Seefoon Yearns For Some Home Cooking In Ipoh

By See Foon Chan-Koppen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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See Foon

SeeFoon Chan-Koppen has been writing a food column called Musings on Food in the Ipoh Echo since 2009. It is widely read both in print as well as online which receives more than 1 million hits a month. Her forte is in communications, having honed her skills after graduating from the University of Singapore where she worked for the Straits Times Group and was a food critic for the New Nation. Her knowledge of food and cooking come from more than 30 years in the hotel industry based in Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong and subsequently Kuala Lumpur. During this time, she has travelled all over the world and eaten at the best and worst restaurants. She is totally intimate with the subtleties and nuances of most cuisines of the world having been involved in opening over 50 hotels throughout the Asia/Pacific region and China where she helped to conceptualize Food and Beverage themes and critiqued on food quality. SeeFoon calls herself a global citizen and now chooses the serenity and friendliness of Ipoh to the bright lights of the many cities she has lived in. She also loves the food in Ipoh and is passionate about telling the world about it.

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