By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

I’m not known for my athletic prowess, especially walking, and when Vivien Lian, my young and energetic junior ‘Foodie’ suggested I go and have a meal at the Gaharu Tea Valley in Gopeng, I baulked, making excuses and bemoaning the long drive, etc. Finally I succumbed and made the journey, and was very glad I did.

Breathing the fresh air in the 300-acre Gaharu plantation was invigorating. I was met by the handsome and charming Operations Manager Anand Lourdes and given the full brief. I was told that the invaluable negative ions released from the 200,000 Gaharu trees’ branches, leaves and flowers help disinfection, removal of fatigue, stimulate the autonomic nervous system, promote emotional stability, and prevent organ diseases. In addition, Gaharu aroma can stimulate the central nervous system and balance emotions. Can I build a house there?

Gaharu Tea Valley Gopeng is the only organic plantation with 120 ha of the species 12-in-1 Aquilariaspp trees. Due to its uniqueness, this special species of Gaharu has been aptly named HOGA (Holistic Gaharu).

The use of Gaharu, also known as Black Gold, harks back to as early as 600 AD in various kingdoms of the world. Emperors, royal families, noblemen and the rich used it for medicinal purposes. It is also an important component of traditional Chinese and Malay medicine. As early as the 8th century, Muslim and Indian traditional medicine dispensing records showed that Gaharu was used as incense.

Wow, with all those claims, it is no wonder that their showroom cum shop is a magnet for tourists who come, take the tour known as the Gaharu Experience, and end up buying all the wonderful Gaharu products on offer.

Now Ashley Ho, daughter of the founder David Ho, who had the foresight to plant all these trees 26 years ago, has taken on the task for creating more products from the health giving trees and is now offering special meals for groups of 10 or more.

I had the pleasure of tasting one of these meals recently. Ashley who is an electrical engineer by training (!) as is husband Anand, professes to be still experimenting with her recipes. Yet the meal that she served for tasting would do any restaurant proud. Add on the health giving benefits of the HOGA leaves (rich in several essential nutrients including calcium, iron, manganese, zinc and various polyphenols with antioxidant properties all of which play important roles in the body) in every dish and it’s worth the trip out there with a group of friends.

The deli serves HOGA Tea Noodles – RM7.90; HOGA Tea Nasi Lemak – RM7.90; HOGA Gui Ling Gou – RM5; HOGA Osmanthus Jelly – RM2; HOGA Soft-serve Ice Cream – RM3; HOGA Tea Eggs – RM1.60; HOGA Coffee – RM4 and HOGA Fruit Tea – RM3. These are readily available all day, every day. If it’s a quick bite after the Gaharu tour, then I would say the Nasi Lemak is well worth having as are the tea eggs and the Soft-serve Ice Cream. All infused with the HOGA goodness.

For the main feast, the HOGA Matcha Vegetarian Fried Rice was amazing considering that the ‘mock’ lardons made from soya meal was wonderfully crispy and crackling and the HOGA tea leaves permeating the rice lent it a distinctive aroma, the texture of which was enhanced with ‘Tsoi Po’ or preserved radish, RM15.90.

HOGA Braised Chicken with Tea Basmati Rice and HOGA chicken soup was lovely, using their prepacked herbal mix for the chicken and tofu, the chicken which is free range was well steeped in the sauce, redolent with hints of cloves, star anise and cinnamon, the accompanying Basmati rice cooked in HOGA tea, matched with a very umami chicken soup laden with white fungus, guaranteed cooked without MSG, RM26.90.

We then had their HOGA Grilled Chicken pieces with Tea Basmati Rice and HOGA chicken soup similar to the braised soya chicken except that this chicken was grilled instead, RM26.90. The HOGA Grilled Free-Range Chicken was served as a whole bird, still juicy on the inside at RM70/bird.

We were then treated to a bowl of their HOGA Birds Nest sweet soup at RM80 per bowl. Although pricey, and as we all know that bird’s nest IS pricey, this sweet soup was laced with the goodness of HOGA leaves and surprise surprise, the nest comes from the Gaharu Valley’s own swiftlet house, all hand-picked and cleaned by hand. A delightful treat in an unusually ambient setting.

Aside from the dishes from the deli, all the dishes mentioned have to be ordered at least two days in advance for a minimum of 10 persons. So what are you waiting for dear readers, gather your group and head off for some healthy fresh air chock full of negative ions, take the tour, hug a Gaharu tree and sit down to a health giving meal.

For more information on the Gaharu Tea Valley Gopeng, an article was written in the Ipoh Echo three years ago with more details on the facilities: www.ipohecho.com.my/v4/article/2015/05/01/black-gold-in-gopeng.

Gaharu Tea Valley Gopeng Agarwood Sanctuary (Pork Free; awaiting Halal certification)
Mukim Teja, Kampung Sungai Itek 9840
Jalan Gopeng, 31600 Gopeng.
GPS: N 04°27’30.00” E 101°11’26.40”
Tel: +605 351 1999/1998
Business hours: 9am-6pm