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SeeFoon converges on Cowan Street and eats from morning till night

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See Foon Chan-KoppenBy See Foon Chan-Koppen

I have never ceased to be amazed at the plethora of food stalls and restaurants in and around Ipoh. Restaurants open and restaurants close, some move and are never to be seen again and some perennials just stay put, serving the same old, same old. But the ones that remain stay true to their quality standards and the faithful customers continue to beat a path to their door.

One such location is the short stretch of Cowan Street or Jalan Raja Ekram between Jalan Dato Seri Ahmad Said and Jalan Leong Sin Nam. Here, the ground is thick with coffee shops and restaurants, each with their own unique offerings, open at different times and appealing to different tastes and pockets.

This column today is devoted to covering the large variety and choices available on this stretch, with taste treats for all tastes, palates and religious orientation.

Curry Mee

Beginning from the Tower Regency Hotel end of the road, I began with breakfast at Kedai Kopi Keng Nam (No.  27) where their  curry mee (big – RM4.50 and small – RM3.80) packs in the customers and they’re inevitably sold out by 11.00 a.m. Here too, sample prawn mee (RM3); their lor mai fan (sticky rice) with chicken curry or their chee cheong fun (flat rice noodles with bits of dried prawns and scallions) and wu tau ko (steamed Taro cake).

Musings on Food - Cowan StreetAll-Day Thosai

From here move on to Restoran Ipoh Padang Curry House (No. 93) where South Indian food is featured. Here you will find an assortment of  curries (by the portion and dependent on type ordered), nasi briyani (RM7.00); mutton briyani (8.50); murtabak (RM4-5.00); and banana leaf meals. What I like best about this curry house is that unlike other Indian banana leaf places, this one serves different types of thosai all day long except between the hours of 1-2.00 p.m. (RM1-1.70 each). Open from 5.30 a.m. – 8.30 p.m. For more info you can call Anand at 012-5240122 or  Vasu 019-5115137. Halal.

Best Mee Rebus

Musings on Food - Cowan StreetMoving further along on the same side of the road a few doors down is Nelli’s Deli, a newly-opened restaurant serving one of the best mee rebus I’ve ever tasted in Ipoh. Neither too sweet nor starchy, this mee rebus hit all the right taste notes for me (RM4.50). I then tasted their nasi lemak which came with a choice of chicken (RM5.00), cockles or kerang RM3.50; Squid or sotong RM3.50; and prawns or udang RM3.50. Do ask for the homemade sambal belacan which was spicily tantalising. Other items on the menu here include an asam laksa of a pretty good standard  (RM4.50) and a fried rice special at RM4.50 which was very tasty. Open from 8.00 a.m.-6.00 p.m. Halal.

A few doors away  from Nelli’s Deli we pass Koh Samui, Ipoh’s most well-known Thai restaurant where the decor is up market, the menu extensive and the food is a mix of Thai/Chinese. Halal.

For the Pub Crowd

Opposite to these two we find Let’s Rock (No. 48), a famous Kao Chiew Pai (old brand name) from Pasir Puteh specialising in curry noodles and ‘yeong liew. Opening only in the afternoon from 4.30-11 p.m., this coffee shop caters to the pub crowd which has grown in numbers given the proliferation of pubs springing up in the area.  Noodles RM1.30-1.50; yong liew  60 sen each. Apparently the curry fish head at the adjacent stall is worth checking out but I have yet to do so (S – RM23, M – RM26, L – RM32).

Coffee Shops on the Crossroad

Musings on Food - Cowan Street

Across the intersection, we come to three coffee shops at the intersection of Cowan St. and Jalan Leong Sin Nam. These are all open from early morning till after lunch and each one features a variety of individual stalls with different specialties. I will mention only the items that I feel are worth tasting, the rest being quite run-of-the-mill and mediocre in taste.

Kedai Makanan & Minuman Hua Nam (No. 30) has had either a changeover in ownership or they decided on giving the shop a face-lift. Whatever the case may be, the shop used to be called Wah Pun and was closed for quite a period before re-opening. The new stalls (some of them are new) offer some quite spectacular specialties as in the Gunung Rapat Asam Laksa – RM3; yeong liew – RM0.60-1.30; Siew Bee Nyonya Kuih (must try their rempah udang),  Mee Goreng Pangkor which is quite misleading as it is ‘char koay teow’ and a delicious one at that – RM3.80; Hokien Prawn Mee – tender chicken, kangkong, tasty soup – RM3.80.

Kafe Wah Nam (No. 32) opposite does not fare so well in comparison. The only stalls I can recommend here is the Pan Mee in the morning and the Chee Cheong Fun stuffed with sangkwangRestoran Chang Keong Dim Sum (No. 34) which is next door has a stall here in Wah Nam and the recommendation here is their Fried Carrot Cake 5.30 a.m. – 3.00 p.m.
Across the road from Wah Nam  is Kafe Ipoh Central (No. 51-53). Here the items worth savouring are their famous Guan Kee Bak Chang (sticky-rice dumpling) which is of a good standard – RM5.20; Hor Hee – RM4; Apom Balik – RM0.90 each; Kee Heong Bak Kut Teh – from RM8; nyonya kuih – RM0.70 and Ipoh (Padang) Mee Goreng – RM3.50.

Ayam Tauge

Last but not least is Restoran Ayam Tauge which only  opens at night and even sporadically at that. Some swear by this small shop as the best Kai See Hor Fun  (Ipoh’s famous rice noodle chicken soup) in all of Ipoh. Don’t get into your car expecting to eat these noodles though for they may not be open, but then there is always Lo Wong Tauge Ayam around the next corner!

musings on food - See Foon Chan-Koppen

SeeFoon falls into a big basin in Gunung Rapat

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

My foodie friend Ginla Chew never ceases to amaze me with the treasures she digs up in the way of eating places. And this time she has surpassed herself with the discovery of the restaurant called Eastern Cuisine.

Located on Jalan Raja Musa Wahadi in Gunung Rapat, this is an unobtrusive air-conditioned corner restaurant diagonally opposite Maybank.

Ginla had already ordered the food, and everyone’s jaw dropped when the first dish to arrive was the most humongous bowl (or more the size of a wash basin) stacked to the very brim with goodies.

Restaurant Easter Cuisine IpohBig Basin Feast

Poon Choi’ is often translated “Big Bowl Feast,” but the actual translation of the term is “vegetable basin,” with “choi” referring to vegetables. “It was said that Poon Choi was invented during the late Song Dynasty of China. When Mongol troops invaded Song China, the young Emperor fled to the area around Guangdong Province and Hong Kong. To serve the Emperor as well as his army, the locals collected all their best food available, cooked it, and because there were not enough dishes, put the resulting dish in wooden washing basins. By doing so Poon Choi was invented.” – Wikipedia

Feast we did on the 18 ingredients that went into the composition of this ‘basin’, each one layered one after another all the way down to the bottom of the dish. The usual course on the top is chicken and duck, implying that birds return to the nests. However, in this instance we also had abalone which has the homophonic meaning in Cantonese of “embracing abundance” and understandably made the dish a lot more pricey but given that it is the CNY special, we found the price of RM388 for the dish which can easily feed up to 12 people, acceptable.

18 ingredients

Restaurant Easter Cuisine IpohThe rest of the 18 ingredients in the dish included very large and very fresh prawns, deer tendon, ‘Yu Piu’ or fish stomach, ‘fatt choi’ or black moss, and dried oysters (incorporating the classic CNY dish of ‘Hou See Fatt Choy’ meaning blessings and prosperity) dried scallops, ‘Dong Po Yoke’ or braised pork belly, Sea cucumber, ‘Fa Gao’ or fish bladder, bean curd skin, mock goose, shitake mushrooms, cabbage, broccoli and taro.

Each ingredient is cooked separately and then layered. The practice of dividing layers is really clever. Relatively dry ingredients are placed on the top while others, which can absorb sauce well, are assigned in the lowest part. This allows sauces to flow down to the bottom of the basin as people start eating from the top.

Our Poon Choi at Eastern Cuisine can only be described in one word: Superlative. The truth is, as I sit here writing this, my mouth is watering at the memory and can’t wait for Chinese New Year to order it again. Available in early January. Must order in advance.

Restaurant Easter Cuisine IpohThinking that the Poon Choi was a meal in itself, I was ready to wrap up when other dishes began arriving. The Wu Tso Tsoi Yuen Kai or whiskered kampong chicken, was beautifully presented in two styles: the breast meat sliced and served as a mildly spicy Thai salad and the rest of the chicken roasted with lovely crisp skin. The Salad was tangy, not too sweet with some sesame and slivered garnishes – RM42 for a whole chicken.

Signature Dishes

On the table next was the Ham Dan Fu Gua, finger-sized lengths of bitter melon, coated in a salted egg batter and deep fried. The bitter melon that evening was especially bitter, at which two other guests wrinkled their noses and shuddered on first taste and spat out the piece, while the rest of us blithely enjoyed the dish. The bitter melon still had a crunch in it, enhanced by the crispiness of the salted egg batter. A most satisfying taste sensation for those of us who enjoy bitter melon – RM20.

Next came the poetically named Suet Ying Wong Kum literally translated to mean ‘snow shadow among the gold’ which was a most unusual dish of sea cucumber stuffed with fish paste, braised with a light sauce. The fish paste was well seasoned, delicate with an added crunch from water chestnuts.

Restaurant Easter Cuisine IpohBy the time the Tsi Kong Pai Kwat, fried pork ribs in special Tsi Kong black vinegar arrived, we were completely satiated. However, the aroma of this particularly fragrant black vinegar wafting from the plate was way too irresistible so we all tucked in and we were glad we did. The ribs were deep fried but juicy and tender, well coated with the dark vinegar, somewhat tangy, slightly sweet and not too cloying. Within a few minutes, nary a rib remained – RM20.

Being the foodie that I am, I wasn’t ready to call it a night and began chatting with owner Tham Jun Sheng and chef Tan Pak How. Apparently this restaurant is 5 years old but the chef and owner have been on the same premises operating before as Goodview Restaurant prior to its name change. Other signature dishes on offer here include their salt baked kampong chicken, their Taucheong (soya bean paste) steamed Saito fish belly, their deep fried pig’s trotter with sauce on the side, their drunken chicken and for the coming Chinese New Year, their special ‘Lo Hei’ or ‘Yu Sang’ which is all prepared in house.

Incredibly hardworking, this restaurant, which is very much a family run affair, is open 24/7.

Owner and Chef of Restaurant Easter Cuisine IpohRestaurant Eastern Cuisine
56 Jalan Raja Musa Mahadi, Taman Hillview, Gunung Rapat
Tel: 05-3139332   Mobile: Xuan 012-202 8358

SeeFoon Goes Grazing in Bercham

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

The one lament I have as I find myself adding yet another year to my age, is a constant reminder of the admonition from my beloved grandmother of “wide eyes, narrow stomach”. This is happening with increasing frequency, especially as many friends keep inviting me to try this and try that. I wish I had the appetite of yore, when eating at three different stalls or ordering from five in one go was never an issue and there were always ravenous mouths around on youthful friends.

Now, when I mention grazing to my foodie friends, they will groan and tell me to take it one eatery at a time. And so it is that while the title of this column is on grazing in Bercham I have to confess that I went there on a few separate occasions to sample the various items which I am recommending here today.

As readers will be familiar, I have reviewed quite a few places in Bercham, but they are mainly what I would refer to as ‘big meal’ locations. Today I am going to cover more snack food, a bowl of noodles here, a congee there and a plate of soya chicken over yonder.

Foo Kwai Curry Mee

To begin my grazing spree I was invited by Dr Anoop Kumar, one of my foodie friends, to sample the Curry Mee next to his clinic in Bercham. Rushing there at 10.30 a.m., I found the place packed to the gills and my group were seated on the pavement.

Restoran Foo Kwai is a corner coffee shop on Taman Bercham Jaya. Turn right on the third traffic light where Glamour Square is and immediately left onto Taman Bercham Jaya which runs parallel to the main road of Bercham.

Here the curry mee comes in a choice of wet or dry noodles and a plate of chicken curry can be ordered separately. The curry soup for the wet noodles was nicely ‘lemak’ (coconut-ty) without being cloying and there was a generous helping of bean sprouts and char siew (roast pork) that came with it. Similarly for the dry noodles which came with a soya based sauce but one can add either just the plain curry sauce or share an order of their chicken curry.

All Homemade

The chicken curry served here reminds me of the Hainanese curry that I used to eat in my youth; mild, the gravy thick with well-blended spices, the chicken tender and cooked with potatoes. This is a different curry from the one that is served as the curry noodle soup. The addition of this curry to the dry noodles makes for a lovely combination. The addition of their Yeong Liu makes for an even more interesting feast, especially if one is having the wet noodles. The dunking in of the various morsels and allowing them to soak up the curry soup is a taste sensation not to be missed.

Noteworthy here is the fact that all their ingredients are homemade, from the ‘Yeong Liu’ to their char siew, the latter being moist and luscious. While there, check out the velvety Soya Sauce Chicken from another stall operating from the same coffee shop. Curry noodles wet – RM3.70; Dry – RM3.30; plate of chicken curry – RM4-5.00; Yeong Liu – 70 cents each.

Comforting Congee

There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of hot Congee early in the morning or late at night for that matter and it was with that in mind that I went in search with my foodie friend Ginla Foo. Imagine our disappointment when we arrived around 10.00 p.m. to find the Fee Kee Porridge in Bercham closed.

Not to be deterred, I went back again the next day at lunchtime, having this hankering for a rare treat: the pig’s offal porridge. Its hard to locate a stall that sells this, let alone a good one and so armed with tiffin carriers, I descended on this outlet and brought home a variety of congees to taste.

I was not disappointed. The congee was the Cantonese style, smooth, not too viscous (although I would have preferred it more liquid) and very tasty. My suspicion of MSG was somewhat alleviated a few hours later with a verdict of ‘not too much’; bearable under the circumstances. There is a choice of chicken – RM3.30; pork offal – RM3.30; fish – RM4.00; pork and century eggs – RM4.50; and a YiMeen (fried egg noodles) mixed with your choice of ingredients – RM5.50. I also ordered an extra helping of the fried pig’s intestines which came mixed with fried Chinese crullers.

Fee Kee Porridge is easy to find, located on Bercham’s main road on the left just after the famous claypot rice shop, which is only open at night.

Foo Kwai Curry Noodles
243 Jalan Bercham, Desa Kenchana
Finishes just after lunch. Closed Tuesdays.

Fee Kee Porridge
552A (Lorong Bercham 5), Jalan Bercham
1.00 p.m.-8.00 p.m.
Tel: 016-5623536

SeeFoon Heads for The Hills

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Musings on Food

By See Foon Chan-Koppen

While most of our energetic Ipohites head for the Kledang Hills for their early morning workout, I prefer the more ‘couch potato’ route for a visit to its foothills in the evening. The later the better.

Either the acoustics of this Mun Ji restaurant is particularly bad or the early diners who flock there between 6.30-9.00 p.m. talk especially loudly, but the decibel level is almost unbearable as I discovered on the first occasion when I went there and couldn’t stay long enough to do justice to the food. However, with my taste buds tickled, I was determined to return to savour more of this restaurant’s signature dishes and understand the reason for its extreme popularity.

Arrive Late

So on another evening a group of us ventured out but this time we booked in advance and deliberately made an effort not to arrive before 9.00 p.m. Ahh the blissfulness of being able to hear ourselves talk!

Mun Ji was certainly worth the return visit. The directions are pretty straight forward. Take the Lumut highway and 300 yards before the Menglembu traffic lights, turn right. A brightly lit sign for the Hotel Kledang Menglembu is clearly visible amongst all the brightly lit stalls and coffee shops on the left. Continue past all these busy stalls heading straight. At the second junction, turn left and left again. Mun Ji is a corner lot facing an empty space and opposite some private housing.

All Dishes At Once

Phoon is the owner cum chef who picked up his cooking skills in Singapore as well as many other locations. His signature dishes are many and once you’ve placed an order, expect the dishes to come all at once. They do not stagger the order, so expect some waiting time and immediate gratification here. As I ate there twice, I will list the dishes in no particular order, focusing only on the ones that made an impression on my palate. The live steamed Tilapia was nicely steamed with a black bean and chilli topping. Good quality but not outstanding – RM22.

Signature Dishes

The Tong Poh Yoke (braised pork belly in soya sauce) is one of their signature dishes. The pork belly was wobbly and almost jelly-like in consistency, floating in a thick sauce that had hints of red preserved bean curd (Nam Yu) – RM12. Another signature dish is their Claypot Fish Head Curry, a dish so popular that every table in the house will inevitably order it. The fish head which was Garupa, was cut into pieces and cooked in a very mild, very ‘lemak’ (rich in coconut milk) gravy with ladies fingers and brinjals. The gravy was so ‘umami’ I was spooning it up like soup – RM20.

Other signature dishes include the steamed Wu Sou Kai (a special breed called in Chinese, Whiskered Chicken) – RM16; the ginger Kampung Chicken, tender morsels smothered in an aromatic ginger paste – RM16; and their Nestum Prawns. These were medium-size prawns coated with a batter made from Nestum flakes and deep fried. Crunchy, and crisp enough to eat some of the shell – RM25.

Other dishes I would recommend include the Pai Kwat Wong (deep fried pork ribs) coated with a treacly dark sauce that was not too sweet and was succulently tender – RM15; the Tofu topped with Choi Po or preserved radish and minced pork, the crunchiness of the Choi Po offsetting the soft smoothness of the tofu – RM10; the Petai Sambal Belacan Prawns were particularly piquant, the prawns fresh and the sambal belacan sauce extra spicy. I took some leftovers home and the next day, the petai dish was still deliciously flavourful – RM12.

Mun Ji Restoran Makanan Laut
No.1 Laluan Rasi Jaya 48, Taman Rasi Jaya
N 04° 34.331’  E 101° 02.103’
Closed 2 days a month on weekdays.
Call to check: Phoon 016-5437707

SeeFoon explores Chaozhou cooking

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

I have always loved Chaozhou or Chiew Chow cooking. Though similar in taste in many ways to Cantonese, the Chaozhou kitchen is known for their ‘Lo Tsui’ dishes, in particular goose, pork and intestines which are braised in a dark soya sauce and diners have a choice between accompanying their dishes with rice or a choice of either sweet potato or plain white congee. Hence their flavouring tends towards the salty side allowing the congee to mellow the saltiness on the tongue.

Interesting Condiments

They also tend towards certain condiments which are used more frequently in this style of cooking than in others. One ingredient which comes to mind is the black olive paste which lends a wonderful piquancy to vege-tables fried with it. This we had in a dish of French Beans sautéed with minced pork and the olive paste – RM12.00. I asked if they did the cuisine specific fried rice using this olive paste and was told by the lady proprietor that because the olive paste was expensive, they only used it on different vegetables as the quantities used were much smaller.

Lo Tsui Offerings

Sin Hup Heng Chaozhou Restaurant is a smallish coffee shop not far from the now demolished Yau Tet Shin market on Jalan Theatre. Opened only two years, the husband and wife team with Ah Peng manning the front and husband Poi Poh Hwa who comes from three generations of cooks helming the kitchen, the resulting offerings are all tasty and good value for money.

Aside from the aforementioned olive paste specialty, the other very typical Chaozhou offering is a dish of their Lo Tsui pig’s ears, pork belly and pork intestines. The pig’s ears were succulently tender with no rubbery texture, the pork belly melt-in-the-mouth and my favourite, the ‘Tai Cheong’ or large intestine, were delicate and smooth, with not the slightest hint of smell that some intestines, that are not properly treated, can exude – RM8.00.

The dishes came fast and furiously. We had the Pai Kuat Wong or king of the spare ribs, marinated and deep fried and well coated in a thick sweet sauce with a tang of lemon – RM15.00. This was followed by the Sautéed Clams in a ‘Kung Po’ sauce, the clams large and smothered in a sauce comprising dried shrimp and dried chillies, that one could scoop with the clam shell. Each clam I tasted was fresh with nary a bad one – RM18.00. They can do the clams in a variety of styles including one with preserved bean sauce.

Good with Congee

A big pancake of Choi Po Dan arrived, preserved radish chopped fine and fried as a huge omelette. Crunchy, the radish not too salty and lending its characteristic smell and flavour to the egg – RM8.00. For a more pungent smell and taste, the Meat Patties flavoured with salted fish, deep fried and sliced was next to arrive, lending a degree of saltiness that went well with congee. The salted fish, I figured to be the ‘Mui Heong’ (literally translated to mean rotten fragrance) variety and lent a characteristic aroma to the meat which would otherwise have been bland – RM10.50.

Freshest Fish

The soup was an interesting combination. Comprising bitter gourd and omelette with minced meat, it was tasty and mild and I didn’t get the taste of MSG! Following this was the Asam Fish, very fresh Ikan Pari or stingray cooked with ladies fingers in a mild asam sauce that had just the right balance of sweet, sour, and pungency – RM20.00. We also had the steamed Wan Yu or Ikan Haruan (snakehead) that arrived generously smothered in a ginger and spring onion paste. The fish was very fresh and the ginger paste thick and pungent. A must have – RM22.50.

By this time our group of seven were totally replete and when the last dish to land on our table of Chicken and Bitter Gourd fried in black bean sauce arrived, we were groaning. But the flavours were so well blended that we couldn’t resist having a few more bites and left with a bill of RM150 altogether which we thought reasonable for satisfying seven people.

This is one restaurant I will certainly keep returning to again and again for its simple home cooked unpretentious cuisine.

Sin Hup Heng Chaozhou Restaurant
91, Theatre Street (New Town)
Tel: 012-5023116 or 016-5022286
Open from 10.30 a.m.-4.00 p.m. Closed 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month.

SeeFoon stumbles upon Halal Dim Sum

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

There is a certain predilection amongst those of us who have grown up with a Chinese palate, to be disdainful of Chinese food that is cooked without pork. ‘Chicken doesn’t have the same flavour as pork’ they say and ‘where is the fragrance informed by slivers of Yunnan ham and a dash of Shao Tsing wine’ they argue.

While the nuances are noticed by Chinese food cognoscenti especially when the food is prepared by novice cooks; in the hands of creative chefs, the subtleties in taste are resolved and authentic tastes can be achieved.

As I have often been asked why I haven’t covered Halal Chinese eateries in my column and my usual reply of ‘when I find some that appeal to my palate I will’, I was delighted to stumble upon the Greentown Dimsum Cafe.

Cheerful Ambience

Bright, fresh and cheerful with seating outside on the pavement for those who prefer, the restaurant is air-conditioned inside and the cheerful manager cum proprietor Judy Chin greets me as I arrive and makes recommendations on their signature tidbits (essentially what Dim Sum means – small touches of the heart). As I invariably go incognito into a restaurant to decide first whether it’s worth reviewing, I just ordered a variety of the items and waited for the taste test. I was not disappointed and came back on a second occasion with a larger group to taste as many of the items on offer.

Gold Standard Taste Test

The Gold standard taste test for any Dim Sum restaurant are the three classics: the Char Siew Pau (in this case as it is Halal, called the Barbecued Chicken Pau), the Har Gao or Prawn Dumpling, and the Siew Mai. The Barbecued Chicken Pau’s pastry was light and fluffy, the filling substantial and just a tad sweeter than the norm but nevertheless fragrant and tasty – RM3.60. The Har Gao had the right translucent skin, the prawn filling inside fresh and resilient on the first bite, a sign of good prawns – RM4.90. The Siew Mai equally met my expectations especially when embellished with their Lat Chiew Yau or Chilli Oil paste – RM3.60 and RM4.50 for a prawn version. The next steamed item we tried was the Kao Choi or Chive Dumplings which were served with their homemade chilli oil/paste; 3 large dumplings – RM 3.90. This also comes with a Pak Choy or Kale version.

Fried Tidbits

We then had their very tasty Fried Radish Cake which came with an abundance of bean sprouts, slightly spicy, embellished with choi po and dried prawns and served with a choice of chilli sauce or the ubiquitous chilli oil paste which I prefer – RM4.20 for a portion enough for three or four people.

This was followed by the Fried Bean Curd Roll which was melt-in-mouth crispy, filled with prawns and chicken meat. Served with mayonnaise, and interestingly with a mint sauce on the side, we found ourselves ordering yet another portion – RM4.60. The Prosperity Ball, the leading signature item on the menu arrived with a brown sauce. Apparently one of the most popular items here, the Prosperity Chicken Balls are a deep fried meat mushroom and capsicum vegetable mixture with a mild curry flavour. Dipped into the brown gravy the outside is crunchy and the meat inside succulent and tender. A must try RM 5.20.

Noodles and Rice

Next came the noodles and rice and being in a tasting mood and the portions not being too large, we sampled a few. The dry Sang Meen or Wonton Noodles were sufficiently al dente and the wonton juicy. However, the next time I would order the soup version as I found the soya sauce used to toss the noodles a tad sweet. Served with the ‘de rigueur’ pickled green chillies – RM7.90. A portion of Ban Mian (hand made noodles) followed, served with a sambal belacan sauce which lent just the right touch of oomph to the ‘al dente’  noodles topped with minced chicken and sliced shitake mushrooms – RM5.90. They also have a soup version.

All Dim Sum Homemade

The most laudable feature of the Greentown Dimsum Cafe is that all their Dim Sum is homemade and so are their sauces like their sambal belacan, the chilli oil/paste, their mint sauce and their brown sauce. They do not stint on their sauces and happily replenish the small plates when requested. Unlike the usual factory prepared chilli sauces at many restaurants, I prefer the choice of dippings available here. Well worth a visit.

Greentown Dimsum Cafe
No. 10 Persiaran Greentown 4, Greentown Avenue, Ipoh.
Tel: 05-2552010; Judy: 012-569 8876
Open: 8.00 a.m.-9.00 p.m.  Closed: Tuesdays

SeeFoon explores a ‘Different Taste’ in Bercham

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

It never ceases to amaze me how people in Ipoh love food. Perhaps that is one of the compelling reasons why a foodie like me chose to live here. We gather for a meal and inevitably end up comparing notes on where to go next and what secret food nook one of our friends has uncovered.

That is how I came to discover a “Different Taste” in Bercham, a tucked away restaurant frequented by Dr. Anoop Kumar whose clinic on Taman Bercham, Desa Kencana, is literally right around the corner. Being very much of a foodie himself, Dr. Anoop insisted that I had to visit his favourite lunch venue (sometimes dinner too) and whether I concur with his verdict on this being the best place for claypot crab vermicelli.

It is simple enough to find. At the traffic light for Glamour Square on the main Bercham Road coming from Tasek Road, turn right, then left into Persiaran Bercham Selatan 1 all the way to the end. Turn right and again go all the way to the end of the road and there on the left is a Different Taste, an unusual name for a restaurant.

The Chef here is a Thai lady married to the restaurant owner who is from Ipoh. Arun who speaks fluent Cantonese, is equally adept at Thai and Chinese recipes.

The pièce de résistance here is their Claypot Crab Vermicelli. It arrives sizzling hot with as many crabs as you wish to order. The vermicelli had absorbed some of the broth which was rich and robust, redolent with seared ginger. The crab was market fresh, large and succulent and full of meat. With one large crab RM40. Crab sells for RM60 a kg.

We also ordered the Crab Congee where I thought that the rice, because they were still in large grains and hence not absorbent, detracted from the stock and diluted the broth to a large extent whereas in the vermicelli, the broth was fully absorbed into the vermicelli, lending its umami taste to the otherwise bland noodles.

Next to arrive was the Frog’s Legs Congee, a Chiu Chow style congee where the rice grains are still intact. For those who prefer a less robust taste, this is the perfect light meal – RM 26.00.

Next came the Asam Fish Head, Garupa head cut into chunks and cooked in a dry Asam gravy with the usual smattering of vegetables, ladies fingers, long beans and tomatoes. Not as pungent as I’ve tasted in some other places and could have been more sour, but nevertheless a hearty dish – RM26.00.

Two dishes followed which I rate as some of the best in Ipoh. Their Sar Tsui fish, (no idea on the English or local name) deep fried to a crisp was very fresh and delectable to the last bite, bones and all. RM15 for 8 pieces; and their Fish Balls at RM1.00 each were bouncy, succulent and required no addition of chilli sauce.

Different Taste also serves Thai dishes like Tom Yam Soup and on weekends, Tod Mun Pla (Thai-style fried fish cakes). Popular street dishes in Thailand like the stewed pork knuckle with Ham Choi or preserved vegetables are also featured on the menu as is their Pomfret congee at market price. These are dishes which I have not personally tasted but judging by the standard of cooking here, I will definitely make a return visit to sample them.

Different Taste
72 Persiaran Bercham Selatan 2
Taman Desa Kencana, Ipoh.
Tel.: Arun Tan 012-5021132 or Elven Lok 016-7914711
11.30 a.m. – 9.30 p.m.  Closed on Fridays

SeeFoon goes ‘grazing’ in Chemor

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“to graze – to eat a variety of appetizers as a full meal” (dictionary.com)

Food stalls all over Asia are a natural grazer’s delight and particularly in Ipoh where there is a cornucopia of available outlets. All one needs to do is gather a group of friends, hop into the car and whizz off, not having to contend with stressful traffic jams, park with ease along the roadside and graze from outlet to outlet.

I did this recently with my usual group of Foodie friends led by the indomitable Ginla Foo who somehow manages to ferret out some of the most obscure but delectable places where hidden culinary treats await.

This time, the general locale chosen was Chemor. We began with Tanah Hitam, at Kampung Tersusun at a local coffee shop named Chee Kong. Tanah Hitam is well sign posted along the road leading from Chemor to Tanjung Rambutan. Coming from Chemor look for a large Chinese arch beside the Tanah Hitam Police Station and turn in. Follow that road and within less than one kilometre, the restaurant is on the right.

Confinement Noodles

The specialty of this outlet is its confinement or post-natal noodles. They also serve a variety of other noodle dishes but as we were grazing, we went only for the Yuet Por Fun or confinement noodles. This culinary tradition dates back to historical times when food was the only medicine and women who had just given birth required nourishing food to restore vitality. What sets this dish apart from regular noodle soup is the ingredients that go into it: oodles of fresh liver (full of vitamins and source of B12 and folic acid), small intestines (same), pork and fish slices, prawns and a minced pork omelette redolent with ginger (Chinese panacea for many things!). And I must not forget the key ingredient: a small bottle of Chinese Shao Tsing rice wine mixed with their home brew is placed on the table for you to help yourself. Although 11.30 a.m. was a tad too early to be imbibing, I nevertheless, in the name of research (sic) put in a splash and found it enhanced the taste of the soup to greater heights. RM5 per bowl with choice of noodles. Another outlet in Bercham run by the son also serves the same dish.

Kanthan Secrets

We then headed back towards Chemor turning right at the traffic lights when we hit the main road of Jalan Kuala Kangsar till we came to yet another Chinese arch right beside the Kanthan Baru Police Station when we turned right, then left and at the corner of Kanthan Baru 14, we came to Restoran Chong Chew.

We came here for their Hakka Yeong Liu, and as it was a Saturday, their Lui Char (available only on weekends), their Tsai Kwei and their Chee Cheong Fun with pig skin and/or wild boar curry. Their Yeong Liu were very generous sized pieces of tofu, brinjals, bitter melon stuffed with a fish and pork paste and fried. Worthy of particular mention is their stuffed tofu, big chunks of a very tasty tofu stuffed with a paste that had a lingering aftertaste of coriander. No sauce was needed for their Yeong Liu as every morsel was well seasoned. RM1.30 per piece for the large tofu and RM1 for all others.

Weekend Lui Char

Next came the Lui Char, served only on weekends because of the very complicated preparation involved: rice topped with a mixture of chopped greens, peanuts, choi po (preserved radish) long beans, and served with a bowl of thick hot green ‘tea’ which is a blend of basil, mint, sesame seeds, sweet potato leaves, dried shrimps and other secret ingredients known only to the Hakka Hor Por chefs who make this specialty – RM3.20; large RM4.00. Proprietor Chong Kee Kew swears that all the ingredients are completely natural and no MSG is used.

Disappearing Tsai Kwei

There were so many other temptations here that we ordered one of each to taste. The Tsai Kwei, glutinous-rice steamed dumpling, another of their specialties, comes in pink, stuffed with a choice of ham choi (preserved Chinese cabbage), sengkuang (yam bean, a kind of turnip), peanuts, (slightly sweet), garlic scallions and kow choi (chives) were all tasty, my favourites being the yam bean, preserved Chinese cabbage and the chives. Unlike other places where I’ve tried this fast disappearing delicacy, these were not dripping in oil and felt a lot healthier – RM0.70 each.

Next to come was the Chee Cheong Fun which came served with a choice of curried pig skin with long bean, RM2.60; their mushroom sauce, RM2.10; or the Wild Boar curry, RM3.80. Their homemade Lo Mai Kai (steamed glutinous rice with mushrooms and pork and chicken) is well worth tasting – RM2.40.

By this time, although we only ordered one portion of everything and shared amongst six people, we were stuffed to the gills and had to give up on our plans to graze a bit further so we abandoned plans for a third location which will be covered in the next issue.

Kedai Makanan Chee Kong
(N 04 43.560 E 101 08.653)
201 Kampung Tersusun, Tanah Hitam
Tel: 016-5212649 (Mother, Kwai Lan) 6.00 a.m.-12.30 p.m.
Bercham Outlet: 89, Bercham Itaman Satu (From Tesco Express past the police station on right); Tel: 010-2205121 (Son, Kevin) 7.00 a.m.-1.30 p.m.

Restoran Chong Chew
(N 04 44.538 E 101 07.173)
282 Kanthan Baru, 31200 Chemor
Tel: 05-2017616  8.00 a.m.-6.00 p.m.
(most items are gone by 2.30 p.m.)

SeeFoon discovers authentic ‘Mah Lat’ taste in Ipoh

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

Most readers will have discovered by now that my taste in food is somewhat eclectic, and while not as adventurous as Very Serious Foodie Andrew Zimmern in his programme called Bizarre Foods, where he will pop live worms and insects into his mouth and apparently enjoy them, I have eaten my way around the world and am now left with lingering taste sensations that will occasionally nudge at my taste buds and a hankering to repeat some of those ephemeral taste memories.

One of these is huājiāo, the Szechuan pepper that dominates many a dish in the Szechuan province of China. Many people are surprised to learn that Szechuan peppercorn is not a pepper at all – the distinctive reddish-brown berries hail from the prickly ash tree. Its main claim to fame is the powerful numbing sensation it causes around the mouth. When married with chilli peppers (the other key ingredient in Szechuan cuisine), chefs believe this numbing effect reduces the chilli’s heat, leaving diners free to appreciate the capsicum’s intense, fruity flavour. Hence, the term ‘Mah Lat’ (numbing hot) for the dishes which are produced out of this marriage.

Northern Dumplings Taste Test

When someone asked me if I had been to Chuan Kwong for their Shao Long Pau (a dumpling peculiar to northern China) I made a note to check it out as it is very close to the Ipoh Echo office. Chuan Kwong has only been opened for about eight months and has already garnered many fans. It is essentially a Dim Sum place, serving tea, soft drinks, desserts, noodles and snacks (as in Dim Sum).

I asked for their recommen-dations and was immediately told to try their Shao Long Pau, which is listed as Shanghai Minced Meat Dumpling. What sets one restaurant’s Shao Long Pau against another is easily summed up by the chopstick pick-up test. Shao Long Pau must be picked up with chopsticks and popped whole into one’s mouth. The critical test is whether the pastry stays intact on the journey to the mouth or if it breaks, leaving all the delicious juices and half the skin in the steam basket. A good Shao Long Pau stays intact, the meat juices oozing out in the mouth on the first bite, the skin still ‘al dente’ with a slight elasticity and the meat filling succulent and flavourful. Chuan Kwong’s easily stood up to the test and I promptly ordered another basket; a rare taste treat in Ipoh. RM3.00 for 3 pieces.

Cantonese and SzeChuan Dim Sum

The menu is divided into sections for Cantonese Dim Sum and Szechuan Dim Sum. The Cantonese section had the usual coterie of dumplings like Shao Mai, Har Kau, Carrot Cake, Char Siew Pao, etc. The few that I sampled were all good quality including the Mini Egg Custard Bun filled with egg custard made with the addition of salted egg yolk oozing out on the first bite. Slightly sweet and salty at the same time; utterly delectable. RM3.90 for 3 pieces. They also have daily specials on Dim Sum which are not on the menu, so ask for those.

The SzeChuan Dim Sum as well as their SzeChuan Noodles menu contained many treasured items long buried in my taste memories as well as hitherto new taste treats all created and homemade by Chef Alex Leong.

Must try-s include their Glutinous Rice Balls wrapped in banana leaf, Deep Fried Pancake with crispy floss, RM3.90 for 3 pieces; the Chives Dumpling with chilli oil, RM3.50 for 4 pieces; Pan Fried Chives Dumpling. RM3.50 for 3 pieces; and the Steamed Meat Dumpling in chilli oil, RM4.00 for 6 pieces.

Knife-Shredded Noodles

Their pièce de résistance though has to be their Szechuan Knife-Shredded Noodles with Chilli Oil, a bowl of thick hand-cut noodles, smooth and chewy in the mouth served in a fiery meat cum ‘Mah Lat’ broth that almost brings tears to your eyes and yet is irresistible to those (like myself) who are addicted to that searing sensation of hot chillies.

Intrigued by the noodles, our group went to the kitchen to watch Chef Alex perform his magic as he took out a round longish slab of dough about half the size of a rolling pin and began chipping away at one end in a circular motion, creating thick tendrils of dough which he then blanched and put into the broth. These knife-cut noodles come in a variety of broths, some spicy and others bland like in chicken stock. RM5.50 per bowl. Highly recommended.

All in all, the Dim Sum and noodles in Chuan Kwong are well worth a visit as they are all home-made by Chef Alex who learnt his trade in Singapore working in some of the best Szechuan restaurants that I have personally dined in. Do expect to queue up for tables on Saturdays and Sundays as they don’t take reservations.

QI YUAN
CHUAN KWONG CHINESE RESTAURANT
74 Persiaran Greentown 1, Greentown Business Centre.
Tel: 05-253 3551
Open 7.00 a.m. -2.30 p.m.
Weekends 7.00 a.m.-1.00 p.m.
Closed Wednesdays.

SeeFoon chills out with Gourmet Pizzas and discovers other delectables

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

It began with a hankering for Pizza. Eschewing the ubiquitous fast-food joints, I was told by my son, who was visiting Ipoh and who’s a bit of a ‘night bird’, that the pizzas at baŕbeźa, which bills itself as a restaurant-bar-chill-out lounge, were some of the best he’d ever eaten. Being ever the sceptical foodie, and not one to rely on someone else’s taste buds, I decided a foray into Ipoh Garden East (behind Tesco) was called for and therefore dropped in late one evening for a drink and snack supper.

Specialty and Others

James Kennedy, describing himself as “chief bottle washer, stand-in-chef, deejay and sole proprietor”, was there and suggested I try their specialty pizza of the house, the smoked duck pizza (not on the menu). Being ever the adventurous one, I opted for it with alacrity and was duly rewarded with a crispy, thin crusted,

pizza topped with a generous helping of smoked duck, sauce and cheese, redolent with herbs. As I had already eaten earlier, I regretted not being able to handle more than two slices of the pizza. I made a promise to return with a group of friends to do justice to his menu. This I did with three other friends on another occasion; ready to eat our way through as many of the items as we could manage from his small but tempting selection of items.

We began with a Beef Tortilla (they have chicken for those who don’t eat beef), a flatbread made of corn flour wrapped around a filling of minced beef and vegetables. This was cut already into finger-food portions that can be picked up and eaten with one’s hands. Unlike a lot of other tortillas I’ve had, whether in Mexico (where this dish originates) or the US (popularized by Americans), this was not dripping with sauce and hence was easy to eat and enjoy its flavourful texture. Beef/Chicken – RM11.50.

Next to arrive on a sizzling platter was the Cannelloni, a large pasta roll, stuffed with minced chicken and spinach, herbs perfuming the meat, the melted cheese and béchamel sauce bubbling its way down the sides oozing its red and white invitation around the platter. This with the Lasagne which followed was creamy smooth and simply irresistible. Both RM20.

Pasta

Their regular pasta comes with a choice of spaghetti, penne, or fettuccine teamed with Bolognese (meat based with tomato) – RM16, Carbonara (cream, eggs, beef bacon and cheese) – RM18, Primavera (vegetables and tomato based) – RM14, Aglio Olio (olive oil and garlic served with sprinkled cheese) – RM12, and Marinara (seafood) – RM19.50. Although I only got to taste one spaghetti dish, I was impressed by its al dente texture and delectable sauce.

Piece de Resistance

Next to arrive were the ‘piece de resistance’ of the house, their pizzas. The two that we had that evening were not on the menu but can be ordered ahead. The Pizza Basila, wild rocket, sweet basil, Feta cheese and cherry tomatoes, was crisp to the last bite, with the Feta cheese lending a creamier mouth feel to the topping and tempering the slight bitterness of the crunchy rocket. Next to arrive was their Lamborghini which as its name implies, is the top of the line in pizzas at baŕbeźa. Oozing with onions, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and lamb goulash, this was a treat of a pizza, fit for the discerning pizza aficionado. Pizzas at baŕbeźa have wonderful Italian Mafia associated names like Godfather: beef bacon, capsicum, onions and mushrooms; Italian Job: chicken, mushrooms and olives; Al-Pacino: beef, onions and black olives; Gottis: prawns, onions and squid; beef pepperoni, beef salami; and choice of seafood, lamb, beef or chicken calzone (a folded over pizza not unlike a giant curry puff). Prices for pizzas start from RM25 for the Al-Pacino and vegetarian to RM33 for the lamb, seafood, and calzone. Extra toppings are available for the pizzas – RM4-5. For a smallish eater (like myself) the most I can eat of their pizzas as a meal in itself is about 3-4 slices (about half the pizza) so as an accompaniment to other dishes, factor in one to two slices per person. That way, you can leave room to try a variety of the other items.

All in all I found the items on the menu well presented, seasoned and as close to authentic Italian as they come. When asked if all the recipes for the dishes came from him, James bashfully replied in the affirmative saying, “There have been times when I’ve had to man the kitchen by myself, so it’s very useful to know the recipes by heart.”

Be prepared though to dine sitting on high stools as most of the clientele stay on after their meal for the beer and interesting variety of cocktails. Takeaways on all their menu items and their pizzas are available for an additional RM1.50.

James also has an outlet in Lumut.

baŕbeźa
No. 5, Jalan Medan Ipoh Baru 4,
Bandar Baru Medan, 31400 Ipoh.
Tel.: 017-5946006/014-9010706 (James)
From: 5.00 p.m. Last order: 1.30 a.m.
7 days a week. Pork free.