Restoran Tok Nan: SeeFoon goes “Balik Kampung” in Meru Raya

A traditional Malay house, all wood, with an upstairs seating area in addition to the downstairs open area, a warm welcoming staff, including Nan himself with his daughter, his son, and his other family members and you will have all the trappings of being in a typical kampung. Except that this place Tok Nan is in Meru Raya, amidst the shophouses and ‘busyness” of the area. The food is exquisitely, authentically ‘kampung’ Malay, all the sambals, dips, and garnitures fresh made, the spices freshly ground and the fish freshly caught from the river.

This is food that you only get when you have the privilege of dining at a Malay home, and it certainly felt like that when I had a meal there, with Nan’s daughter in the kitchen and his son taking orders.

Because it is all wood, the upstairs sitting area is cool even in the hot afternoon sun. While the roof itself is not attap, the skirting is fully carved and the inside ceiling is woven matting, and fans and many open windows provide for extra cooling. There is ample parking and the whole compound is gravelled, allowing for outdoor seating and extra tents to cater for big occasions like weddings.

And the Food! I had one meal there and am hankering for more. Like the ulam or fresh local herbs like Ulam Rajah or King’s Salad which research has shown to be good for diabetics, Daun Pegaga or Pennywort (good for circulation, respiratory, asthma and anxiety issues). A mixture, often with blanched ladies fingers, depending on availability, is served with three or four separate dips, namely, sambal belacan, air asam (a tangy, tart and fiery dip), tempoyak or fermented durian.

An interesting side dish which is good for dipping into the sauces is their pickled Stinky Bean or petai.

Top of the list for me is their Curry Mee with udang galah, a robust soup/gravy, rich in fragrant coconut, chock full of prawns, fish paste slices, bean sprouts, mint and served with limau kasturi which is totally yummilicious, RM11.90.

Do order the Patin Tempoyak, a fresh caught river patin cooked with tempoyak (fermented durian paste), daun kesum (Laksa leaf) and bunga kantan (torch ginger). Usually I avoid river fish as they are generally muddy in taste but this patin was very fresh, RM4 per portion and RM19.90 for a large plate for 5.

The Udang Galah Masak Lemak, medium-sized river prawns cooked in coconut milk, the sauce thick and redolent with well blended spices is delicious even if you have to physically remove the shells, RM18.

Rendang Daging Hitam was perfect for my palate not being too sweet and having enough of the thick gravy to put on my rice, RM5 for 1 person and RM24 for 5; while the Daging Kawah (or big kwali beef) was tender and robust, RM4.50 for 1 person and RM20 for 5.

There is a choice of sets ranging from RM35 to RM131 including fresh fruit juices which are enough for 3/5/8 people. You can drop in for a fried noodle or fried rice and any of their main dishes and from 4pm onwards, Chicken and Beef Satay at RM1 per stick is available and even Western dishes like Fish and Chips (RM17.90), Chicken chops (RM15.90) or Lamb chops (RM19.90).

The lingering memories of the authentic tastes still linger, long after my first visit there and I have promised to return. And may I wish Tok Nan continuing success in garnering fans of his restaurant.

Restoran Tok Nan
Circle Meru Raya, Bandar Meru Raya, 30020 Ipoh.
Tel: 014 948 6872
Business hours: 3pm-12am
No day off

Bee Gaik Dining: SeeFoon revisits an old Nyonya favourite

The eponymous restaurant has been around almost 30 years and Bee Gaik is still at it, preparing and serving her famous Nyonya dishes to an appreciative clientele. With recipes handed down from her mother, Bee Gaik has been cooking up a storm all these years and the restaurant is holding its own amongst the plethora of new eateries opening (and closing) around her.

Looking like something one is more likely to find in Malacca rather than in the middle of Ipoh Garden South, Bee Gaik Restaurant is definitely old style, its imposing facade complimented with old memorabilia inside, creating the ambiance of a Nyonya Baba teahouse.

And the menu is certainly more Malaccan than what is commonly available here in Ipoh. Especially when it comes to the Perut Ikan, a specialty of the house that is so rare these days and finding one that is well prepared even more precious. Pickled fish intestines that many a squeamish would find abhorrent, is cooked with a mix of vegetables and spices resulting in a dish that looks unappetising on the plate, nevertheless in the masterful hands of Bee Gaik, turns into a taste sensation on the palate, RM12/19/24 S/M/L.

Phuah Bee Gaik is a Nyonya chef from the old school preferring to do things the old fashioned way than to succumb to modern shortcuts. Like her Ju Hu Char, that distinctive Nyonya dish that requires hours of labour-intensive cutting and slicing to produce the fine chiffonade of yam bean (machines cannot compete) which is fried with tau cheong or preserved bean paste (only the merest hint) and topped with slivered dried squid. The homemade chilli sauce is dolloped onto the yam bean, which you wrap in lettuce leaf, is a mouthful of heaven, RM12/24 S/L.

Another delightful treat is the Tung Po Yoke, quivering pork belly, braised to a jelly-like consistency and served with mantou, steamed Chinese bread. This requires a lot of skill and patience to slowly braise the pork which high heat will render stringy and tough. Totally melt-in-mouth divine, RM18.

For those looking for a quick bite, check out the Nyonya Asam Fish slices noodle soup. The fish slices were Garupa, firm and fresh in texture, combined with brinjal chunks and redolent with the aroma of kaffir lime leaves.The whole dish is tangy without being overly spicy, the spices well blended for a deliciously slurpy soup/sauce, RM8.50. And while eating that, share an Otak Otak, a very typical Nyonya egg/seafood custard made with coconut milk, spices, redolent of lemon grass with slices of fish and steamed in a cocotte.

Salted Fish Achar was interesting. Pickled onions, whole shallots, ginger, whole garlic, chillies, salted fish and rempah, not overly spicy but with enough kick to go beautifully with white rice and the other dishes, RM12/18/20.

Chicken Kapitan was coated with a thick coconut milk laden gravy, the spices well blended, and the chicken chunks tender, RM17/26/34 for S/M/L and we finished off the meal with the Pork Belly Malacca, thinly sliced pork belly, sautéed with onions and topped with loads of scallions.

Bee Gaik Dining Place & Buffet Catering
10-10A Tingkat Taman Ipoh 11
Ipoh Garden South, 31400 Ipoh.
Tel. & Fax: 05 546 8601
Business hours: 11.30am-3pm; 6pm-10pm; Closed on Tuesday