In recent times, Ipoh has been receiving a lot of attention from food critics around the world, and rightfully so. Here in Ipoh, our culinary traditions are derived predominantly from the Cantonese and Hakka – sometimes even fusing the two or crossing it with other groups. Among the many dishes that spawned as a result of this is the famous bowl of Kai Si Hor Fun (shredded chicken rice noodles) that we all know and love today.
During the tin mining boom in the early 20th century, the Kinta Valley was one of the most high-yielding tin mining areas on the planet. Around the same time, China was also undergoing significant changes in its political, social and economic landscape, that combined to create the push-factors that eventually drove the Chinese to a little tin mining town in British Malaya; “Paloh” as they used to call Ipoh.
The Guangdong and Hakka immigrants, in particular, brought with them their local dish in the form of Kai Si Hor Fun. As the miners were far away from home in search of wealth together with feeling homesick, they began to cook up bowls of the Tianhe District specialty. Quickly, the miners realised they could start selling these to the locals – and business blossomed.
Just like Malaysia, the meek little bowl of Kai Si Hor Fun too saw an evolution. To add a local twist to it, vendors started boiling prawn heads and shells sourced from Tanjung Tualang to release the savoury flavours that also gives it the orangey hues we see today in noodles prepared by stalls such as the ones in Moon De Moon and Thean Chun. The aroma from the crustaceans turned out to blend unbelievably well with the sweet chicken broth.
The most interesting part is that the two most sought-after locations for the dish – Thean Chun and the stall in Loke Wooi Kee coffeeshop – were started by Hokkien immigrants from Nan’an City in Fujian Province, China. This makes complete sense as the Hokkien palate is accustomed to combining meat and seafood together (Hokkien Mee, anyone?). However, the original recipe from China did not have this distinctive property which makes our local recipe quite the unique one.
All in all, it is safe to say that our array of different delicacies and delights had an origin that is humble and full of anecdotes, and this comes as no surprise and that is why Ipoh food is always mentioned in a conversation to be the best, ever.