Musings on Ipoh Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
Being the couch potato that I am, I am usually reluctant to travel far for my meals but when my Foodie friend Ginla Chew insisted that I go to Lawan Kuda for dinner, what choice did I have but to meekly follow. After all Ginla knows where the best food is to be had. And if travelling some distance is what it takes, so be it.
And so it is that a group of us found ourselves at the 668 restaurant in Lawan Kuda, ready to sample the specialties of the house.
Proprietress Ng Ta Ling (we call her ‘darling’) was most hospitable, ushering us into the corridor leading to the kitchen to show us the big grass carp which had just been fished out from the tank and flapping around on the ground. That sure is a fresh fish I thought to myself as Ta Ling went on to explain that this was no pond raised fish but a wild one from the river.
As the fish was huge (2-3kg), we opted for a portion of the fish weighing in at slightly over a kilo. She suggested cooking it in her signature style which was charcoal baked with a mellow soya sauce. The fish arrived baked to perfection, the flesh, although prone to bones, was smooth and tender and like many freshwater fish with just a hint of muddiness which happily, was masked by the garnish and sauce – RM50 per kg.
Restaurant 668 is known for their game and serve the acceptable ones like wild boar and terrapin (well I wasn’t going to eat any endangered species).
The wild boar curry is always available, pungent, tangy and full of flavour. I had this on two occasions, first time, a meat curry and the second time the spare ribs. I would recommend the plain meat one as I found the ribs a tad on the tough side. RM14.00. Ribs RM18.00. Perhaps if I had called in advance and asked Ta Ling to braise the ribs longer?
I also had their wild boar trotter, braised in a rich dark soya sauce. This came complete with the skin which was smooth and gelatinous, not as fatty as pigs trotter would have been. I enjoyed this preparation immensely as the sauce was velvety and coated the pieces thoroughly. The skin too was springy, still resilient to the bite but soft enough to yield its collagenous texture which, when combined with the much lower fat content, made for a delicious chewy bite – RM30. To order in advance.
More collagen was on the cards this particular evening, to the delight of the ladies who were with me. Apparently the ‘ladies who lunch’ in the high society circles in New York, the ones who used to nibble on leaves and fill up on cottage cheese, have discovered the value of collagen for their skin (one reason Asian women tend to have thicker and less wrinkled skin than their western counterparts as they age) and are now nibbling on pork knuckles and chicken feet. It won’t be long before they too, discover another miracle food for their skin which is terrapin or tortoise. Unlike the sea turtle which is banned from tables in order to save them from extinction, terrapins or land tortoises are plentiful and can be raised in ponds. Their meat is tasty but it is the gelatinous parts underneath their hard carapace that is highly coveted.
Here at Restoran 668 the terrapin is braised to perfection, smothered in a dark soya sauce, redolent of ginger and scallions with a hint of sweetness imparted from the dark soya – RM39. To order in advance.
Another signature dish here is their drunken chicken, delicious morsels cooked in a specially sourced rice wine, laced with red dates, and masses of ginger. Usually I am not fond of this dish as it tends to be overly sweet in many restaurants, but here it is done just right, savoury, with the tanginess of the ginger offsetting the slight sweetness. Yummiliciously fragrant – RM42. To order in advance.
Udang Galah or the giant river prawns are another specialty Ta Ling is proud of. Done in any choice of styles, (one night a group of us had 3kg done 3 ways), the prawns are live when cooked, arriving at the table piping hot and as fresh as you can get it. Around RM95 per kg.
The vegetables here are sourced fresh from the neighbourhood with wild spinach being one of their specials. Called Ma Xi Yuen in Cantonese, you can opt for these to be done any way you wish. Ours came with soup vermicelli, the stock flavoured by baby ikan bilis or whitebait and two eggs. Very ‘Tsing’ or pure or clean in the Chinese gustatory sense – RM15. The Chinese as well as myself, at my table enjoyed this cleansing of the palate while the two Englishmen present, turned their noses up at it complaining about its ‘blandness’. Therein lies the cultural taste divide!
Other vegetables vary depending on supply so do ask. Sayur Paku or fiddle head fern is often available. All in all Restoran 668 is worth the drive out to Lawan Kuda.RESTORAN 66840 Main Road, Lawan Kuda31600 Gopeng, PerakTel: 05 3597668; Ng Ta Ling: 016 500 0668;Chi Fook Seng: 012 454 7712GPS: E101 9’ 33.6” N 4 27’ 22.8”