SeeFoon Reels from an Epic meal with flavours of North East China

How often do you taste 21 dishes at one sitting? Well, a group of my friends succeeded recently when Eddie Foo, who is a serious Foodie and THE leading antique dealer in Ipoh, invited us for a meal at the newly-opened Black Earth restaurant in Greentown Business Centre.

Granted we were a large crowd (15 people) who made short shrift of the 21 dishes, but nevertheless there was more than a surfeit of food. The dishes came fast and furiously and Eddie had to tell them to slow down.

Authentic flavours from North East China (Harbin) claims the menu and pretty authentic it is as far as my taste buds go, having been to Harbin on quite a few occasions. Northern Chinese cuisine is known for its dumplings, and the measure of authenticity lies in the texture of the dough wrapping and of course the taste of the filling inside.

Black Earth Restaurant has quite a selection of dumplings to choose from, both steamed and fried with a variety of fillings. I tried both the pan fried and steamed dumplings, with the three types of fillings: Pork and CapsicumPrawns and Cucumbers and the Egg and Chives which also come as a pan fried pancake RM1.50 each. There is also a pure vegetarian one. Steamed RM7 for 7 pieces and Fried RM8 for 7 pieces. I preferred the steamed dumpling over the fried as the steamed dumplings measured up to my taste test where the wrapping is still resilient, the filling moist and if you put the whole dumpling in the mouth, there is still the residual juice left inside that oozes out, adding its umami goodness to the whole mouthfeel. Just  like a good Xiao Long Pau except the wrapping in the latter is much thinner.

The fried mushrooms we started with where the batter was light and crispy, the mushroom still pliable and served with ‘wah yeem’ or seasoned salt, was snapped up with alacrity and we promptly ordered another plate – RM16. This was followed by one of their signature dishes, the seasoned ‘cloud ear’ mushroom served as a cold dish, crunchy and velvety all at the same time, with hints of sesame and Chinese wine – RM18.

Another cold dish to come was the sliced belly pork: tangy, delicately thin slices of semi fat pork crowned with a hillock of garlic that found favour amongst all at our table – RM20. A must have dish to order is the Veggie Balls, delectably crispy balls of Tong Ho or chrysanthemum flower with meat and served with their tasty spice salt – RM20.

The soup we ordered was the mustard greens (ham choi) and potato flour glass noodles with pork bones soup, the pickled mustard greens imbuing its mild salty, citrusy flavours to the soup and the glass noodles which have the delightful texture of being slippery while still retaining a slight resilience on the bite – RM28.

Their signature dish of Braised Pig’s Trotter has justifiable pride of place on their menu. Braised to a perfect tenderness, the skin and fat reduced to jelly, this is a dish requiring a big group to do justice to it – RM38.

Space constraints here limits my ability to describe all of the 21 dishes we had and I will only mention the ones that I would recommend. Their whole ladies fingers stir fried and topped with minced pork were each delectably tender, while the stir fried long beans with minced pork were suitably well seasoned particularly with garlic and still had a crunch to them.  Both RM16 each.

Other dishes of note were the Eggplant stuffed with minced pork, which came on a sizzling platter – RM18, and their Soya Sauce Fried Rice which was well rounded and most tasty – RM8.80.

We ended our meal with an old favourite: one that is seldom found in restaurant menus anymore, the Hot Toffee Sweet Potato. Usually using apples, this was an interesting variation. Of course this has to be eaten immediately, dunking the pieces into the cold water to harden the molasses and immediately feel the crunch as one bites into it – RM16.

The Black Earth is certainly worth patronising. Their menu is extensive, service is fast and at lunch time, they have a little stall outside selling the fried pancakes both sweet and savoury. Their private rooms upstairs are very comfortable with the one room we were in able to accommodate two tables and for a minimum order of RM300, the room is free and so is the Karaoke which comes with the room.

Black Earth Sdn Bhd
No. 7 & 7A, Persiaran Greentown 7,
Greentown Business Centre Fasa 2,
30450 Ipoh.
Tel.: 05 241 0219
Opening hours:  11am-3.30pm; 6pm-11pm

SeeFoon Goes on a Road Trip to Lawan Kuda

Being the couch potato that I am, I am usually reluctant to travel far for my meals but when my Foodie friend Ginla Chew insisted that I go to Lawan Kuda for dinner, what choice did I have but to meekly follow. After all Ginla knows where the best food is to be had. And if travelling some distance is what it takes, so be it.

And so it is that a group of us found ourselves at the 668 restaurant in Lawan Kuda, ready to sample the specialties of the house.

Proprietress Ng Ta Ling (we call her ‘darling’) was most hospitable, ushering us into the corridor leading to the kitchen to show us the big grass carp which had just been fished out from the tank and flapping around on the ground. That sure is a fresh fish I thought to myself as Ta Ling went on to explain that this was no pond raised fish but a wild one from the river.

As the fish was huge (2-3kg), we opted for a portion of the fish weighing in at slightly over a kilo. She suggested cooking it in her signature style which was charcoal baked with a mellow soya sauce. The fish arrived baked to perfection, the flesh, although prone to bones, was smooth and tender and like many  freshwater fish with just a hint of muddiness which happily, was masked by the garnish and sauce – RM50 per kg.

Restaurant 668 is known for their game and serve the acceptable ones like wild boar and terrapin (well I wasn’t going to eat any endangered species).

The wild boar curry is always available, pungent, tangy and full of flavour. I had this on two occasions, first time, a meat curry and the second time the spare ribs. I would recommend the plain meat one as I found the ribs a tad on the tough side. RM14.00. Ribs RM18.00. Perhaps if I had called in advance and asked Ta Ling to braise the ribs longer?

I also had their wild boar trotter, braised in a rich dark soya sauce. This came complete with the skin which was smooth and gelatinous, not as fatty as pigs trotter would have been. I enjoyed this preparation immensely as the sauce was velvety and coated the pieces thoroughly. The skin too was springy, still resilient to the bite but soft enough to yield its collagenous texture which, when combined with the much lower fat content, made for a delicious chewy bite – RM30. To order in advance.

More collagen was on the cards this particular evening, to the delight of the ladies who were with me.  Apparently the ‘ladies who lunch’ in the high society circles in New York, the ones who used to nibble on leaves and fill up on cottage cheese, have discovered the value of collagen for their skin (one reason Asian women tend to have thicker and less wrinkled skin than their western counterparts as they age) and are now nibbling on pork knuckles and chicken feet. It won’t be long before they too, discover another miracle food for their skin which is terrapin or tortoise. Unlike the sea turtle which is banned from tables in order to save them from extinction, terrapins or land tortoises are plentiful and can be raised in ponds. Their meat is tasty but it is the gelatinous parts underneath their hard carapace that is highly coveted.

Here at Restoran 668 the terrapin is braised to perfection, smothered in a dark soya sauce, redolent of ginger and scallions with a hint of sweetness imparted from the dark soya – RM39. To order in advance.

Another signature dish here is their drunken chicken, delicious morsels cooked in a specially sourced rice wine, laced with red dates, and masses of ginger. Usually I am not fond of this dish as it tends to be overly sweet in many restaurants, but here it is done just right, savoury, with the tanginess of the ginger offsetting the slight sweetness. Yummiliciously fragrant – RM42. To order in advance.

Udang Galah or the giant river prawns are another specialty Ta Ling is proud of. Done in any choice of styles, (one night a group of us had 3kg done 3 ways), the prawns are live when cooked, arriving at the table piping hot and as fresh as you can get it. Around RM95 per kg.

The vegetables here are sourced fresh from the neighbourhood with wild spinach being one of their specials. Called Ma Xi Yuen in Cantonese, you can opt for these to be done any way you wish. Ours came with soup vermicelli, the stock flavoured by baby ikan bilis or whitebait and two eggs. Very ‘Tsing’ or pure or clean in the Chinese gustatory sense – RM15. The Chinese as well as myself,  at my table enjoyed this cleansing of the palate while  the two Englishmen present, turned their noses up at it complaining about its ‘blandness’. Therein lies the cultural taste divide!

Other vegetables vary depending on supply so do ask. Sayur Paku or fiddle head fern is often available. All in all Restoran 668 is worth the drive out to Lawan Kuda.

40 Main Road, Lawan Kuda
31600 Gopeng, Perak
Tel: 05 3597668;
Ng Ta Ling: 016 500 0668;
Chi Fook Seng: 012 454 7712
GPS: E101 9’ 33.6”  N 4 27’ 22.8”