On Ipoh Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

I am a self-confessed insatiable foodie who will beat a path to any door in search of the next nibble, the next new discovery where my taste buds will be titillated and appeased.

Alas, given our Malaysian heat and humidity, some of Ipoh’s best known hawker dishes are usually savoured in a pool of perspiration. For this Foodie that is.

For someone like me who is habituated to air conditioning, eating at hawker stalls can occasionally be a torture, with sweat and make-up pouring down my face, my small face towel (which I always carry in my handbag) drenched to dripping and wishing for a cool respite from the unceasing heat.

Now thanks to Ray of Hope, who has opened a new eating outlet in Old Town, I can enjoy all my hawker delights in cool comfort.

The Ray of Hope is a non-profit, non religious, multi-racial centre set up by St Peter’s and St Augustine’s churches, Ipoh. Its sole objective is to give hope to people with learning difficulties. Headed by Datin Mary and her husband Dato’ Yeoh Beng San who is Advisor and Fundraising Chairman, it also provides vocational training and sheltered employment for young adults with learning difficulties. It is a sheer delight to see the enthusiasm and willingness of the young people with varying degrees of learning disabilities greet and serve you with smiles at their cafe in Bercham and here in Old Town, the same applies.

Thanks to the generosity of one Ipohite, who has loaned one of the old shophouses to the Ray of Hope Foundation, this additional Cafe right next to Hoong Tho on Jalan Bandar Timah, will serve as a beckoning ‘Ray’ of gourmandising for those heading towards this part of town that has become a magnet for Foodies from all over.

The dynamo behind this second Ray of Hope Cafe is Datin Grace Lee, a self deprecating bundle of energy who instead of shopping the world’s capital cities or playing mahjong, has thrown herself into this project with a dedication and commitment that is breathtaking.

Waking at 5.30am she is in the shop by 6.30am and in the kitchen preparing the day’s mis en place (the basic necessities for all dishes served). Then she attends to the purchasing and liaising with suppliers, followed by checking on the cleaning, and the myriad other details that running a restaurant entails. Following this dizzying schedule six days a week, she even serves customers, wearing her apron and sports cap, looking like any other paid service person in any restaurant. Not only is she not paid, but she has personally donated a large number of the fixtures and equipment in the restaurant; not to mention her time and energy.

Jessie Yong, who serves as overall manager as well as “chef and bottle washer” (or in Chinese the ‘one leg kick’) had this to say about Grace, “She is indefatigable. From establishing all the recipes for all the dishes, to trying out new dishes for our menu, she is truly committed. I really admire her dedication. And the learning disabled kids love her,” she added.

Shareen Ng, whom everyone calls Aunty Shareen, has been volunteering in Bercham and now in Old Town for 15 years. “My son Jason who has Down syndrome has been helped greatly by Ray of Hope. He can now take orders and serve customers. This is a meaningful job for me as I am not only here to help my son become more skilled but I am helping the others as well,” she volunteered. “He can now interact with customers and is developing his social skills. Working here is a wonderful opportunity for him as he would not find employment anywhere else,” she added.

Let’s get to the food (this began as a column about food!). The menu is simple, focusing on noodles and special steamed soups. The steamed soups are substantial and best shared with either a few friends or to be ordered and brought home. I had a most unusual steamed soup of kampung chicken redolent with the flavour of lemongrass which was used generously together with ginger. The kampong chicken was tender and the fact that there was not the slightest smidgen of MSG in the soup made it totally slurpable, something which I proceeded to do that evening, having brought the soup home to enjoy – S/M/L RM25/35/45. Special soups include steamed soups with Ginseng, dried scallops and other special herbs and are available as Soup of the Day or may be ordered in advance for takeaway – S/M/L RM35/55/75.

The rest of the menu is typical hawker fare with Curry Mee RM8, Asam Laksa RM7, Chicken Hor Fun RM7 and Chee Cheong Fun plain at RM5 and with mushroom and chicken RM7.

Their Taiwanese Beef Noodles are extra special, a big steaming bowl of a robust beef broth with well braised tender chunks of beef, the tendon simmered to a jelly-like consistency, complemented by salted cabbage and a thick dark chilli sauce – RM9.50

Yes the Ray Of Hope prices are higher than the surrounding eating places where it’s located but what endears me to Ray of Hope is their motto of “Every Life Counts, Every Person Matters” and that every ringgit I spend there goes to the learning disabled.

Their catering services (as in providing food only) are excellent as I have personally used them. Speak to either Grace or Jesse and they’ll bend over backwards to accommodate you. Grace has a repertoire of other dishes that are not on the menu which she’ll be happy to whip up for your event. Not only will you enjoy the taste treat but you’ll be helping a good and worthy cause.

Ray of Hope
18 Jalan Bandar Timah, 30000 Ipoh, Perak
Tel: 05 241 2959
Business Hours: 8am-2.30pm. Closed: Sundays