Musings on Ipoh Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
It’s that time of year again as Chinese New Year approaches, when Ipohites find themselves craving for Capon. Larger than a chicken, a bit smaller than a turkey, but more flavourful than either, a Capon is a castrated rooster, fed and nurtured for four to six months and weighing between 4-7lbs. Called Yeem Gai in Cantonese, they are hard to come by and expensive to boot. Capon is prized for its fragrance, its juicy meat and best of all its springy yellow skin and fat. The Chinese prefer their capons Pak Cheuk which means ‘white blanched’ or steamed and served with a grated ginger and scallion paste on the side.
Usually, in most of the local restaurants (if they have them in the first place), capon has to be ordered whole and unless one has a table of ten, a whole capon is a monumental feast for any less than that number. And it is pricey, costing between RM250-350 or more per bird.
However, at the newly-opened Restaurant Kim Wah in Falim, very close to Taman Mas, you can eat to your heart’s delight even if you’re just 2 or 3 people as they will serve you a quarter bird for RM60, a half for RM118 and a whole bird for RM228. And the bird we had was easily 3kg. According to my Foodie ‘kaki’ Ginla Chew, who as usual, discovered the restaurant in her peripatetic food explorations, these are exceptionally good prices for Yeem Gai. And the quality is good too. The meat, firm yet succulent and the skin resilient with just the right amount of fat beneath. In fact, the whole chicken we had was surprisingly lean so we could ‘have our skin and eat it too’!
Naturally the Chinese New Year season is the best time to get the best capon as all the farms that rear these birds focus on getting as many to market as possible at this time. Kim Wah is open throughout the festive season so do get your capon fix during this period.
But it’s not only the capon at Kim Wah that deserves praise, other dishes are outstanding too. Head Chef Teoh Hock Eng, a true-blue Ipoh boy has come home to roost after 20 years in Kuala Lumpur heading up the kitchen at my favourite Overseas restaurant in Jalan Imbi. Ably assisted by Choong Kwet Thiam, Chef Teoh dishes out some impressive temptations. Like his Char Siew (sweet roast pork) which is melt-in-mouth succulent and tender, marbled with fat to which you throw admonitions about cholesterol to the wind and begin wolfing down the whole plate. RM22 – S; RM36 – M and RM48 for a large plate.
Another porky dish which our group enjoyed was the braised pig’s elbow, chunky cuts of elbow, the skin and tendons braised to a mucilaginous tenderness in a light sauce fragranced by ginger and dried cuttlefish slices. Comfort food at its best – RM22.
But I am jumping ahead. We began the meal with the obligatory Yee Sang or the ‘prosperity toss’. Yee Sang comprises thin slices of pickled vegetables and other ingredients which are enhanced by its special sauce which imparts a distinctive flavour. The popular custom is for all round the dining table to toss the ingredients high in the air with joyful exclamations of Loh Hey (toss high) to wish for abundant luck and happiness for all. RM38 – S and RM63 – L with salmon.
The wild mushroom soup which was served in individual tureens was clear, the dried mushrooms coming from Yunnan, China which is renowned for its abundance of various wild mushrooms, was a variety I have never seen before, imparting its fragrance to the soup which was light and umami – RM10 per portion.
Kim Wah is a branch of their original restaurant which is based in Tanjung Tualang. Their fish tanks attest to their Tualang origin, with udang galah in varying sizes waiting to be selected. So naturally we had to have our Steamed Udang Galah, more commonly called the Tualang prawns. Now we don’t have to drive to Tualang for them. We had the medium-sized prawns which arrived just a shade overdone but nevertheless sweet and umami. RM90 – small; RM120 – medium; RM150 per kg for the large prawns.
The Loong Dun or giant grouper, a fish that has seen a phenomenal rise in popularity in the past few years prized for its firm flesh and the delectable jelly-like skin; was braised to perfection with taro in a claypot, and saw all of us at the table scrambling to scoop up the last drops of thick sauce. The essence of that dish was still lingering in my gustatory memory bank when I went to bed that night; such was the impact it had on my taste buds – RM120 per kg.Restaurant Kim Wah1, 3, 24 & 26 Jalan Mas 3(approach either from Jalan Kledang Utara or the Lumut Highway)Tel: 05 2828 882/2822 228Business hours: 10.30am-2.30pm; 5.30-10.30pm. Open year round.GPS: E 101º 3.243’ N 4º 34.75’