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.
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.
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 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.