed fresh ginger, the belly presented no problems, the bones here being large enough to avoid accidents. The ginger masked any potential ‘fishiness’ and the extra fatty flesh from the belly was velvety smooth and ‘umami’ – RM32.

Musings on food, See Foon Chan-KoppenOf course, no home-cooking would be complete without the Wu Tao Kow Yoke, taro sandwiched by thick slices of pork belly and braised to mouth watering tenderness. In this case, the RM12 portion was more than ample for the group who were beginning to get sated. With a soup to come, winter gourd with radish, carrots and red dates RM6, followed by fried sambal Kangkong or water convolvulus RM8, a sautéed beef with scallions RM12, salted fish fried rice RM4.80 and the black bean fried rice vermicelli, the black bean lending an unusual touch to the usually bland rice noodles and infusing them with flavour, RM5.50, we were all groaning with surfeit by the time we finished this twelve-course meal and paid the bill of RM183 which we all agreed was great value for money.

Not content with all that I had tasted, I saw on leaving the restaurant, that other tables had interesting dishes which still lay in wait for discovery so I made my way back on another occasion and had the pleasure to sample a few more dishes with three of my friends.

This time, I was recommended the Nai Yau Pai Kwat or butter coated spare ribs. These were crispy on the outside and tender and succulent inside, with a slightly sweet follow through RM15. I had spied Wat Dan Hor (Smooth Egg flat rice noodles) on the previous visit and was determined to try it and I was not disappointed. Thick and soupy, with the rice noodles pre-fried in soya sauce to lend flavour and colour, the bowl of noodles was more than enough for the four of us at RM8.

Musings on food, See Foon Chan-KoppenNext, I chose the Yau Tsam Ham Choy (oil soaked fried fish with salted vegetable) preparation for the fish and having a choice of Tilapia or Senangin, I chose the latter which proved to be a hit. The Senangin being one of my favourite local fish, deep fried to crispy on the edges with the addition of  the preserved salted cabbage in a sauce, turned out to be a delightful marriage of tastes and textures and worth the RM58 we paid for the dish.

The final touch of bean sprouts fried with salted fish (RM8) was the right ending to an interesting sojourn into home cooking like Mum used to make.


Musings on food, See Foon Chan-KoppenRestoran Ipoh
33 Jalan Masjid.
Ask for: Wong Mun Yew Tel: 05-254 0037
GPS: N 04 35 589 E 101 04 938
Open 12pm-3pm; 5.30pm-9pm