Musings on Ipoh Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

The above quote from Shakespeare had me wondering firstly, if the food at Hou Mei (good taste in Cantonese) would taste as good if it was named differently and secondly, if the food served would live up to its name.

I was not disappointed. The formula here at this simple steamboat restaurant would taste as good no matter what you call it and also, the food served here certainly lives up to its name.

As readers of my column are aware, I am physically averse to MSG and any excess bloats me up and my legs look like elephant trunks the next morning. Steamboat restaurants are notorious for their copious use of MSG particularly in their soups and in some of the sauces. I went to Hou Mei expecting to have the same reaction after the meal but to my delight, the next morning, my ankles and legs remained normal.

The reason I was wary about my MSG reaction was because the broths were so extremely tasty, which raised my suspicions immediately and the next morning, my only regret was not to have had another bowl of the broth.

Hou Mei Wo offers you a choice of three types of broth, the Special Pork Bone Soup – RM12.90, the Salted Vegetable (Harm Choy) soup – RM15.90 or the Tom Yum Soup – RM15.90. I chose to mix both the Salted Vegetable with the Tom Yum which came in one pot but in separate compartments.

The Salted Vegetable broth came with a huge pork knuckle bone which we removed as it took up way too much space in the pot. The stock was umami and actually ready to be slurped up on its own with some of the salted mustard greens but patience prevailed as we waited for the plates of food to arrive.

I ordered only the ‘homemade’ dishes plus a mixture of regular vegetables like Tong Ho (edible chrysanthemum leaf) – RM5.90 and Choy Sum (Chinese flowering cabbage) – RM4.90 and our group of four proceeded to cook the rest of the food in our broth of choice.

They offer a super value steamboat for RM78.80 which is enough for 4 people but I went a la carte and picked and peeked through all the offerings. All the usual platters are there, fish balls, fish slices, fish noodles, fish rolls, crab sticks, meat balls but as I wanted to sample their homemade specials I chose a sampling of their homemade meat pastes. The squid paste at RM12.90, Prawn Paste at RM13.90 and their Fresh paste which is a combination of fish and pork paste at RM12.90 all fluffed up when put into the broth. Served in small black melamine ‘shovels’ the presentation was eye-catching and the taste appealing.

The Hou Mei Pork Paste came with a raw egg on top and we were told to mix the meat with the egg and put them into the broth in dollops. Yummilicious at RM8.90. We chose the fried handmade dumplings (they also have them plain) which were crispy on the outside with a tasty filling – RM8.90.

We then ordered the four meat platter consisting of chicken, New Zealand lamb, pork belly and Australia striploin slices. Served with a raw egg into which we’re admonished to dip our meat, the platter was just right for the four of us – RM23.90.

What caps the meal at Hou Mei are their sauces. Laid out at the entrance to the restaurant, diners make their own selection, mix and stir, or take back five separate plates like I did and dip to your heart’s content. Usually steamboat places disappoint me when it comes to the sauces…usually straight off the supermarket shelf and not very exciting, at Hou Mei, the sauces were exciting. A sambal belacan sauce with palpable dried prawn bits was gutsy and gets your taste buds salivating. A Thai-style ‘nam chim’ sauce with hints of limau kasturi (local small limes) and coriander (yeem sai) was titillating and their regular chilli sauce (also homemade) was tangy with hints of lime and of course, there is the de rigueur soya sauce and cut chillies.

 

Hou Mei Wo Steamboat (opposite Festival Walk)
11 Jalan Medan Ipoh 1, Bandar Baru Medan, Ipoh.
Tel: 605 545 4191
Menglembu Branch
81 Lengkuk Desa Rishah 1, Desa Rishah, Ipoh.
Tel: 605 281 3380
Business Hours: Mon-Sun 5pm-12 midnight.