Ipoh: A Food Diary: Kai See Hor Fun, Chendol, Tofu Fa and more!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Welcome to Ipoh
It is now almost 5 years since we were last in Ipoh. Lots of memories as my ailing mother was nursed here.  The last time I visited Ipoh was to bid her farewell.

Ipoh is about 2 hours drive from KL. The drive is very beautiful and scenic. When you see limestone hills, you know you are approaching Ipoh.

You know you are nearing Ipoh when you see limestone hills
Ipoh is a haven for good food and more. Since this blog is about food,  will diary our food experience here.

Kai See Hor Fun
Popiah Lady
Upon arrival, our first lunch meal is at the old coffee shop, Kong Heng, for the famed Kai See Hor Fun. I am always impressed with the simplicity of this dish. Hor fun in a light  chicken prawn stock with chives and prawns. It is perfect for lunch. This stall in Kong Heng competes with the one in the neighboring Thean Chun, which serves an equally satisfying KSHF. Both shops were full and very busy. There is certainly enough KSHF lovers to go round. Nary a sense of competition here actually.

The popiah at Kong Heng is superb too. This stall has been at it for over 20 years. Their version is wet with red sweet sauce. You won't find it done this way in Singapore and so, it is an unusual treat.  

By its name you know he intends to stay
in this corner for a long time
For desserts, we decided to go for chendol. There are a few good choices in this city. CT Corner is one of them. located at Jalan Musa Aziz, formerly Anderson Road. We like the way the chendol is served here: large steel spoons and bowls. In a city of many good chendols, little touches like this make a difference. In a city of hardly any good chendols, if you find a good one, who cares what it is served in.

Indian or Mamak chendol is different from the Nonya one which is more readily available in Singapore. In earlier days, the seller came round in their tricycles. The ice was hand shaved. As a schoolboy, the Indian man's chendol was made in heaven. Sweating, hot and thirsty, you exchanged your last coin for your salvation (some of us bring only one to school). The green 'worms' have a nice springy bite and the santan and brown sugar has a special  fragrance to it. Eaten with shaved ice, every spoonful is refreshing. In your final act, you ignore the spoon. You tilt the bowl so that the last drop slips into your mouth. As the sun glares into your shut eyes, you feel you are indeed in heaven.  Until the Indian man jolts you rudely - sudan habits, taruh sini. And you drop the bowl and spoon into a plastic pail.

I am almost 50 now and I could hardly finish this particular bowl of goodness. Why does it have a special fragrance? Gula Melaka, encik? Of course not, he retorted. Kalau gula melaka, semua pun boleh bikin (if so, anyone can make it, as gula melaka is commonly available). And he said that there are 20 ingredients in his properly speaking, gula chendol. Twenty? And so with every spoonful, my mind and palate were working fast to deconstruct his chendol sugar. Salt? Cinnamon? Cumin? Bunga Chengkih? Flour thickener? Brown molasses? Belachan? Sweat? I could hardly make up ten and will have to take his word for it. I gave him a bill (and it was not the last one on me) and waited for the change.

Chendol, especially this, is still made in heaven.

On the way home, we could not resist the Tofu Fah - Soya Bean Curd at our favorite stall. It is located at Ipoh Garden East main road. The version here is smooth and firm. You won't see it breaking into small watery pieces as a definition of "smoothness"(ahem, like the one which claims to be the best in Singapore). Each bite is smooth as you cut into it with the steel spoon. You can have in in ginger sugar or Gula Melaka. With such perfect bean curd, he won't need to spice up his sugar. I shared a bowl with my wife as we were too full by then.

"Can you reproduce this in Singapore?"we asked him. Our water is different, unlike the alkalined one in Ipoh.  He said he can as long as "lei yau sum keh chou"(if you put in effort and passion), it can be made anywhere. Well said and we hope he is right.

It has to be a late dinner at Pusing Public Restaurant. This is a mandatory stopover every time we are in Ipoh. Cantonese are the kings of zhe char (cooked dishes). And this particular restaurant is the king of the hill. As to be expected, the place was bustling as two weddings were on.

We absolutely love one of their signature dishes here: their version of steamed ginger chicken. In fact, I have already decided that I will work at reproducing this dish when I am back home. They use Kampung Chicken. Cut into small pieces, marinated in minced ginger of various types (including pickled ginger) and rice wine, oyster sauce and soy sauce, it is then steamed. I am not sure how I should describe this dish from here but you can judge a good restaurant by the way they cook dishes like this. It is easy to 'wow' diners when you have ingredients like truffles, lobster, foie gras, abalone etc. If you are a cook, you look for good techniques which make ordinary ingredients great. The humble chicken is turned into a gourmet dish here. Don't fail to order this when you visit this place.

Steamed Chicken in Ginger Sauce - superb
Another of their signature dish is the Salt Baked Crab ("Yim gook hai", lead photo). They have no reason to import Sri Lanka crabs as theirs are local and from nearby areas. They are average in size but the meat is very sweet. And this technique of cooking retains all the flavors, unlike the normal stir-fry where the crab distributes the flavor into the sauces. This is more akin to the Teo-chew style of making cold crabs.

Oh well, we did not order many dishes. Their Sang Har Meen (Crispy Mee with fresh water prawns) is very good too. We like the Steamed Bean Curd with Fish Paste too.
Steamed Bean curd with fish paste 

Perhaps for us Singaporeans, the best thing about this place is the price. You will be a cheerful giver when the bill comes. We trooped off happily in the night as we continue to do the sums, converting ringgit into Sing.

There you go, our first day in Ipoh.

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  1. I love see foods a lot. Thank you, I am so happy to find your blog. I feel inspired to cook.

    Rabbit Breeds

  2. Just returned from Ipoh. Pusing was really good. Was there for 2 nites & ate twice at Pusing, order different dishes each time, loved everything...Did not quite like the Ipoh hor fun at Kong Heng though... Thks for the recommendations:)