By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
When a former industrialist decides to set up a food stall, it is certainly not with the intention to put food on the table for his family like the way most Mama and Papa stalls begin their journey but rather in the case of Dato’ David Tan, a realisation of his passion for cooking and for superlative food.
David’s culinary skills were only developed when he was studying in the UK and yearning for the dishes from his childhood, he began experimenting. Over the years, he became passionate about cooking and today David is a fine chef, excelling in producing dishes, some from his Hokkien origins, whose recipes are mostly forgotten.
Growing up in Singapore he developed a fondness for Katong Laksa, a hawker specialty that every Singaporean raves over and every Laksa stall there claims to be the ‘original’ one. David’s Katong Laksa can certainly be vouched for as being even better than the original as I too, grew up in Singapore and this used to be one of my favourite treats.
I used to have to wait for invitations to David’s home in Ipoh to have my favourite childhood dish or placate my cravings by eating Ipoh’s famous Curry Mee but today, I no longer have to salivate at the thought of not fulfilling my culinary yearnings for Katong Laksa, I can have it every day, any day, thanks to David’s perfectionist pursuit of his passions.
His stall Little Katong @ Little Genting is garnering fans to Restoran Impressive, a corner coffee shop on Jalan Ali Pitchay opposite Ibis Hotel. Beginning from 8am till it runs out by around 2pm or till the chickens have all gone, the stall serves only three menu items: Katong Laksa, Asam Laksa and Kai See Hor Fun.
All three are superlative, thanks to David’s attention to detail and his meticulous research into what makes a particular dish special and why people flock to one stall and not to others. For example, his Kai See Hor fun has a secret ingredient which gives it that special ‘je nais se quoi’, French for ‘don’t know what’ not to be found at other stalls. Apparently without letting out his secrets, David told me it was the oil which is put into every bowl just before serving that permeates the soup. The flat white noodles were smooth, sliding down my throat in a wave of velvety goodness, juxtaposed against the occasional crunch of a bean sprout and chive here and there. The prawns were ocean fresh and chicken chunks tender and flavourful while the broth delectably umami.
When asked for the secret of the broth, David shared his secret which was the fact that he has a central preparation kitchen where all his broths (for both the Laksas and the chicken noodles) are prepared, taking many hours every day, before they are delivered to the stall. The preparation kitchen is set up with meticulous hygiene standards, akin to top hotels, a move which David hopes will see the beginning to a wider network of stalls serving these three specials and maybe more.
Certainly as far as this Foodie (me) goes, David’s Kai See Hor Fun is second to none. The same compliment goes for his Katong Laksa, the spiced coconut broth quite mild but heat can be added with the dark sambal paste (which I did with gusto) a thick, hearty paste with hints of dried prawns. The portion comes with generous helpings of sliced fish cake, prawns, cockles, chicken and topped with chopped Daun Kesum imparting their inimitable aroma which distinguishes this Laksa from others.
Finally we come to the Asam Laksa, with David’s version giving the ubiquitous Penang version a run for their money. Now I need no longer wait for the occasional visit to Penang with this right on my doorstep, thanks to David. Here at Little Katong the broth is seasoned just right, a perfect balance of sour, umami and sweet, with pineapple in the broth lending a pleasing lift to plain old tamarind. Adequate chunks of Kembong fish add substance to the ‘lai fun’ (thick white rice noodles) while mint leaves add to to the plethora of fresh cut vegetables which is a signature feature of this dish.
All items RM5 per portion.
Keep opening stalls David. Let’s have more old favourites elevated by your passion.Little Katong @ Little Genting (Siew Wan Dang)Restoran Impressive, (opposite Hotel Ibis)2 Jalan Ali Pitchay, Ipoh.Opening times: 8am-2.30pmClosed 2 days in a month.