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SeeFoon goes on a snacking frenzy

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musings on food - food reviewsby See Foon Chan-Koppen

Whenever I have difficulties in getting a group together to do justice to some restaurant’s repertoire of dishes, I call up my reliable standby Surine Ho and with or without her daughter Susan, we’ll hit the town and ‘snack’. Whether its breakfast, brunch, lunch or afternoon tea, Surine and especially Susan will have some special stall or coffee shop up their food sleeve and off we’d go a’tasting.

Recently we went on a snacking frenzy and tried a slew of stalls and shops each serving their unique specialties. I am listing here only the ones that I feel are worth visiting with emphasis on what I felt was taste-worthy about their specials.

Bak Kut Tehdry Bak Kut TehQuintessential Bak Kut Teh

Having lived in Ipoh now for 16 years I have to admit to an embarrassing fact: I have never eaten Bak Kut Teh (herbal pork soup) here, having always been under the impression that the best Bak Kut Teh is to be found in Kuala Lumpur.

Well I was wrong! The best pork herbal soup I’ve ever eaten is to be found right here in Ipoh and even as I write this, I’m drooling over the lingering memory of the soup I had yesterday, infused but not overpowered by the traditional herbs; the pork chunks, the stomach and intestines succulently tender; the fried bean curd (tao pok) and bean skin lending texture; and the soup absolutely divine. They were generous with the soup, refilling our tureen at least twice. RM8.00 per tureen. There is also a pork rib soup which has to be ordered one hour ahead as they cook this a la minute for the ribs to become tender – RM15.

Accompanying the soups were of course the ubiquitous crullers (Chinese fried bread sticks) to soak up the soup and an absolutely delectable WuTao or Taro rice which is a meal in itself, the taro and dried prawns combining for an irresistible taste treat. Crullers RM0.80 per plate and Taro rice RM1.20 for large bowl and half for small.

There is also a delectable Dry Bak Kut Teh, stir-fried tender chunks of pork, stomach and intestines, combined with cuttlefish slivers and ladies fingers. A most unusual and superlative dish – RM8.00. Vegetables can be ordered for RM2.50 a plate or as in our case, we had a combination plate of three veggies for RM5.00. And thinking that we were only there for a snack and that this place was a one-dish wonder, imagine our surprise when they asked if we’d like to order their steamed fish head, a suggestion which I accepted with alacrity. Soon, half an enormous Garupa head arrived at our table, perfectly steamed, just coming off the bone, the flesh ocean fresh, the skin well scaled and tender. RM30 and above depending on size.

Tung Lok Hin Restaurant
1 Jalan Ho Lok Park, Medan Bendahara 2
(closed Tuesdays) 8am-2pm
New branch: 36 Jalan Seenivasagam
(closed Wednesdays) 5pm-10pm
Tel.: Ah May 017 5550706 or Ah Hon 016 5665234.

Stuffed to the gills with Yeong Liew

Another snack delight we visited on another day was the famous Yeong Liew stall in Gunung Rapat. Kedai Kopi Kwong Hong is situated about 100 yards diagonally opposite the Gunung Rapat wet market. Yeong Liew literally translated means stuffed ingredients, in this case, the stuffing is primarily fish meat for most items while a few ingredients will have the addition of minced pork.

The choice and variety here is amazing. Never have I seen so many types of greens and other vegetables given the ‘Yeong Liew’ treatment. From green beans to more unusual sayur paku (fern), watercress, choy sum, lettuce, bak choy, cabbage, lotus pod, and many more, as well as the usual green chillies, bitter melon, egg plant; this Yeong Liew stall is a vegetable lover’s paradise, all individually cooked and served in piping hot bowls of tasty broth.

Meat lovers need not fret as there is choice galore in the fried tidbits and other delectables. There are probably more than 30 varieties to choose from with different types of stuffed tofu as well.

Like a child lost in ToysRUs, I promptly began to pick one of each and realised that the four of us couldn’t possibly do justice to them all so had to settle for a sampling. Noodles come with a choice of laksa, curry or plain broth and the homemade chilli sauce a tantalising complement to the Yeong Liew. Yeong Liew from RM0.60 – RM1 per piece. Additional Sayur Paku (fern) mildly spiced RM2.20; Chicken Feet RM4. Laksa Noodles RM2.70; Curry Noodles RM1.50.

Kedai Kopi Kwong Hong
684 Jalan Gunung Rapat
GPS: N 04 34.320  E 101 06.914
Open 12.30-4pm; 6-10pm
Expect to wait if you go at lunchtime.

Musings on Food - See Foon Chan-Koppen

SeeFoon goes on the Breakfast Trail

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musings on food - food reviewsBy See Foon Chan-Koppen

I am not an avid breakfast person. Oh the idea of a hearty breakfast is very appealing indeed but to go traipsing around to far away places for a meal in the morning just takes up too much time. So when my friend Surine Ho who has recently joined the ranks of ‘ladies-of-leisure’ now that her son is taking care of the family piano business, called to say that I absolutely had to try these fabulous fishballs in Falim, I was hesitant…Falim?…for breakfast…there goes my whole morning…I thought to myself. But dangle a carrot (in this case fish balls) in front of me and I can never say no. So we compromised on brunch which still gave me a good two hours to get some work done. And off we went.

Musings on Food - See Foon Chan-KoppenMusings on Food - See Foon Chan-KoppenIf you take Jalan Lahat and follow that road until you come to a fork in the road with traffic lights, with one leading off to Jalan Kledang Utara which leads to the Lumut highway, veer left staying on Jalan Lahat and you will come to an industrial area looking quite dilapidated. Look out for the signboard for Kia Motors followed by Malaysian Oxygen and turn right into Jalan Foo Wah Cheng. There on the left is a shack with fish balls worth travelling all the way for.

Tiniest Fish Balls

We were three of us and when Surine ordered 60 fish balls I was taken aback. She smiled as did the proprietor of the stall and reassured me that 20 fish balls per person was but a mouthful. When the steaming bowl arrived, I understood. The fish balls were the tiniest I have ever seen. All homemade from Ikan Tenggiri (Spanish Mackerel) they were springy without being too resistant and I could taste the freshness of the fish in every bite. RM1 for 6 pieces.

Other ‘Yeong Liu’ available here include stuffed white tofu, ‘Tau Pok’, and whatever else is on offer for the day, ‘Fei Yuen’ (made from pork, dried squid and fish) and fried wonton (RM0.50 per piece) and their fried options typical of ‘Yeong Liu’ (RM1 for 3 pieces). But it is the fishballs that are the star of the show. There is a choice of clear soup or the curried version which comes with a choice of noodles. RM1.50.

A delectable ‘must have’ is their curried pig skin, RM1.50 and up depending on portion. Worthy of mention is their homemade dipping chilli sauce, thick, with hints of curry powder, quite unlike the usual run-of-the-mill chilli sauce served at  other ‘Yeong Liu’ stalls. And not sweet which to my palate is a huge plus point.

From Falim to Ipoh Garden East

Musings on Food - See Foon Chan-KoppenMusings on Food - See Foon Chan-KoppenMusings on Food - See Foon Chan-KoppenAs is usual when a group of us gather to eat, the conversation inevitably drifts to the topic of food and where else is there good breakfast to be had. And we promptly made a date for the next morning to savour another stall in Ipoh Garden East.

It turns out that the stall is run by an old acquaintance of mine who used to own a boutique where I would shop and with the intense competition in ladies wear sprouting up around Ipoh, decided to turn her culinary skills into a business. So it was a reunion of sorts when Surine and I together with Datin Stella Lim sat down in Sun & Sun (a corner coffee shop diagonally opposite Citrus restaurant and Tammy’s Kitchen) and ordered some of Michelle’s specials.

We began with the mixed pig’s offal congee, a heaping bowl of creamy gruel, the rice grains almost disappearing into the broth and chock full with liver, intestines, minced pork chunks, kidney and topped with the usual green garniture. RM5.00.

I asked my usual question about MSG in the stock and Michelle reassured me that she only uses a hint of it, to lift up the soup stock which she personally prepares with 7 ingredients. This proved to be true as an hour later, I was not having my usual reactions to this neurotoxin! And so I proceeded to tuck in with gusto, slurping up the various soups with impunity.

Michelle proceeded to explain that the basic soup stock is the same for all the noodles and congee but the different ingredients lend their unique flavours to each bowl. The fried fish head soup with thick rice noodles, tomatoes, Ham Choi or preserved Chinese cabbage and a hint of pickled limes. You can choose not to have the preserved cabbage if you wish. RM6.50

The seafood soup has prawns, fish paste, baby octopus, bitter melon slices, tofu and tomato. Absolutely scrumptious at RM5.50. Then came the ‘piece de resistance’ which is usually not one of my favourites: pig’s kidney which in the wrong hands can smell and taste like a urinal. But under Michelle’s culinary wizardry, the steaming bowl of soup that arrived was redolent of rice wine, and chock full of liver, intestines and very clean tasting kidney pieces cooked to perfection. RM5.00.

There are other combinations and it just takes a minute to discuss with Michelle what you’d like for the day. For some of her regulars who come daily, the options provide enough variety for it not to be boring.

Falim Fish Balls
Jalan Foo Wah Cheng
Open: 7.45am-2.00pm
All year round except for occasional long breaks.
Tel: 05 2821437 Mrs Leong.

 Sun & Sun
3A Persiaran Bandar Bahrun Tambun 16
Desa Tambun Indah
Michelle: 016 5013639
Open 7.00am-1.00pm
Closed Sundays.

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.

SeeFoon Picks Up Steam in Two Places

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

I am often of two minds about steam boat: that throw-everything-except-the-kitchen-sink into a simmering broth and voila, a hearty meal that warrants whole restaurants dedicated to this form of dining. Throw in the conviviality of friends, jostling for who gets to fish out the best bit first, losing a choice morsel in the melee; and you have the makings of a wonderful evening of fun, food and feasting.

While I enjoy the former, it strikes me that our climate is not really suited to this form of dining and ‘hot pot’  or in Chinese the ‘Fire Pot’ as it is written, is really best enjoyed in colder climes. However in air-conditioned comfort, I rather like the huge variety of ingredients presented, the lack of oil and the general ‘healthiness’ of the meal…a low-fat experience where you’re in control of what goes in and what is fished out.

Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

The one major drawback is the after effects. I am very allergic to MSG and suffer from what is commonly called the ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’. Despite appeals made to the chefs, there have been many a time when I have left the table only to find myself dying of thirst an hour later and waking up the following morning with ankles swollen like tree trunks. Hence I generally avoid steam boat places where they are notoriously known for tarting up their stock with spoonfuls of this ubiquitous flavouring agent.

Complaining about this to my partner-in-foodie-ism Ginla Foo recently, she came up with the idea of pre-ordering a steam boat dinner at our current flavour-of-the-year restaurant, Wong Kok, from Chef/Owner Lum.

No MSG at Wong Kok

This proved to be a brilliant move and Chef Lum rose to the occasion with his usual culinary aplomb. Given the brief to use no MSG, he had simmered the stock from scratch using only natural ingredients and what arrived at the table was a clear broth simmering away, accompanied by heaping plates of a few different greens, mushrooms and a humongous plate of freshly stuffed tofu, home-made dumplings, pork, fish and cuttlefish balls, stuffed shitake, ladies fingers, bitter gourd and a plate of canned Chilean finger-long clams.

This was one of the few times when I helped myself to three helpings of the broth at the end of the meal, confident in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to have my usual allergic reaction. Working out at RM28 person (we were a group of 10) I felt it was a reasonable price to pay for a most satisfying meal. Order 2-3 days in advance.

Aroi

With my fears about steam boat assuaged, Ginla felt it was time for me to venture further afield into Bercham, to one of the older and more established dedicated steamboat restaurants. This time I was led to Restoran Steamboat Aroi (means delicious in Thai), where you sit at a counter and enjoy your own pot of stock and dip and fish at leisure, knowing that the person next to you is not going to snatch away your prize morsel.

Kelly Chong who owns and runs the restaurant has a pretty good system going. You can order one of the sets and add side orders on an individual basis or you can start with ordering everything à la carte.

There is a choice of clear soup or Tom Yam and a pot of extra Tom Yam paste which is concocted by Kelly herself is put at your side to add extra pizzazz if so desired. There is a dizzying choice of sets and we started with the basic Aroi Special which consists of 2 prawns (very fresh), chicken, cuttlefish, cockles, Tsi Lor or spiny sea snails, clams, jelly fish, fish slices, oyster mushrooms, dumplings, fish balls with dried cuttlefish and Sang Kuang (local turnip) fish balls (all homemade by Kelly), seaweed and a generous serving of greens – RM20. Upgrading from this is the Special Choice which comes with four prawns, small abalone, octopus and golden needle mushrooms – RM26. Further upscale is the Special Choice at RM36 which includes a whole crab.  Most of these sets can be shared between two people as they’re quite generous.

For the meat lovers, they have an Australian beef and lamb set that comes with noodles and an egg which can be used either for dipping the meat or cooking in the broth – RM14 each. Side orders of beef and lamb can be ordered at RM7 each.

The dipping sauces at Aroi are interesting. One, a nutty textured sauce has its roots in the original hot pot sauce from Beijing. Additional pungency can be added for those with a taste for the fiery with the chilli sauce. When asked about the cooking broth, Kelly admitted to using a minimal amount of MSG but says that she uses soya beans and Sang Kuang to give the ‘umami’ feel. The next morning, my ankles proved that she was right as they were not the tree trunks I was expecting them to be. So the MSG was tolerable.

Restoran Steamboat Aroi
305 Jalan Bercham, Taman Desa Kenchana, Bercham.
Tel.: 016-5922967/017-5788001

Restoran Wong Kok
11 Persiaran Tokong, Pasir Pinji.
Tel.: 05-2435431/012-522 8380

SeeFoon finds it fun to eat at the YMCA

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

The lyrics of this late 70s hit song was playing over and over like a stuck record in my head as I was hurrying to meet Dato’ Daniel Tay at the YMCA the other evening. Dato’ Daniel, ever the affable host, is always introducing me to unusual dishes and unusual places for meals and it was natural for him as President of the YMCA of Ipoh, to wax lyrical about the food served at its restaurant.

I was initially sceptical, thinking, ‘Food in a YMCA canteen? How good can it be?” but as the saying goes, ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’ I accepted his kind invitation with the proviso and understanding that if I felt that the quality was not up to scratch that I am not obliged to write a review on it.

I am happy to report that my initial scepticism was totally unfounded. Not only is the quality of food in this kitchen good, some of the special dishes border on great.

Unusual Specialities

This family style restaurant is famous for its shark dishes. Rumour has it that a certain Tan Sri would come in his helicopter, land in the field behind and buy back these specialities.

I have eaten shark meat before but always in curry and so my curiosity was piqued by hearing about a Chinese version. And not only one Chinese version but apparently at least 10 preparation styles for shark meat exist in this modest kitchen.

The first to arrive was the Preserved Cabbage version (Ham Tsoi); shark meat slices which had been lightly battered, deep fried and combined with sliced preserved cabbage. This was followed by the Mongolian-style Shark Meat, a close relative of the traditional sweet sour pork variation, the batter still crunchy at the edges and the sweet sour sauce, neither too sweet nor sour; a perfect blending of flavours. Naturally our group of 10 tucked in with gusto and promptly ordered a repeat of the same which as all Foodies know in hindsight, is a mistake, because the rest of the dishes that followed were equally appealing and satisfying.  Because of the variety of cooking styles, it’s worth experimenting and ordering a variety to determine which is your favourite – RM14 for the smallest portion.

Next to arrive was the Chicken in Ginger Gravy, succulent morsels of chicken braised in a thick ginger sauce, the ginger flavour predominating. The sauce is wonderful over white rice. We also had a portion of the Marmite Chicken which was tasty but a tad sweet for my taste buds.

Ham Dan Prawns followed, a huge plate of large prawns, fried to perfection with salted egg yolk, crispy and crunchy to the last bite.

We rounded out the meal with Bean Sprouts Fried with Egg and a Vegetable Curry which I found slightly on the bland side but probably ideal for those who prefer a less pungent taste.

For families looking for a simple meal, the YMCA restaurant is great value for money for good quality food. They have a range of dining packages ranging from sets for two to three people to tables of 10. With prices beginning at RM29 for 2-3 people; RM39 for 4-5; RM69 for 6-8 and RM89 for 10 people (the latter two sets including one shark meat dish), the value/quality factor is unbeatable. Of course all dishes can also be ordered    à la carte.

Is it any wonder that I left the restaurant that evening with my version of the refrain from the hit song YMCA reverberating in my head:

“It’s fun to eat at the Y-M-C-A

It’s fun to eat at the Y-M-C-A”

YMCA Kafeteria (Pork Free)
Jalan Raja Musa Aziz
Tel: 05-2421737 (ask for Ms Foo)
Members of the public can just walk into the restaurant.
You don’t have to be a member of YMCA.

SeeFoon Gets Souped Up

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

I don’t know how my friend Ginla Foo finds all these little tucked away eating places but find them she does. And naturally she’ll call me excitedly to give me the ‘low-down’.

So her recent discovery of a coffee shop specialising in home-made soups brought five of us to Kedai Makanan Wong Ngok Far in Jalan Theatre. It is tucked away behind the now extinct Yau Tet Shin market which has become a car park, next to a well-known hair salon Team Florence but the big sign emblazoned across the front is difficult to miss once you’re on Jalan Theatre (see pic).

Forty Years in the Business

The lone stall serving in this coffee shop is operated by the eponymous proprietor Ah Yee whose Ah Yee Restaurant has moved around and been around for many years (40 to be exact) and has fans in many places in Ipoh. Originally located near the famous Nga Choi Kai shops around Jalan Yau Tet Shin, Ah Yee has been in operation for two years in these relatively new premises for this renowned eatery. Six months ago, he opened a new outlet on Jalan Raja Musa Azis (Anderson Road) which operates in the evening, run by his son, although Ah Yee is always around to supervise.

Large Choice of Soups

All of Ah Yee’s soups are made fresh daily and in fact the day I was there (we were there by noon) some of them were not ready and we had to wait for about an hour for some of them to be tasted.

The Chicken Soup with herbs consisting of Dong Kwai (Angelica sinensis), Tong Sum (codonopsis pilosula), Ge Ji (Goji Berries), Wei San (Pyrrosia Leaf) and red dates was well-rounded, clear (Tsing – as in the way Chinese judge their soups) and the Dong Kwai not too overbearing which it can be when the chef is heavy-handed – RM8.

The next soup may not be everyone’s cup of tea or soup but certainly one of my favourites; the Pig’s Stomach Soup, with another mixture of herbs and the addition of pork slices was scrumptious, the stomach having been simmered till tender – RM10.

Post Partum Favourite

We next had that favourite of post partum Chinese mothers, the Braised Pork Knuckle in black vinegar, tender morsels of knuckle braised to the right degree of doneness and unlike a lot of other places, not too sweet nor too sour – RM8. Following on this came the Tung Gu Mun Gai Geok (braised mushrooms with chicken feet), the chicken feet tender and redolent with the fragrance of the dried shitake mushrooms – RM8; and the Ham Yu Mun Tao Foo (bean curd braised with salted fish) the salted fish imparting their characteristic pungency to the bland tofu – RM5.

By this time, the Mutton Soup was ready to be savoured having spent sufficient time on the burner and we tucked into succulent chunks of mutton ribs in a rich thick broth flavoured with hints of star anise and cinnamon RM10.

For vegetables (all Chinese meals must be accompanied by the de rigueur greens), we settled for the bitter melon sautéed with roast pork. This was robustly tasty, the bitter melon at the right consistency and the roast pork with black beans lending the touch of richness to mask any after taste of bitterness in the melon – RM12. Not satisfied with one green, we then ordered a plate of Fried Kangkong (convolvulus) with belacan – RM6.

Our meal for 5 persons came to a total of RM70.

Ah Yee Restaurant

81 Jalan Theatre
11.00 a.m.-5.00 p.m.
H/P: 016-5607072

40 Jalan Anderson
5.30-9.00 p.m.

SeeFoon blisses out on Char Kway Teow and Kai See Hor Fun

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SeeFoon at www.ipohecho.com.my

By See Foon Chan-Koppen

Ever since I’ve lived in Ipoh, I have always been on the lookout for the definitive ‘Char Kway Teow’; that ubiquitous fried rice-noodle dish that is found in many a coffee shop. Nostalgia always overwhelms me as I watch: the fire blazing away, the welcoming sound of the spatula resonating against the wok, as the cook throws in a smidgen of chopped garlic, followed by a handful of the broad rice noodles, soya sauce, adding bean sprouts here, some prawns there, the de rigueur cockles, and the final touch of an egg topping. I am salivating already and hoping with each encounter….. Is this the definitive Char Kway Teow of my childhood growing up in Singapore? I have spent the rest of my adult life seeking out this one dish, only to be disappointed time and again; although in latter years I have found satisfaction in Penang.

Quintessential Char Kway Teow

But no longer do my gustatory yearnings go unsatisfied in Ipoh. I have found the quintessential Char Kway Teow stall that satisfies me on all counts, from the generosity of the bean sprouts and koo chai or green chives, to the addition of sliced Chinese preserved sausage (Lap Cheong), and cholesterol-be-gone pork lardons which add its inimitable crunch to the whole dish. A bonus is the willingness of the cook who will add the right amount (as per your request) of chilli to fry with the noodles (other stall cooks may nod their head, then fry bland noodles and put a dollop of watery chilli sauce on the side) fry till dry, which is just the way I like it and top off with more lardons when requested. For me pure bliss!

This stall, run by two sisters in the Jen Jen coffee shop behind the Tow Boo Keong temple is open only for breakfast and finishes by around 1.30 p.m. or until supplies run out. All the other stalls do the same with some running out sooner than others. Big – RM4.30 Small – RM3.80.

A Breed Apart

Another wildly popular stall in the same place is the Ipoh Kai See Hor Fun stall. Here the family-run stall of father, mother and son do a brisk business in this famous dish that tourists come by the busloads to savour. However, not only is his chicken/prawn soup one of the most ‘umami’ and with minimum MSG, but his chicken is absolutely melt-in-mouth tender. What sets this stall apart is the two additional dishes he sells to go with the bowl of noodles; Big – RM4; Small – RM3.50. Extra chicken RM5 per plate deboned. Extra bean sprouts RM3 per plate.

Additional Specialties

Lau, the man behind the Lim Kee stall, is a purist and on good days when he finds absolutely fresh large prawns, he’ll purchase them for sale at his stall. Simply blanched in his incredibly scrumptious soup, it is served with just a dollop of prawn/chilli oil and you peel them yourselves – seasonal price.

Another dish which Lau sells that is wildly popular is the jellyfish, blanched and served in exactly the same way as the prawns. His jellyfish is cut in large chunks and dipped in just long enough to puff up and remain springy and crunchy in mouth feel. This is a must-have for those who like jellyfish. RM5 – enough for at least two persons. Go before noon to ensure he’s still got all the ingredients.

Other Stalls

Other stalls in this large corner coffee shop include a morning only ‘Kueh’ stall that has the most delectable vegetarian Woo Tau Ko or Taro cake, a Wonton Noodle stall whose wonton is passable but the noodles are wonderfully “al dente” especially when ordering the ‘dry’ variety, a Prawn Noodle stall that also sells out by 1.00 p.m. but I found to be quite run of the mill and a clay-pot noodle stall on which I cannot comment as I have not tasted their offerings.

While there, other than the usual soft drinks, try their Sum So Koek Fah Ginseng ‘whiskers’ with chrysanthemum tea, served either hot or cold. They have it both with and without sugar which is a bonus for non sugar lovers like me.

Jen Jen is certainly one of my favourite breakfast or brunch spots since I was introduced to it through the courtesy of my friend Datin Marjie Foong. Today if I had a choice between the popular Kong Heng in old town and Jen Jen to take my out-of-town visitors, the latter is my first preference.

Restoran Jen Jen ,22 Jalan Chew Sin Oon, Off Jalan Tokong.

Musings on food, See Foon Chan-Koppen

SeeFoon goes from social networking to shelter from the storm

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

A bout of excruciating hot weather had me scratching around for air-conditioned places to lunch and friends obliged by recommending two, each one providing a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of your usual hot and crowded coffee shops. Plus, the added attraction was the wide choice on the menu both oriental and western.

My Friendster Café

If their names are anything to go by, the two cafes I visited recently certainly live up to their names. My Friendster Café has been open for almost two years and as its name which is borrowed from the popular social networking site Friendster, implies, this Cafe is a place to bring your laptop and network using their free WiFi. This is not an internet cafe per se but with its clean modern decor, it is a great place to network and more importantly to snack, drink or have a full meal.

Their menu is certainly diverse and extensive, offering a cornucopia of chicken and lamb chops done a myriad ways as well as steaks, fish, pasta, fried noodles and rice, soups and innumerable snacks ranging from sausages, chicken wings, french fries, cole slaw, spring roll to onion rings and samosas.

Perfect for Families

This cafe is the perfect family gathering place with something on the menu for everyone from the kiddies to the teens, to the grandma and grandpa and of course for Mum and Dad who may wish to treat themselves to a rib-eye or sirloin steak. Started by two enterprising Ipoh ‘boys’ Lam Keng Tim being merely 20 years old and his chef/partner Alann Choong who trained in Kuala Lumpur, not much older, they are doing a brisk business acquiring fans from the very young to the relatively senior.

On the day we went, we were a group of 5 and could therefore order a sampling of the various dishes from oriental to western. First to arrive was the Black Pepper Lamb Chop, a succulent shoulder chop served with a black pepper sauce. I asked for mint sauce and was promptly given some. Tasty and quite tender – RM14.90.

Chicken Galore

This was followed by the Cazana Chicken Chop, a thick slice of chicken rolled around a sausage, sliced turkey ham and cheese – RM19.90. Then we had the Mongolian Fried Drumstick (two whole drumsticks) which I found particularly yummy with a battered crisp outer skin and delicately juicy inside – RM18.90.

Still to come was the Roasted Chicken with Parmi Sauce which tasted just like a Bolognese sauce served with pasta that was quite ‘al dente’ – RM 18.90.

To round out the meal, we had the grilled Rib Eye Steak which was a generous portion and quite tender – RM18.90. All their beef is apparently from either Australia or New Zealand and all their main courses are served with French fries and coleslaw which I found to be very fresh and flavourful.

We then had to taste their Kampung Fried Rice which came with a generous serving of prawns and given the added piquancy of curry leaves. The rice was grainy, flavourful and not overly oily – RM5.50.

By this time we were groaning from excess but we still had time to put away a portion of Ice Kacang – RM4.00, and Lengkong Ice – RM3.90. The milk shakes are worth mentioning too with the Honeydew Milkshake being the top of my list RM4.90. A good place to be spoilt for choice and a treat for the family without breaking the bank.

My Friendster Café (Pork Free)
11 Jalan Tokong.
Tel: 05-243 9657 or 016-5269657
Open: 11.00 a.m. – 10.00 p.m.

Cafe De Ark

Behind the Syuen Hotel, a peculiar triangular-shaped building nestled near a small park with tall trees and walking paths, is Cafe De Ark operated by Carol Cheng. As its name suggests, (Noah’s Ark where the animals were sheltered and protected from the big storm) Cafe De Ark funds street ministries and children’s homes from its profits. As it is a short hop from the Ipoh Echo office and considering that I can eat and be helping some good causes. I will certainly be spending more lunch hours here.

There are about 60 local and western items of food and drink on the menu, from noodles, soups, side dishes, sandwiches, etc. and other house specialties not on the menu. Some of the specialties that we tried were: a generous serving of Assam Laksa with ice-cream thrown in for dessert – flavourful and not too spicy – RM8.99; Fish Head Curry – cooked nyonya style, a bit on the mild side – from RM15 onwards; Fried Popiah with homemade skin, and yam bean, chicken and egg filling – RM7.99; Shepherd’s Pie – a choice of lamb, beef or chicken, accompanied with aubergine fritters and fruit salad. Carol also recommends the Tom-yam Fried Noodles.

 

Cafe De Ark (Pork Free)
43 Jalan Dato Seri Ahmad Said, Greentown, Ipoh.
Carol Cheng – 019-5733181
Open: 11.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. except Mondays.
The Cafe can cater to private functions, in-house or outside, for 20 to 80 people, at a minimum RM20 pax

Seefoon Lands in Hospital With an Acute Case of Gourmet-Itis

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By See Foon Chan-Koppen

As all of you dear readers know, I’ve eaten in rat-ridden road-side stalls, swish 3-Michelin-star restaurants, holes-in-the-wall ‘Tai Chau’ places, Mama-Papa home eateries; but never in my entire life, (and without revealing how long that has been) have I ever raved about hospital food – which has always brought up in me, the response of ‘Yuck’.

Unusual Invitation

Until today that is. Today I had the pleasure of being invited to dine at Pantai Hospital – a very unusual invitation to say the least. When I was first approached with this novel idea, knowing my own general abhorrence and recalling the many encounters I’ve had with hospital food, my first inclination was to decline. However, with some cajoling and assurances from charming corporate communications chief of Pantai, Betty Caleb, that the meal will be worthwhile reviewing, I relented and went for the tasting.

Thanks to innovative planning from dynamic CEO Dr. Dilshaad Ali, Pantai Hospital Ipoh is forging ahead with ‘re-inventing’ itself and holding good to its promises of refurbishment, upgrades and general overhaul of services pertaining  to the customer – in this case, in- and out-patients. And quality of food is high on their list of priorities.

Hotel Standard

Jeffrey Gomes, Customer Service Division Manager, greeted us on arrival and promptly showed us to a well-laid table in their conference room on the fourth floor which they had turned into an impromptu dining room. A scrolled menu lay at each place setting tied with red ribbon. “Wow, full hotel set-up” commented one of my party, and understandably so, as Jeffrey comes from a Food and Beverage background having only recently left the Casuarina Hotel after 8 years.

 

Executive Chef Mohamed Azli

Executive Chef  Mohamed Azli bin Mat Ali also comes from an hotel background having gained experience with the Merlin, Ramada Renaissance, Pan Pacific groups and lastly with Casuarina Parkroyal Ipoh. He was also a Guest Chef for Fukuoka City Council, Busan City Council and Regal Riverside Shatin Hong Kong at different times in his career. Chef Azli was hired by Pantai because of his substantial experience in designing exciting, creative and innovative menus. He is running the F&B kitchen and overseeing all the food aspects. Together with Jeffrey, they will also be working closely with the dietician in order to provide well-balanced meals for all patients.

Fine-Dining

The menu they put together can only be described as fine-dining or ‘gourmet’. As we waited for the food to arrive, half-moon portions of a kind of pita bread was served. This was totally tantalizing in the contrast of its crusty topping of garlic and cheese and the softness of the middle section. I was told that this was made by Chef Azli himself as were all the accompaniments of the subsequent dishes.

The appetizer was a risotto (Italian style rice) with prawns in a prawn bisque sauce. The prawn bisque was tasty as were the prawns. Next came the main course of Miso rubbed Canadian Salmon served with a Tian (round shape of anything piled high in layers) of aubergine (brinjal), asparagus, Tapenade (olive paste) on a bed of Buckwheat noodles. The salmon was done just right, still slightly pink inside and grilled on the outside. The Tian consisted of two thick slices of brinjal sandwiching a slice of tomato and topped with sun-dried tomatoes. This with the olive paste provided the right dollop of sauciness to the salmon and the buckwheat noodles, causing me to devour every mouthful.

Other Delights

This was only one of the menus on offer! Other menus which will be rotated in turn will be a welcome addition especially for the long-stay patients. This gourmet menu will also be available for those going to the Wellness Centre. Other items on the gourmet menu include:

Curried Pumpkin Soup with Roast Pumpkin Seed; Pan-Fried Cajun Snapper Fillet on Lentil and Potato Ragout with Coriander Sauce; Puree of Chic Pea with Cheese Croutons; Pan-Fried Chicken Breast with Olive-Scented Jus, Seasonal Vegetable and Potato Wedges or Pillaf Rice; Minestrone Soup with Pesto; Poached Cod with Tomato Basil Sauce and Cous-Cous and Sautéed Vegetables;  Mushroom Cappuccino; Pan Roasted Mahi-Mahi with Coriander Pesto, Spinach Tagliatelle and Fresh Garden Vegetables; Fillet of Sea Bream with Parsley Sabayon, Soft Polenta and Tian of Eggplant.

Now doesn’t that make you want to rush out for your next wellness check-up? By the way, these gourmet menus are only available for patients in private single rooms only. That’s what I call pampering!