Musings on Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
One doesn’t have to go very far to find a good Dai Chau restaurant in Ipoh but by and large, it’s difficult to have a good meal late at night as most of the best places start packing up or run out of specials by around 9pm. Unless one resorts to roadside stalls, perched on stools and hoping that the car coming towards you won’t be stroking your sleeve as it whizzes by.
One late night restaurant that is securely off the road albeit coffee-shop style and willing to serve till the wee hours is Restaurant Chan Jie, a relative newcomer to the Ipoh Dai Chau scene having been in its present location for about two years.
Taking its name from the proprietress who also helms the kitchen, Chan Jie which means sister Chan, is the quintessential Dai Chau eatery, always ready to serve a large variety of dishes to suit all pockets and palates.
Certain dishes are best ordered in advance like their Sek Pan Yu Tao Lo or the Garupa fish-head hot pot. This was already waiting for us when our group arrived one evening as we tucked in, relishing the freshness of the fish head pieces, the soft tofu, the cabbage and the wu tao or taro chunks which lent to the broth a velvety creaminess and robust flavour. The broth was supremely umami (I was hoping that there wasn’t too much MSG in the stock which Chan Jie strongly denied) and having been reassured, we proceeded with gusto. Order in advance – RM35.
We were a large group and the next 10 dishes that followed were all wolfed down with ease. Next on the menu was Kung Po Eel, chunks of eel, coated with the dark sweet soya sauce with fiery dried chilli peppers lending piquancy and onions and scallions providing texture, all served in a claypot – RM18. This was followed by Pork Spare Ribs cooked in Guinness Stout, a dish that I expected to be sweet and yet was surprisingly balanced, with the bitterness of the stout cancelling out any aggressive sweetness, resulting in a tangy bite of tender ribs – RM15.
A change in taste and texture came next with the baby long beans sauteed with mui choi or Chinese preserved vegetables and strips of pork. The mui choi addition was an unusual touch to the usual stir-fry and lent extra flavour to the whole dish – RM12. Another vegetable dish of Choi Sum or Kale fried with egg was delectable at RM8.
And there were more dishes to follow in quick succession. Homemade tofu was fried golden, topped with minced pork and choi po or Chinese preserved radish – RM8. Next the bread ring with curried prawns was a sight to behold: a golden crown of fried bread filled with scrumptious prawns that were fresh and firm, the curry sauce perfect for dunking in the bread which we tore apart with our hands. (No need for table manners here!) RM35 for eight large prawns.
Thank goodness we were quite a large group as more was to follow. The Tse Geong Ngap or Duck cooked in a ginger sauce, is rich, dark, aromatic and utterly scrumptious. A combination of preserved soybeans, both the brown meen si and the black tao si are mixed with the red fermented bean curd, nam yu, spiced up with generous helpings of pepper and tse geong or young ginger root. Good to the last bite – RM12.
What should have arrived earlier in the meal came towards the end, the steamed fish, this time, a Pak So Kung or Catfish, smothered in chilli, meen si or fermented bean paste, ginger and steamed to perfection. The flesh was velvety smooth with nary a hint of the muddy taste that often accompany freshwater fish and the balance of topping ingredients added the right touch of piquancy to the dish – RM35.
By now laden to the gills, we still had the ‘de rigueur’ noodles, a Mee Goreng that can hold its own at any roadside stall followed by a Kway Teow in dark sauce. Both tasty and value for money at RM6 each.
Just as we were preparing to leave, I spied a steaming bowl of congee waft its way past my eager eyes, my appetite by this time totally satiated to the maximum so ordering a portion was absolutely out of the question; I made a mental to come back to taste the choice of congee available here. This I did a week later and not only did I try the Frog’s Legs Congee which was a velvety smooth Hong Kong style soft congee with big chunks of frog’s legs and oodles of slivered ginger but also their signature fried vermicelli, the latter with prawns, cabbage and egg. Congee and vermicelli RM12 each. For this lunch we topped it off with some deep fried spicy squid which were crispy and garlicky – RM15. Other congees available include pork with preserved eggs or Pei Dan Sao Yoke Juk, fish congee and Tang Tsai Juk or ‘Sampan’ congee consisting of primarily seafoods.
Chan Jie will be closed for their Chinese New Year holidays from February 17 to 22.
Restaurant Chan Jie
48 Jalan Dato Tahwil Azhah, 30300 Ipoh.
Tel: 012 493 4126 or 012 523 2109
GPS: N 04° 35.25’8; E 101° 05’1.0
Closed 2 days a month.