When: August 2014 Weather : Hot 28-32C
Leica M240 35mm summilux F1.4, samsung S4 and iPhone
There are precious few things of note to see in and around the small northern Malaysian city of Ipoh apart from a few limestone caves, but Ipoh does have one thing going for it, and that’s its food and culinary history. Ipoh had a deserving history of awesome street food and restaurant food going back 3-4 decades but somehow over the years, I had felt that it had lost a little of its zing whether due to the changing or migration of the hawkers of old. So when my partners and I, in a group of 11 decided to hold our corporate retreat in ipoh, among the items on the agenda was a comprehensive sampling of Ipoh’s finest foods, I was a little apprehensive lest they be disappointed.
As we were staying at the Banjaran Hotsprings retreat 15 min out of Ipoh, arranging a private bus to ferry us around was absolutely critical to our gourmet journeying so we could sample everything. With everything more or less planned, we arrived on schedule in Ipoh airport by Firefly at around 1130am…just perfect for our pickup and drop off at our first watering hole, the famous pair of coffee shops in Ipoh’s ‘old town’ called Thean Chun (aka Hall of mirrors) and Kong Hing right next door. The Hall of mirrors was pretty packed when we arrived so we sat down at Kong Hing and ordered a bowl each of the famous Ipoh soup Hor Fun (flat noodles) with chicken and shrimp….my guests were very pleased with this as we also paired them with a plate of the very famous Ipoh bean sprouts..fat and juicy…
Of course that wasn’t all we had….that was the star item….the two adjacent coffee shops share several other excellent food stalls and we also had pork satay with liver and intestines, popiah (fresh spring rolls)…this was a very popular item and despite the amount of food on our table…the popiah was gone in no time at all. (recommend that you order 2 rolls for a table of 4-5 to share). Chee Cheong Fun in two varieties ..the traditional with sweet red sauce and chilli and with curry pig skin….yum. We also tried the cuttlefish/kangkong(convolvulus) which I would say was ordinary and you can skip this. Dessert was one of the specialties of the house: custard…don’t miss it. To wash all this down, Iced Ipoh white coffee with reduced sweetness was just perfect. My visitors gave this meal 2 thumbs up!
Replete, we checked into the Banjaran springs for some work and spa treatments prior to dinner. We had originally booked the Mun Choong restaurant in Pasir Puteh but as there was a problem with the reservation, we had to move to the Pusing Public Restaurant in Horley Street..a more than able substitute. Relying on my sister who lives in Ipoh to order the food, we had a beautiful 4 later cold starter full of goodies….much more impressive and tasty than anything I’ve eaten in Singapore.
Undoubtedly the star of the night was the dish of big headed river prawns sauteed in local style…when the prawns were gone, we tossed a couple of bowls of rice to mop up the gravy and this was the unanimous favourite of the night….only regret was that there wasn’t enough rice to go round!
The next morning we had breakfast in the resort for logistical reasons….a typical hotel breakfast and really not the thing to do when you are in Ipoh with its wealth of culinary delights.
Setting off for a short tour of Ipoh, we visited the Perak cave complex which was reasonably interesting….
By 11 am, my group voiced that they wanted to have more Ipoh Hor fun even though we were scheduled for lunch at 1230pm! So off we went again and this time we were early and managed to get a table for all 11 of us in Thean Chun, the Hall of Mirrors. After a bowl of the same ipoh hor fun from a different stall, everyone declared that the version at the Hall of Mirrors was better. We of course had more popiah, chee cheong fun and custard. The custard from this side was also deemed better than kong hing. So if you are only in Ipoh for one meal…go for the Hall of Mirrors.
After elevenses, we headed off to the small village of Tanjung Tualang, the home of the big head river prawns that we had enjoyed the night before, to sample the fare at the source. TT is an hour’s drive out and it was just as well to let the hor fun settle as we were scheduled for another feast… there are about 6-7 restaurants here all of which have big aquaria outside filled with the bright blue river prawns..you can’t miss them. They are apparently river caught! I think the restaurants are all good and you can choose anyone….and we soon settled to our lunch…
We also had salted egg crab and veg :).
Leaving Tanjung Tualang, the brief to our excellent driver from Sri Maju Bus & Tour company was to find us some good durians…and so he did, stopping by the roadside on the way back to Ipoh….
Having only room for two durians we resumed our journey back to the resort only to find ourselves outside a Pomelo farm near our resort…our group of foodies did not hesitate and descended on the pomelo farm as Tambun is renowned for its sweet juicy pomelos…it’s like a giant grapefruit only not sour, but sweet and juicy. Of course we sampled some of the pomelos and bought not a few to pack into our suticases amongst all the other biscuits etc etc..
We finally made it back to the resort about 4pm a few kg heavier each..only to leave for dinner at the Sun Lee Ho Fook restaurant where we had a huge 9 course dinner hosted by a friend…again awesome dinner but we had very little room left.
So on our final morning, I had at first arranged for us to go to Fusan restaurant for it dim sum but as the group felt that we could get excellent dim sum in Singapore, the vote went to seeking out more Ipoh specific specialties….racking my brain, I remembered one of my favourite dry curry noodle places from many years back but had kind of forgotten about. I did remember that the crowds were always very big and that was prob why I stopped going. As we checked out of our resort at 1230, it was nearly one pm by the time we got to Yee Fatt Tea Shop right opposite the Methodist Girl’s School (MGS) …just in time to catch the end of the morning service…we actually ordered the last of the curry chicken and some of us had to go without. 😦 Now for the uniniated, you can take curry noodles in curry soup which is the usual way…or you can take the noodles with a thick curry sauce..a specialty of the shop. My friends and children loved the dry curry noodles and we also had a couple of bowls of curry soup noodles which also went down very well…one found the curry flavour too strong.
I would say that rediscovering this old favourite of mine was an absolute joy! The stall owner proudly told me that they had been serving the same food for 50 years!! Must be doing something right…
We still had time for us to hunt down yet one last Ipoh favourite….Chendol…which is a coconut syrup flavoured jelly desert. SIngapore does it but Ipoh’s version is far more interesting….its served with red beans and glutinous rice…just a divine combination. The first vendor we went to was closed but Easter, our driver found another one in Jalan Kuala Kangsar and we had our chendol dessert which rounded off our gourmet weekend very nicely…
The chendol stall was probably the diciest in terms of hygiene but our gang were totally game and I’m glad to report that none of us had any tummy troubles at all despite a weekend’s gorging.
We also departed with tons of biscuits, tarts, pomeloes and salt baked chicken…yet another specialty of Ipoh. You can buy many of these things from the shop next door to the Hall of Mirrors.
For visitors to Ipoh, you could do worse than following this itinerary for a very nice foodie weekend but remember to sort out your transport. Enjoy!