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Tuesday April 14, 2009

Non-stop eating in Ipoh

I RECENTLY went on an eating spree in Ipoh with four of my close friends.

We left Kuala Lumpur at 8am and our first stop was Thean Chun, famed for its Ipoh Kuey Teow. Prices are not cheap; if I remember correctly, a large bowl cost RM4.50, but the outlet did not skimp on ingredients.

The shrimps were fresh and sweet while the shredded chicken was tender. The kuey teow was silky smooth and the soup was both sweet (from the prawn stock) and savoury. It was delicious!

The popiah was pretty good, too. Nicely wrapped and slathered with chilli sauce, it was bursting with ingredients. I liked the addition of dried shrimp to the filling - it gave the popiah a nice bite.

Midway through the noodles, we got greedy and ordered a large serving of chee cheong fun. Delicate yet chewy, it came topped with lots of freshly fried shallots and pickled green chilli. However, I still prefer Penang’s version (with prawn paste).

Rare find: The `ting-ting’ candy was extremely sweet and expensive at RM4 a bag.

On top of that, the five of us ate almost 50 sticks of pork satay! Apart from pork satay, the outlet also serves offal satay – which only Rif ate. The rest of us were put off by its rubbery, chewy texture. The pork satay was tender and well marinated, and had a smoky aroma. Rif and I, however, feel that Malacca’s version is slightly better.

A visit to Thean Chun is never complete without indulging in the famous crème caramel. It is best to come before 11am, as the item is sold out pretty quickly. The silky, eggy custard and the thick, sweet caramel sauce complemented each other perfectly.

By 3pm, we felt peckish and decided to go for tea, or rather, coffee. Old Town White Coffee is one of Ipoh’s specialties and we got our white coffee fix at Nam Heong. The place was crowded, and many people were standing around waiting for an empty table. We got a table within 10 minutes and ordered five cups of Ipoh Iced White Coffee (RM1.30).

While the coffee was quite fragrant, I thought it was not kao enough. We spotted people at many tables ordering the Char Kuay Teow (RM3.50 small, RM4 big), and decided to follow suit. Served on a banana leaf, it was fragrant and full of wok hei. The noodles were fluffy, the cockles were juicy and the prawns were fresh.

The Chee Cheong Fun (RM3) was average. The rice sheets came topped with pickled green chilli and a smattering of fried shallots. Taste-wise, I thought it was nothing to shout about; Thean Chun’s version was much better.

The egg tarts (RM1.30 each) were quite good. The flaky puff pastry was delicately crumbly and melted in the mouth. The custard was eggy, smooth, not overly sweet and warm.

Although we were still full, we decided to have dinner at Lou Wong, a restaurant at which the Bean Sprouts Chicken Rice is reputed to be among the best in Ipoh. We ordered the poached chicken, bean sprouts, pork meatballs and Ipoh’s famous Sar Hor Fun (kuey teow).

Our food arrived within five minutes. The chicken was cooked just right, resulting in a smooth, tender texture, and the bean sprouts were plump and crunchy. Lou Wong’s pork balls were springy, firm and flavourful. I considered ordering another bowl but decided against over-indulging. I thought the Sar Hor Fun was average. Slightly translucent with a smooth texture, the hor fun went well with the clear chicken broth.

Yummy: Fried carrot cake

Outside Lou Wong, I spotted a stall selling gula ting ting (also known as gula ketuk). This rare candy is made by cooking palm sugar with coconut milk until the mixture thickens. Once hardened, a hammer and chisel are used to break the slab into small pieces. At RM4 per packet, I found it expensive. The candy was extremely sweet, and we only managed to eat a few pieces.

The next morning, we decided to go for dim sum at the famous Foh San. The place is always packed, so it is best to get there early. We got there by 6.30am, and the place was already quite full of people having their fill of dim sum.

The wu kok was tasty and not too greasy. Its crisp exterior gave way to a soft yam paste and savoury char siew filling as it melted in my mouth. I do not usually like eating har gao because the skin is often too thick and starchy, but this har gao was quite good. The translucent skin was thin and light, with a generous portion of sweet, succculent prawns wrapped within.

We enjoyed the siew mai, too. The pork filling was nice and firm, and I enjoyed every bite. We made a double order for this and the har gao.

The char siew pau was also quite tasty. The steamed bun was light and fluffy and was stuffed with the same char siew filling as the wu kok.

Served fresh out of the oven, the char siew sou was flaky and scrumptious – better than most of the char siew sou I had eaten in KL.

Upon seeing a crepe-like dessert, I became curious and decided to try it. It was basically mango pieces, cucumber slices and mayonnaise wrapped in a pancake. I found the combination strange and did not quite take to it.

The chee cheong fun (both with char siew and prawns) was silky smooth and glided down the throat. The prawns were fresh and crunchy while the char siew had a distinctive flavour, and they were a contrast to the silky smooth rice sheets. Of the two, I liked the char siew better.

Delicious: Ipoh hor fun features flat rice noodles which are silky smooth.

The fried carrot cake had plenty of bean sprouts, egg, dried shrimps, garlic and spring onion. This was one of the better offerings of fried carrot cake I have tasted, and we polished it off in less than five minutes.  

I am not a huge fan of loh mai kai, but my friends enjoyed it. The same goes for the lotus leaf-wrapped rice.

Flaky, light and crumbly, the egg tarts were sublime! Jeen found the pastry at Foh San slightly better than that at Nam Heong, and I agreed with her. The smooth egg custard was firm and had just the right sweetness.

Believe it or not, we ate 40 plates of dim sum, but the bill came up to less than RM100. Pretty good value.

Just before heading back to KL, I insisted we stop for lunch at Nam Chau, which is famous for its dry curry mee. A bowl of curry mee is priced at RM3.60 and the noodles (choice of mee hoon, mee or hor fun) comes with shredded chicken, char siew and prawns. I ordered the curry mee soup while the others had the dry curry meehoon and mee. The noodles were really delicious! Well flavoured with spices, the delectable soup was enhanced by the coconut milk, which added body to it.

I thought my noodles were good, but the dry curry mee was even tastier. Topped generously with thick and fragrant curry paste, every spoonful made you crave for more. It was so good that I could not resist ordering a plate for myself!

The roast pork was a disappointment, though. The skin was hard and chewy and the layer of fat was gelatinous.

Most people may find this strange, but I liked the white coffee at Nam Chau better than that at Nam Heong. It was more aromatic and kau compared to Nam Heong’s. We spied patrons a table ordering half-boiled eggs on toast (RM2.60), so we ordered that, too. A dash of soy sauce and pepper was all it needed, and we were satisfied and happy. After all that gluttonous eating, we lugged our heavy selves into the car and headed back to KL. Burrrrrppppp!

This is the writer’s personal observation and is not an endorsement by StarMetro.

NOTE: The writer is also a blogger who has a site specialising in local food. You can visit her blog at: www.bangsar-babe.blogspot.com.

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