The pioneering spirit of Old Town, like the heavenly aroma of its coffee, envelops its nooks and crannies.
ACCORDING to our tour guide, Ipoh pioneered in many areas: the first traffic light was used in the region, also our country’s first double-storey car park was built here. In fact, the very first car was driven in Ipoh, therefore the number plates for Perak drivers begin with the letter “A”.
Our guide, who is a member of the Kinta Heritage Group, also recalled his very first P. Ramlee concert which was held at the Ipoh Town Hall in the 1970s where the world’s first non-European Noble Prize for Literature winner Rabindranath Tagore also gave a speech. A very impressive list of firsts, I must say.
The Ipoh Town Hall was designed by Brigadier General A.B. Hubback. The British architect masterminded a host of other prominent structures throughout the country, including the Ipoh Railway Station and believed to be the first Briton architect to achieve the rank of Brigadier General.
As three curious French and I were taken on a heritage trail, we discovered the past through the present. The St Michael Institution that stood elegantly was established in 1912 and was constructed over a period of 30 years. The Ipoh Royal Club was where the English gentlemen socialised and watched cricket as it overlooked the Ipoh Padang. It was turned into a laundry during the Japanese Occupation, a move intended to humiliate the elite group that
utilised the building.
The thing to do in Old Town: Enjoy a cup of white coffee in the historic surrounds.
When we took a break, the guide made sure that we tasted the white coffee synonymous with Old Town. I opted to try the iced version of the drink to counter the heat that day.
The white coffee did not get its name from the hue as I had thought. Rather, it is from the careful, meticulous roasting process that was devised by the Hainanese who came here during the late Qing dynasty.
OLDTOWN White Coffee is the True White Coffee as it’s originated from Old Town, Ipoh and has made white coffee a beverage savoured across the world. OLDTOWN White Coffee has a special blend of three types of premium beans to play
different roles in producing the best white coffee experience: Arabica beans give out the long-lasting aroma of the brew, the Robusta is responsible for the delicious flavour, while the Liberica beans is the reason a delightful aftertaste lingers on. Together they form a wonderful symphony of taste.
I made a mental note to pick up some packs of OLDTOWN White Coffee three-in-one sachets to share the authentic Ipoh white
coffee taste with friends and
family back home.
With its many traditional kopitiams, Old Town is also the place to savour the region’s delectable food. Its famous beansprouts feature in Ipoh’s most iconic dish, the “beansprouts chicken” (ngah choi kai), a dish of tender poached chicken, and chicken- and ginger-flavoured rice with a side dish of plump, sweet local beansprouts nourished by the excellent well water of the area.
While in Old Town, one must try the Ipoh hor fun, the super-smooth local flat rice noodle that deserves its reputation. The version that comes in a chicken and prawn broth topped with shredded poached chicken and prawns is popular.
Fans of pork satay can also find these tasty charcoal-grilled morsels in the vicinity. For desserts, a few kopitiams serve good caramel custard.
While we were shown the historical buildings of Old Town, I came across living specimens that had interesting tales as well.
Local barber K. Thirunavukarasu, 74, or Uncle Thiru hailed from India. His father brought him to Malaya when he was only 12 and he started helping out at the family salon. The shop had been in operation since 1927. However, it was relocated from its original location to the current one recently.
“Since the new shop is a bit hidden, very few customers come in for haircuts,” Uncle Thiru lamented. “I get the sort who comes and asks me to act as if I’m cutting a customer’s hair just to snap a few pictures instead,” he said.
Next to Uncle Thiru’s shop stood the most intriguing souvenir shop ever. The owner of Bits & Bobs and Missing Marbles, among the cool, trendy cafes that had mushroomed in the Old Town, set up this one-stop antiques kiosk for visitors to take back a bit of the past glories.
A unique, olden day lamp shade, an array of old, yellowed publications and old hubcaps for motorheads as well as other bric-a-brac sold there effectively captured the spirit of the bygones. They even offer Ais Kepal, a type of local dessert (and a distant cousin of Ais Kacang) where ice shavings are compressed and drenched with flavourings.
Why Not Elephants for souvenirs? I bought a green, tiny Ganesha and had a small talk with shop owner Leong Chai Yuen as she packed it in a beautiful, pink net pouch.
Armed with memories and goodies, I headed back home, a happy camper. Ipoh Old Town is a testament to the rich cultural heritage that Malaysia owns, which includes the white coffee that continues to delight Malaysians.
5 Top Souvenirs
1. Sachets of three-in-one OLDTOWN White Coffee for that instant taste of the authentic beverage
2. The antique knickknacks offered at the kiosk behind Bits & Bobs
3. The handicraft and accessories by Why Not Elephants?
4. The authentic wild honey sold in a local shop said to be sourced only from Orang Asli; the owner is a former developer who also runs a gallery.
5. Handmade jewellery and dresses by a local designer at Kristy’s Collection, located at Lorong Panglima, behind the coffee shops.
Tasty secrets of Ipoh Old Town