By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

For some of my readers who may not know what Jelawat is, let me assure you that it’s worth the 35-minute drive to Gopeng for this special fish. Avid foodie that I may be, I am loathe to drive for miles just to eat; nor do I queue in line for food, unlike the mile-long crowd currently doing that in Singapore at the two Michelin rated hawker stalls that have shot to instant international fame.

But drive I did at the insistence of my great foodie pal Ginla, this time joined by her husband Edward Foo, both of whom said that this Kristal Jade Restaurant in Gopeng is one of those ‘Die Die, Must Try’  variety. “Plus”, said Edward, who is quite the foodie himself, “I could never get Jelawat for this price in Ipoh. And it is fresh caught to boot.”

And the Jelawat we had was certainly fresh. And firm. The fish weighing 1.6kg, was steamed two ways; the first, with preserved black beans (Tao Si) and garlic was pungent, the black beans with its tinge of salty bitterness complementing the briny umami of the fish and the garlic obliterating any trace of fishiness. The second half was steamed plain Cantonese-style with soya sauce and topped with scallions. Whole fish RM76. Must order in advance. And they have other fish too.

We were a big group that evening and in total we had 13 dishes and just about every dish we had was rave worthy. So to accommodate the space available here I will only mention the few spectacular dishes that caught my fancy.

The Paku or Fern Kerabu (Salad) was refreshing topped with sliced raw shallots and crispy fried dried baby prawns – RM10. Their Yee Meen (a type of yellow noodle) which I am told is only available in Gopeng and does not contain boric acid (which apparently a lot of those being sold outside, do) was sauteed with fish paste slices and greens; velvety smooth, and deliciously umami – RM9.

Next was their cold sliced pork knuckle, tender slices still with the fat on, served with a garlic, chilli and vinegar dip. Yummilicious at RM29. Another two noodle dishes followed, the first their Fish Sauce Meehoon with bean sprouts and dried prawns was excellent, the taste and texture I still drool about in my mind as I write this – RM11. The second Meehoon was fried with preserved black beans, again tasty but the first meehoon gets my vote hands down – RM10.

Szechuan Chicken with chilli and garlic was fried just right with a mild crust and tender inside, not too sweet nor too hot – RM25. But the pièce de résistance  was their Mexico Sotong, crispy fried baby squid, coated with a piquant spicy sauce that was neither too sweet nor too spicy – RM25. Another dish I would drive to Gopeng to eat again.

Just as we were satiated and felt we couldn’t put one more bite into our mouths, one of the proprietors C.C. Low came over and suggested we try their Wu Tao Kao Yoke….Pork Belly braised with Taro in a preserved red bean sauce. Now that happens to be something I grew up with and it’s so difficult to find a good one so I immediately said yes. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The pork belly was tender, without being stringy, the taro soft and fluffy and the red bean sauce delectable – RM18.

This is one restaurant I will go the extra mile for.

Restoran Kristal Jade
302 Jalan Merdeka, Taman Gopeng Jaya, Gopeng.
Tel: 012 518 6171; 016 851 3037
GPS: E 101° 10’ 4.9  N 4° 27’ 52.9
Business hours: 5pm-1am daily
Closed: 2 days mid month, Wed/Thurs.