Musings on Ipoh Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

Three years ago when I went to the Ray of Hope Kafe in Bercham, I found myself raving not only about the food but over the cleanliness of the place (in fact it’s got the cleanest toilet of any food outlet in Ipoh and possibly Malaysia).

Recently, I went back and discovered another element that makes this Kafe so endearing. Not only is the food cooked with love and care but the service is delivered with such focus and concentration by the learning disabled staff that it is a joy to experience and truly a credit to the trainers. There is a cheerful camaraderie that is truly palpable, supervised by two full time volunteer Mums whose sons were given vocational training at the centre and now work in the Kafe. Here is where their motto “Every Life Counts, Every Person Matters”, comes alive as I watch their smiling faces and the friendly jousting that goes on.

Non-profit, Non-religious

Most food outlets exist to serve food to those unwilling or unable to cook for themselves and hope to turn a profit in the process. Some special food outlets have a dual purpose: serving food as well as helping those who serve. The Ray of Hope Kafe is one of these food outlets that not only serve good food but in the process, do good as well.

The Ray of Hope is a non-profit, non-religious multi-racial centre set up by St Peter’s and St Augustine’s church, Ipoh. Its sole objective is to give hope to people with learning difficulties.

Datin Mary Yeoh who is the dynamo behind the centre and the main mover and shaker for the centre came down to say hello and self-deprecatingly said, “I’ll leave you to our new star in the kitchen. Datin Grace Lee will take care of you”. And take care of our little group she did.

Grace Lee who could be playing mahjong or lunching with her friends as the lady of leisure that she is, has instead dedicated herself to helping out in the kitchen, working with the chefs on new dishes to freshen up the quite extensive menu. Given that she is an impressive cook, the Ray of Hope Kafe has now found itself a new ray of sunshine who not only shines in the kitchen but also with the learning disabled staff who all hang on her every word and call her Aunty Grace.

We were there to try some new dishes which Grace puts on the menu as specials. And to revisit some of my other favourite dishes here.

 

Extensive Menu

The menu is extensive. There are more than 13 different rice dishes and a similar number of noodle dishes not to mention spaghetti dishes and western dishes like chicken chops with a big choice of sauces and fish and chips. Now, with specials like the delectable Taiwanese Beef Noodles which we had that day, a fulsome broth with robust body (no MSG), the beef chunks and beef tendons (yes beef tendons….now how often does one find that?) yummiliciously tender, with a choice of noodles and topped with flat leaf parsley; or the herbal chicken which comes with a rich broth redolent with Chinese herbs and chockful of cloud ear mushrooms, the menu offers more exciting possibilities. A must-have but alas only on certain days or ordered in advance in quantity. Taiwanese Beef Noodle RM17.90 (worth every bite) and Herbal Chicken RM9.50.

Also new on the menu is the Baked Sambal Fish with long beans and ladies fingers. An impressive presentation in tin foil, the fish was well imbued with spices and there was just enough sambal gravy to spoon on the fish. RM12.90 for the normal and RM22 for the special which has to be ordered in advance.

An unusual new item is the Grilled Chicken Roll stuffed with spinach and black olives. Served with a cranberry puree, the chicken was just charred on the skin, tender and moist, the stuffing lending hints of the mediterranean.

Of course, I also revisited some of my old favourites here, tasting as delectable as I remembered them from my past visits. I will mention the few items which I consider the ‘must-haves’. The Asam Laksa was a generous portion, the soup/broth had a fulsome body to it unlike some others I’ve had before which can be plain watery. I could taste the fish that had gone into making the broth as well as the various herbs and spices which are critical to its turning out successfully. Chunks of fish with pineapple and cucumber slivers, topped with a sprig of fresh mint, complemented the smooth white ‘lai fun’, enveloped in the broth – RM10.90.

The Nasi Lemak is for me one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Served with pandan flavoured coconut rice, the traditional one served with ikan bilis, peanuts, sambal (very tasty), and  chicken rendang, topped with a fried egg, is heavenly – RM9.90. There is also a special Nasi Lemak with the same rice and egg but served with a salt fish pickle and fried chicken – RM12.90.

My old favourite of the Cornish Pasty is now back on the menu. This giant puff is traditionally filled with beef but here at Ray of Hope, this is a chicken Cornish Pasty, with potatoes and onions. The pastry was light and fluffy and one pasty is enough to satisfy an average appetite – RM8.50.

Star Bakery

But it is the bakery that shines as the star of the show in the cafe. I sampled their cookies,  their different types of bread, their sweet and savoury buns, and particularly noteworthy are their new Durian Puffs. To be ordered in advance, these delectable Puffs are a steal at RM4.50 for a box of three. Order them for birthdays, or celebrations or gifts but do order them. Equally delectable are their Lemon Cheese tarts. At RM2.50 each, they were melt-in-the-mouth yummy and I, a professed non-sweet eater, found myself reaching for a second one. Their Tiramisu is most impressive considering that it’s halal and no alcohol is added – RM6.50. As is their Moist Chocolate Cake, RM6.50.

Other items from the bakery which make great party offerings are their boxed cookies and their biscotti, paper thin crisps encrusted with almond and pistachio slivers, an Italian favourite of mine that is great with coffee or just for nibbling.

So for all my dear readers out there who read this column, remember that the next time you feel the urge for some confectionery, need to bring a gift to someone’s house, or organising a gathering, remember to place your order with the Ray of Hope Kafe and while there to pick up your goodies, linger awhile and try some of the items on their menu. Their catering services are excellent as I have personally used them. Not only will you enjoy the taste treat but you’ll be helping a good and worthy cause.

Ray of Hope Kafe (Halal)
24 & 26 Persiaran Bercham Selatan
Taman Sri Kurau
Tel: 05 548 8796 Open Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
GPS: N 04° 37.459’  E 101° 07.455’
Email: ray.of.hope.ngo@gmail.com