On Ipoh Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
It’s known as ‘Tong Sui Gai’ or sweet soup Street, a regular small thoroughfare by day which transforms into a veritable cornucopia of foodie delights by night. Very popular in days gone by, ‘Tong Sui Gai’ is quieter now, foodies having found new grazing grounds elsewhere. But there are still enough stalls offering sweet goodies for the name to trigger recognition. And a new ‘Tai Chau’ stall is garnering fans to this location.
Pusat Makanan Man U is a covered area at the end of ‘Tong Sui’ street where Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant has opened for business. You can’t miss the location as their sign is emblazoned right at the entrance on the left.
I was invited by antiques expert Eddie Foo who gathered a biggish group of us to come and sample the food here. And what a sampling that was.
All in all we gorged on 10 dishes, each one a gourmet’s delight. This was no slapdash, feed-the-masses tai chau stall but one with a chef who has the ‘touch’ and the ‘Wok Hei’ (the ‘breath’ of the wok) which is quintessential to a good Chinese kitchen. Only then can some of the stir-fried dishes have a complex smoky flavour while simultaneously retaining the textural crunch that is used as a measure of a Chinese chef’s skill.
As in their Kwai Dao (French Beans) with dried prawns and chillies and their 18-year-old Fried Rice (more on this later).
Allow me to run through the list of delectable dishes we had that evening, starting with their Yeem Gai or steamed salted chicken which was perfectly seasoned, not overly salty and tender on the bite.This was a ‘Wu So Kai’ which is known for its extra flavourful meat and we ordered half a bird. RM28 for half.
Next to arrive was the Har Cheong Fah Lam or the pork belly with prawn paste. These morsels of pork belly were deep fried and served piping hot at the table. Umami, crispy at the edges and utterly delicious, each piece still retaining its ‘yeen un’ or chewy yet tender texture. RM15 (S) / RM30 (L).
Ham Dan or Salted Egg Pumpkin arrived scaldingly hot and crispy and was wolfed down in a flash. RM12 (S) / RM25 (L). Followed by the Lemon Fish Hotpot, Tilapia chunks in a broth seasoned with loads of lemon grass, lime and oodles of garlic. The fragrance of Calamansi or Limau Kasturi predominated, its essential oils wafting in the air as the steaming hot tureen was brought to the table. Served together with blanched meehoon, this could be a meal on its own with just a vegetable on the side. Seasonal price depending on type of fish used.
More fishy business lay ahead, as we next had the Garupa fish head in curry served in a claypot. Brimming with Taofu Pok or fried tofu puffs, ladies fingers and eggplant, the curry was umami, not overly spicy and again the gravy was wonderful eaten with blanched meehoon, RM50 (S) / RM80 (L).
Kwai Tao or French Beans with dried prawns, crispy fried garlic bits and chillies were crunchy and the dried prawns were large and crispy, providing the perfect umami touch. An alternative for this dish is having it stir-fried with pine nuts. RM10 (S) / RM20 (L).
Pig’s trotters came next, tender succulent chunks braised in a clay pot in dark soya sauce and dried chillies, piquant, tangy and the trotters cooked to the right degree of doneness, an almost fall-off-the-bone velvety texture. RM18 (S) / RM35 (L).
Snow Kangkong was a term on the menu that had me baffled until the dish arrived. A heaping plate of battered and deep fried kangkong or water convolvulus topped with bits of crispy Ikan Bilis, was a novel way to serve up the common kangkong. Yummilicious to the last crunch. RM10 (S) / RM20 (L).
Lai Wong Har were very large and very fresh prawns, still in the shell, coated with a creamy sauce that was neither too sweet nor too overly gooey as in some other restaurants. RM12 per 100g.
Finally to end our meal, the de rigeur carb dish – in this instance fried rice. Not any old fried rice but a dish termed “18 Year Old Rice”. No, the rice itself is not 18 years old but the name given by the chef had all the men at the table laughing. When questioned by ignorant ‘ole’ me as to the significance of the name, I was told that it resembled an eighteen year old teenaged girl, fresh and crispy (in Cantonese, the colloquial term is ‘pok pok chuey’). Terribly un PC! The rice dish was terribly tasty though. Well defined grains of freshly cooked rice mixed with ‘Fan Chew’, the burnt bottom layer of rice only produced when rice is cooked the old fashioned way on a stove or open fire, fried with the usual accoutrement and topped with a sprinkling of fried garlic and ringed with slivered lettuce, both garnitures adding additional textural nuances to the dish. RM8 per portion meant for one person.
Go to Zhong Hwa when you’re looking for good wholesome Chinese cooking in a relaxed outdoor ambiance. Well situated fans will cool you down as you explore the menu or order up a storm. Because it is situated at the furthest end of ‘Tong Sui Gai’ there is less noise here and the well spaced tables allow for conversation that sometimes even air-conditioned restaurants won’t.Zhong Hwa Seafood Restaurant(Inside Pusat Makanan Man U)Lot 2305N beside SRJK Sam TetJalan Sultan Ekram, Taman Jubilee, 30300 Ipoh.Tel: 012 515 1404 or 017 234 2361 Business hours: 6pm-1am. Closed 2 days early in the month.