IPOH FOOD HAVEN

Hubby and I went on a week-long break in Ipoh (Malaysia) during the Hari Raya festive holiday earlier this month.  This was my third trip to Ipoh in slightly over 3 years.   We were there to visit my uncle and his family.  It was more of a trip to spend time with the young children of my cousins who seem to like us a lot, but not so much about sightseeing.

The first thing we did after arrival was to pick up my cousin niece from her school.  It was the last day of school (15 Jul) before Hari Raya.  In Malaysia, schools dismiss early every day during the Ramadan month and are typically closed for a week or longer for the Hari Raya festival.  In Singapore, our children never have such “treats”! 😦

Many parents waiting at the entrance of the school to pick up their children.  For afternoon session (primary 1 to 3 pupils), school dismissed at 5pm

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Mobile hawkers selling a variety of kachang (nuts), ice cream and even Yakult outside the school.  This is so nostalgic!

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We were received with great hospitality, as always,  and were pampered with lots of good local food every day and of course, that include a few vegetarian meals and tubs of durians which my aunty bought.  My uncle and aunty are vegetarians.

Whenever we were in Ipoh, we were not so keen on their restaurant food.  It was the local hawker food that we looked forward to.  I think it is not an overstatement to say that Ipoh is a haven for food!  Thanks to our hosts (my uncle and aunty, cousin and her hubby) who drove us around every day to savour a variety of yummy local food in some of the very popular stalls that the locals go to.

Moon De Moon (满中满) is famous for Curry Mee (咖喱面) and Gai Si (shredded chicken) Hor Fun (鸡丝河粉).  All tables were already taken up by the time we arrived at 845am.

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Just look at all the amount of bowls stacked up at the Gai Si Hor Fun stall.  They were customer orders waiting to be served.  We waited for almost an hour to get our food but it was worth doing so.

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Dry chicken curry mee which we ate for the first time.

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Gai Si Hor Fun in chicken and prawn soup.  The portion was not big, so it was in addition to the dry chicken curry mee!

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Spotted this very old car in front of the coffee shop when we left.  Some parts of the car have already rusted.  Unlike Singapore, there is no age limit for cars in Malaysia.  One can drive his car as long as he wants.  I remember one of my aunties in Johor used to drive a Volkswagen for over 40 years!

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Lei Ching coffee shop (丽晶) is famous for beef brisket noodles/Hor Fun (牛腩面/河粉) and Mee Rebus (爪哇面)

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This Mee Rebus is different from what we have in Singapore.  It has a tinge of sour taste that I found it rather refreshing, and the gravy is orangey in colour.

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The Hor Fun was served separately from the bowl of stewed beef briskets in tasty broth

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Chee Cheong Fun (猪肠粉) in curry gravy from a stall in the foodcourt of Parkson shopping mall.  In Ipoh, Chee Cheong Fun is typically served in minced pork and mushroom sauce with deep-fried shallots but some stalls serve the curry version too.  Shiok!

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Some fried stuff like fish cakes to go with the Chee Cheong Fun.  Very nicely fried, fresh and crispy

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Kedai Kopi Ah Chow looks a bit rundown but the food is definitely good

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Another version of curry Hor Fun served with shredded chicken and Char Siew.  Customers can opt for dry or soupy version.  Love it!

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Seaweed Mianxian (紫菜粉).  In Ipoh, the word 粉 (meaning powder in English) means any kind of noodles such as Kway Teow, noodles, Mianxian etc.

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This gives you an idea of the price of the food. I would say very reasonable for such delicious food

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Kedai Makan Canning Garden (桂和园) sells Chap Fun (or economy rice). See the queue?  So, what’s so good here?

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It’s the fried chicken!  My cousin said it is better than KFC’s and I can agree with her.  Unlike the rest of the dishes which were already cooked in advance, these fried chickens were freshly fried at the back of the shop and brought out in batches.  The stall opens from 10:30am but the fried chicken would be sold out by around 1-2pm.

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Fresh and tasty. Soft and crispy in the outer layer and tender inside even for the breast meat

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I don’t have a record on where I ate this fried Kway Teow which has very good wok hei (charred wok flavour).   Freshly fried Kway Teow & noodles (commonly known as Cao Fun 炒粉 in Ipoh)  is another common local breakfast food.  The Ipoh version of Char Kway Teow seems to have a sourish flavour that makes it rather special.

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Another not-to-miss food in Ipoh – Salt-baked chicken (盐焗鸡).  There are quite a number of shops selling salt-baked chickens but my cousin considers Aun Keng Lim (宴琼林)’s is the best and this brand is available only in Ipoh.

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The salt-baked chicken is generally not big in size, and best eaten when it is still warm

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One very popular biscuit shop downtown, in an area with many other eateries frequented by tourists.  See that long queue extending out of the shop?

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Sin Eng Heong sells a variety of biscuits but these kaya puffs are the most popular.  They got snatched up immediately after they were taken out of the oven!

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What’s selling here?  Funny Mountain (奇峰) soya milk and soya beancurd.  It is  very popular not just amongst the locals, but also tourists.  We actually had to queue (in the car) for our take-away.

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See that man wearing a blue cap and white shirt, with an apron?  He is the staff who runs to the customers queuing in the car to take and deliver their orders.  That saves the customers the trouble of finding a parking lot and getting out of their cars.  That’s how thoughtful the service is despite its good business!

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In Ipoh, one is spoilt with choices for vegetarian food too.

Shi Fang Zhai (十方斋) vegetarian restaurant is located at Menglembu (a town within Ipoh City, about 15 to 20 minutes drive away from Ipoh downtown)。  It serves pretty good vegetarian food and it was our second time there.

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This coffee shop (随缘素食店) sells vegetarian Char Siew and chicken rice and some other vegetarian dishes.  The owner runs a real chicken rice stall in another location during the day, and operates this vegetarian stall from late afternoon.  He is surely one very hardworking man!  I heard that it is also popular.

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Don’t they look like real Char Siew?  Nice!

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Vegetarian chicken rice

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Jiu Jiu Fu (99福) offers a good variety of Taiwanese, local and even Japanese vegetarian dishes.

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Vegetarian Unagi Temaki (hand rolls)

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Vegetarian salmon Makizushi

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Vegetarian mee goreng

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Above are just some but not all of the food we have savoured during the week.

I noticed that almost all the food stalls that we went to are owned/manned by middle-aged and older locals.  This probably speaks of the authenticity of the food.  I wonder given another 10 or 20 years, will they also be faced with the issue of losing their local food heritage just like what we are facing with the hawker food here in Singapore.  Hopefully not or it will be a sad thing.

It’s really very convenient now to travel between Singapore and Ipoh with up to three airlines serving this sector.  Firefly (a community airline wholly-owned by Malaysian Airlines) was the sole player when it started flying between these two cities in June 2009.  Just in the middle of this year, Tiger Airways and Malindo Air (a hybrid airlines between Malaysia and Indonesia which was established in 2013) started flights between Singapore and Ipoh too.  We still flew on Firefly (for the third time now) which has been reliable in terms of its services based on our experience, although its airfares were more expensive than the other two budget airlines.

This propeller aircraft has a capacity of only less than 80 passengers.

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Malaysia is one favourite travel destination of Singaporeans, when it comes to short and affordable (or even cheap) getaway holidays.  This is mainly due to the great advantage of our currency exchange rate against RM (Ringgit Malaysia).  This aside, I actually think that Malaysia has not only been blessed with rich natural resources which is total lacking in Singapore, it can also be an even better destination for tourism (not just for Singaporeans),  be it for sightseeing, food, shopping, history and culture, relaxation etc., if the country is better managed, and more effort is put in to improve its tourism sector.  I have actually shared my thoughts with a few of my Malaysian friends, and they can’t agree with me more.

I have not travelled much in Malaysia.  Safety is always my biggest concern when it comes to holidaying in Malaysia.  There have been many reports about robbery, attack etc.  in Malaysia.  My cousin, and also my friends in KL were robbed of their handbags before. In my cousin’s case, she was approached and robbed in bright daylight, right in front of my uncle’s house!  The same had happened to her daughter’s piano teacher in front of her house. That’s scary!  Safety and stability are definitely important factors for tourism.  Unfortunately, many Malaysians are very unhappy and have even lost their confidence in their government now.

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