Help the Small Businesses: Suka Kafe

Pictures by Gisele Soo

SeeFoon Ponders on Vegetarianism

“To Be or Not to Be”, Shakespeare’s soliloquy in Hamlet poses the big question and in this case for me, the question is whether to become a vegetarian. 

More and more studies show that the carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere which affects the global environment) of meat production is much larger than that of grain or vegetable products, not to mention the negative effects of methane released in the rearing of livestock.

By choosing a vegetarian diet instead of one loaded with animal products, individuals can dramatically reduce the amount of land, water and oil resources that they consume and the amount of pollution they otherwise might cause. 

I certainly cannot get on my soapbox to preach. I am an avid carnivore. I love my meat as much as the next person. And my fish too. 

But meat today is often laced with hormones, antibiotics and whatever other additives the animals are given. And fish are now often full of microplastics and heavy metals. 

Unless you buy organic (where to buy organic fish?). Or become vegetarian!

I know I will continue on my carnivore’s path but once in a while I come across a vegetarian restaurant like Suka Kafe to make me wonder if I could become one.

Opened only at the beginning of 2020, Suka Kafe had the misfortune of having to close during MCO but since its relaxation, have been doing takeaways and deliveries. Now, the dine-in service too is in full swing with proper SOPs in place.

Eggs are served at Suka Cafe. But these are not ordinary eggs. Their eggs are unfertilized, certified cruelty-free, non-caged with no antibiotic residues and are usually reserved for 5-star hotels and high-end restaurants (see pic). Their main supplier has a farm in Kampar with a main base in Johor Bahru. So is that special or Is That Special? And they taste special too.

Eggs served at Suka Kafe

Vegans of course can request for no eggs.

We first had their Roti Bakar, with homemade kaya and SCS salted butter. The kaya was fragrant and not overly sweet. Made the traditional way in a double boiler (a lot of work!!), the bread was sliced thicker than in the traditional coffee shops but crispy nevertheless. RM4.50.

We then shared their Mee Jawa, yellow noodles served in a mildly spiced soupy sauce, potato cubes, fried bean curd sheets, half a boiled egg and topped with sliced green, fried shallots and cut chillies. If more spice is needed, ask for their homemade sambal which packs quite a kick. RM7.50.

Mee Jawa

Their Hakka Mee was delicious, the noodles cooked ‘al dente’, with a chopped ‘meat’ topping made from shitake mushrooms and soya protein. You would never know it’s not meat if you were not told. RM11.50.

Hakka Mee

Nasi Lemak came next, served with the usual trimmings of a fried egg, cucumber, peanuts and vegetarian ikan bilis. The rice was fragrant and redolent with santan. The sambal was for me the one ingredient that gave it ‘star’ status. Not too sweet, not overwhelmingly spicy but still packs a punch, all homemade. RM6.50.

Nasi Lemak
Mushroom Pastry Cup

The Mushroom Pastry Cup, a flaky pastry vol au vent case, filled with a cream based white sauce with tuscany button mushroom and flavoured with garlic. Yummy and worth returning for. RM6.50.

Noticing something on the menu that I have been meaning to try ever since it arrived on our shores, the Beyond Meat Burger piqued my curiosity. A burger that looks and tastes like the real thing? My sceptical mind has always denied its advertising hype. So here was the opportunity to sate my curiosity. 

Beyond Meat Burger

Arriving at the table looking exactly as a burger should, the trimmings were all there—a small salad with cherry tomatoes, corn, lettuce, organic cranberry, accompanied by hash browns; the only thing missing was the ketchup! The burger itself really tasted like meat, but more grainy because it is plant based, using peas and mushrooms and other ingredients. Missing was the meat aroma and the redness of medium rare meat which is the way I like my burgers. Also at RM48.00, I’ll stick to my high fat, high cholesterol real meat version. 

Sorry about that, proprietor Lam Kar Weng. I love the rest of your food though. And your wife’s sauces. 

Two more items for me to rave about. The Homemade Banana Roll topped with icing sugar was totally delish and the Kelava ice cream cup, sourced from KL, which uses soya and coconut milk, was totally divine at RM9.00 per cup. Suka Kafe is the only restaurant in Ipoh serving this and is good news for vegans and vegetarians alike.

Homemade Banana Roll
Kelava ice cream cup

Suka Kafe is Muslim friendly. In fact, the chef is a Muslim and there is no alcohol, MSG, added chemicals and the food is left as natural as possible. Their soy protein is certified non-GMO and deliveries or takeaways are served in biodegradable bags or boxes. Their juices too are fresh squeezed and healthy.

On the subject of takeaways, do try their sourdough bread which I can vouch for. Their multigrain sourdough is sold at RM17.00 a loaf. I took mine home and froze it, taking it out and slicing myself  a piece whenever I felt the urge to have a snack. This way it keeps almost forever and toasted with slathers of butter makes me a happy bunny.

While I love the food at Suka Kafe, on second thought I’ll stick to a balanced diet, occasional vegetarian meals and going light on the meat and fish. In the meantime, Suka Kafe has found a fan in me.

 

Address:
50 Lorong Cecil Rae, Jalan Lee Kwee Foh, Taman Canning, 31400 Ipoh, Perak

Business hours:
9am-4pm; Closed on Mondays
Takeaways available
Free delivery for orders within Canning Garden and Ipoh Garden areas

For inquiries:
012-501 7111 

Zaitun Multi Cuisine Family Restaurant in Ipoh Old Town

SeeFoon gets her spice fix in Old Town. The interesting phenomenon in Ipoh old town nowadays is observing the plethora of new restaurants that open. One of these is Zaitun, a newly-opened family restaurant on Market Street

SeeFoon gets her spice fix in Old Town

The interesting phenomenon in Ipoh old town nowadays is observing the plethora of new restaurants that open and close like Venus flytraps, that rare carnivorous plant species that traps insects who have the misfortune to wander close, lured by the bright colours and the fragrant scent it secretes. Hence the name Venus, the Roman Goddess of love.

Restaurants appear to do the same, open and close rather quickly and often, sad to say, we don’t even miss them. However, for a few new ones that have recently opened, I would like for them to stay around and become part of the Ipoh food scene.

One of these is Zaitun, a newly-opened family restaurant on Market Street, which is owned and operated by charming Naveen, an Indian national married to a local. This is the second restaurant to be opened by this enterprising young man whose first one, Hadramot Tent Restaurant, an Arabic restaurant, has been up and running for a while on Jalan Sri Ampang.

Far from a Venus flytrap, the signage for the restaurant is so unassuming that it’s easy to miss it. In fact, I have been so often to the PWW shop and not noticed it directly across the street. Plus I have an inherent prejudice against any restaurant that over-reaches and wanting to be all things to all people, for, as per Zaitun’s signboard, a “Multi Cuisine Family Restaurant”. But I was about to be proven wrong.

Selected Breads with Butter Chicken

Naveen has seven chefs manning different stations in the kitchen, all highly skilled in their respective specialities. So he’ll have someone just preparing all the grilled items, another all the breads, another on the Arabic sauces and mezes, one handling the continental dishes another blending the masalas and another one cooking the various regional Indian specialities, and so it goes. So there is not one or two ‘jack of all trades’ dishing out mediocre food.

That is what makes Zaitun special.

At first, I thought we were walking into a Malay restaurant as the name is fairly common here but Naveen explained that ‘zaitun’ means ‘olive’ in Arabic. So now that was all explained, we began to taste the dishes which on this particular occasion was a mix of Indian and Arabic dishes.

Chicken Mandi

The first dish was the Chicken Mandi a quarter of a chicken served with long-grain flavoured basmati rice, soup and Arabic sambal. The chicken looked remarkably bland on the plate but on tasting, was tender, well-marinated through and umami. The soup reminded me of a mild sup kambing and the Arabic sambal, pungent, fiery and had its own unique flavours, quite unlike the local Indian sambals I’ve tasted; RM13 – quarter, RM22 – half.

Next to come was a Chicken Cheese Tandoori, a large portion but with a difference. All the tandoori flavours were there but the addition of mozzarella cheese which was stuffed into the meat lent a new dimension to the tandoori package. The coriander-mint sauce was thankfully(!) not sweetened, mildly tart and tangy and the serving of mayonnaise (I reckon) was for those who need the fatty mouthfeel for the non-oily chicken; RM22.

The Butter Chicken was hands down one of the best I have tasted. Creamy, voluptuous, spicy and populated with chunks of chicken; RM17. We ate it with a mixture of Naans. Parathas, a Rumali Roti varying in price from RM3-5 except for the stuffed one.

Other dishes with gravy included a Chettinad Chicken made with 35 types of spices fresh from India, RM15, and a Chettinad Lamb at RM22.

Chettinad Chicken
Mixed Kebab

Then, we had the mixed kebab platter, lovely skewers of grilled minced lamb and chicken served with french fries and chilli sauce and mayo. The kebabs were certainly flavoured exotically (more Arabic) and were very tasty but I thought the attempt at fusion with the fries and mayo rather tainted the dish. I would have much rather preferred the coriander-mint chutney and a squeeze of lime. But then that is my palate and next time I would request for that. I am sure that many a young person would much prefer the fries and the mayo! Mixed RM23. Lamb only RM24.

Non Vegetarian Thali

We were five of us and by this time groaning with surfeit and then came the non-vegetarian Thali! Which is a full meal in itself – 11 small dishes of delectables, like Chicken Khorma (very umami), two types of dhal, mutton curry, fried bitter gourd, mixed vegetable and a very delicious fish curry which I have promised myself to order next time, served with a heaping portion of Ponni rice which you eat with ghee and powdered dahl – an unusual serving style which is new to me; RM24. There is also a vegetarian option for RM12 which is currently on promotion for RM10.

Chicken Biryani

Overall I found the prices at Zaitun very reasonable. Their menu is extensive and I hadn’t even ventured near their continental dishes! If they keep up with the quality, Ipoh can look forward to having them on the permanent food scene.

Zaitun Multi Cuisine Family Restaurant
(pork-free and waiting for Halal certification)
20, Jalan Market, 30000 Ipoh.

Contact: 017 737 2711

Business hours:
Monday-Sunday, 11am-10.30pm

Moss Eatery: SeeFoon Finds New Life in Tambun

Tambun village has always been a sleepy place. Cars whizz by on their way to either Sunway, Lost World, Haven or Banjaran and no one pays any attention to the dilapidated houses on both sides of the road.

But someone did. The enterprising owner Rizal, of Pakeeza fame, has bought two of these shophouses and at great expense, transformed them into a casual eatery which is named Moss Eatery. Relying on his own creative ideas, Rizal faced the difficult task of restoration and manages to pull it off; with a decor that is both industrial and shabby chic in accent. Having spent more than a million ringgit in refurbishment, Moss Eatery opened for business very recently.

Moss Eatery, is now impossible to ignore especially at night when it is all lit up. The only attractive signage along that stretch of Tambun road, you’d have to drive like a demon to miss it. Ample parking is available in the back, the tables are well spaced out and there is a general feeling of spaciousness with high ceilings that have been left exposed and the original beams left intact, as are most of the walls.

The menu is small which in my opinion is a good way to begin a restaurant to allow the chefs to perfect their recipes, adding new items slowly as popularity grows.

For starters, we had Cucur Udang Kuah Kacang, the ubiquitous prawn fritters which are everybody’s favourite snack. They were delicious, crispy on the outside and fluffy and soft on the inside, the prawns large enough to not require a magnifying glass to find them as is the case in other establishments. It came with a satay-like sauce but due to my preference for non-sweet things, I used the sambal belacan dip instead. I had great difficulty restraining myself from eating more as I knew there were loads of other dishes to come; RM7.

The main signature dishes here at Moss Eatery are their Nasi Kukus: rice perfectly steamed in their individual packets with accompanying ikan bilis and salted peanuts. This is offered with a choice of Ayam Goreng Berempah which is a big chunk of chicken, marinated in the ‘berempah’ style, redolent with lemongrass, galangal, cumin, coriander, garlic and ginger; Beef Curry, small pieces of beef in a light curry sauce with coconut milk; and the Fish Rebus, braised fish in a mild curry sauce. The same sauce is used for all three Nasi Kukus and extra sauce is available on the side. Berempah: RM7.50; Beef and Fish RM8.50.

Aside from the choice of Nasi Kukus, their Mee Rebus Tulang is excellent. Seldom have I eaten a mee rebus in Ipoh that is not overladen with sugar and not thickened with cornstarch. This Mee Rebus is the real thing, the thick gravy is made by reducing broth along with a mix of spices, aromatics and sweet potatoes. Using yellow egg noodles, slurping them wrapped in the gravy together with sliced tofu, bean sprouts, boiled egg and a dash of calamansi was a total delight. The departure here from the usual mee rebus served outside was the addition of a piece of meat on the bone. Tender and juicy, the meat lent an extra layer to the complex taste of the gravy; RM10.

Other dishes worth exploring are their Tahu Goreng or fried tofu with a sweet Thai sauce, the tofu crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside, RM8.50, and their Rojak Buah or Fruit Rojak, our inimitable Malaysian fruit salad, unlike anything the west has ever seen. Chunks of pineapple, cucumber, sang kuang (a local turnip) are slathered with a thick sauce made from chilli paste, chopped lemongrass, dark soya sauce and belacan powder. This is topped with chopped peanuts and the most yummilicious crackers which are homemade. This combination of taste and textures makes this a must-have dish; RM9.

For that final sweet touch do try their Aiskrim Goreng which is their fried ice cream: Vanilla ice cream wrapped in a batter and deep fried, with the ice cream still solid when you bite in. Apparently, this is one of their most popular dishes here; RM7.

I saw an item on the menu that looked awfully interesting and that was the Spaghetti Sambal Udang. To begin with, their sambal belacan was delicious so I reckon their Sambal Udang should be equally good. That is an item that is next on my tasting menu as there was no more room for anything else the night I was there.

Moss Eatery, a welcome addition to the Halal food scene.

 
MOSS EATERY (Halal)
No 11 & 13, Jalan Besar Tambun,
31400 Ipoh, Perak (4.87 mi)
+6017 553 5074
Business Hours: 11am-11pm every day.

Fairway RPGC: SeeFoon Discusses Dishy Options for Chinese New Year and Beyond

With Chinese New Year (CNY) around the corner, it’s time to start booking restaurants or suffer the consequences of tardiness. Of course, we know that all the good Chinese restaurants will be full to overflowing and if you haven’t yet booked your reunion dinner for Chinese New Year’s Eve on February 4, now is the time to pick up the phone.

Knowing how busy Chinese New Year will be in most restaurants, in this issue I am now going to suggest a peaceful and quiet restaurant where one can have a full choice of oriental, local and western dishes and enjoy a view of the fairways of the Royal Perak Golf Club (RPGC).

Fairway, the restaurant, operated by the Putrade All Suites, a 34-unit hotel at RPGC, has a chef all-rounder in the person of Chef Shafie who has experience in both oriental and western dishes and adds innovative touches to some of the well-loved local dishes which lift them from the mundane to special heights.

Like his Nasi Lemak with Roasted Lamb Shank Rendang, an enormous lamb shank braised in the rendang style and served with all the traditional nasi accoutrement: coconut rice, ikan bilis, onion sambal, cucumber slices, boiled egg and fried peanuts. The lamb shank was wonderfully tender and with the rice and other condiments, a meal for four (my group has small appetites!) RM125 to be ordered in advance. Of course, they also have the regular nasi lemak with chicken rendang on the menu at RM8.50.

Their Special Kampung Nasi Goreng is well worth ordering, a hearty well-flavoured plate of spicy fried rice with prawns and chicken served with a chicken thigh topped with a fried egg and accompanied with fish crackers; RM9.90.

In between dishes we snacked on Cucur Udang which can be ordered anytime as a snack or appetiser. Very tasty morsels of fried batter filled with prawns, onions and spices. Yummilicious; RM6.

Fish Head Curry in the traditional Indian style is also to be ordered in advance. Their fish head is the big snapper fish head which is difficult to find in Indian restaurants these days and is very reasonably priced depending on size. Tangy, not too spicy with aubergines, ladies fingers and tomatoes; RM113.

Chicken Chop is reasonable at RM17.50, although I did make the comment that the sides of the chicken needed to be crispy. Prawn Aglio Olio with a choice of fettuccine or spaghetti was al dente and the prawns generous and very fresh, although you need to ask for virgin olive oil to be brought to the table for added smoothness. They also have a choice of bolognaise, marinara or carbonara sauce; RM16.50.

From the Chinese menu, I loved their Lemon Chicken and their Sweet Sour Chicken, both tangy in their different ways but neither too sweet nor too sour; RM27. These can be combined in sets too.

Their menu is extensive ranging from snacks like sandwiches, Pisang Goreng or fried bananas and big meals like rib-eye steaks and lamb chops. My choice is to go for their specials.

 

Fairway @ Royal Perak Golf Club (Halal)
Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, 31400 Ipoh.
Business hours:  7am-10pm
Reservations: 05 545 1981
Putrade Allsuites at RPGC
Muhammed Ridzuan bin Nordin GM
012 960 3434

SeeFoon is Torn between East and West

The dilemma is, very often, if the place serves oriental food and is halal, their western food leaves much to be desired. It is difficult to do both east and west with quality. 

However, help is at hand for I have discovered a restaurant in Meru Raya which satisfies all of the above. Plus the chef has had 15 years of experience in the west. 

Meet Chef Am, head chef and co-founder of Cottage 75. Chef Am who has spent 15 years working in Ireland, is from Selama Perak and together with a partner, opened Cottage 75, in Meru Raya, serving good wholesome dishes both western and oriental at prices that won’t break the bank. 

So for example, if you go with the whole family or a group of six for a meal, they have a special on their menu which is great on taste and satisfaction. For RM120, you get soup, 2 sets fish and chips; 2 sets chicken chop; 2 sets lamb chop and 1 steak set. Included also are onion rings, potato wedges, garlic bread, side salad, a jug of soft drink and dessert of the day. Now if that isn’t value for money, I don’t know what is. Certainly beats KFC and McDonald’s hands down. And this is not fast food. You are served at your table with proper cutlery and napkins. And the dishes come artistically plated too. 

We had their Warm Duck Breast Salad, RM15, and went on to sample a variety of their mains. The one issue I had with all their pasta dishes was that the pasta was too soft and not al dente (springy to the bite) as I and all Italians like it. I have often found this to be so in a lot of the cafes and restaurants I have patronised here in Ipoh. When asked if I could have my pasta al dente, I usually get the answer of “sorry but pasta is cooked ahead of time”.  

But it is how most Ipohites like their pasta. Some places where they serve pasta al dente, there are often complaints that the pasta is not cooked properly! So I reckon it’s a question of pleasing the majority and when someone with a picky palate like me comes along, that’s too bad.  

So back to the pasta which is aplenty on the menu. Other than the pasta being too soft, the taste of the various sauces was good. The salmon on pasta was well done, the salmon still slightly pink on the inside. The Butter Prawn Cream Spaghetti was smooth and velvety and a very filling dish indeed; RM19; while the Seafood Aglio Olio was chock full of green NZ mussels, large prawns and squid rings, again a very generous portion; RM17.50. 

Moving onto the oriental dishes, there is a wide variety of rice and noodle dishes. The Cottage Special Fried Rice was interestingly spiced, served with an omelette, Ayam Goreng Kunyit (fried turmeric chicken), keropok (prawn crackers), sambal and served with a spicy soup; RM18. And if this is too pricey, then the Nasi Goreng Kampungku fried with ikan bilis, vegetables, a fried egg on top and served with sambal belacan gives more value at RM7. 

The Lamb Shoulder Chops Atok Kambing Bakar came with a Soup Kambing, redolent of herbs and spices. ‘Atok’ which stands for grandfather implies that is an old traditional recipe; RM25. 

Finally the Chef Special Mee Rebus Tulang, a meal in itself, had a creamy soup base made from sweet potato and prawns, spicy, with chunks of lamb leg bone-in and served with boiled egg, potato cubes topped with chillies on a bed of yellow noodles was yummilicious; RM10. 

 

Cottage 75 (Halal)
76 Jalan Meru Impian A1
Pusat Perniagaan Meru Impian, 30020 Ipoh.
Chef Am: 011 2635 8305
Business hours: 5.30pm-12am; 5pm on weekends
Closed: Monday 

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

Labu Sayong: SeeFoon Discovers Quintessential Malay Cuisine

I have often lamented the dearth of good Malay restaurants especially in Ipoh and with a very few exceptions, most of the Malay food I have sampled here in restaurants have been middling to downright poor. The few good ones will certainly be in my upcoming book, the second edition of the Foodie’s Guide to Best Eats in Ipoh.

During Ramadan, the food scene changes when many housewives come out to sell their home-cooked specialities at the Ramadan bazaars and this is when the rest of us can go on discovery saunters through the various bazaars picking out various delectables that are otherwise not available commercially.

But fear not intrepid foodies, for, top-notch Malay food has arrived on our doorstep in Ipoh in the Traditional Malay House Rumah Kutai where restaurant LABU SAYONG has been serving superlative Malay cuisine since its opening in August last year.

Here 60% of the menu items are traditional recipes from Perak state and the rest from other parts of Malaysia. These classical dishes have been languishing in the backwaters, having been eclipsed by the more readily available and less appealing ones that are ubiquitous everywhere.

A smart move by the Perak State Development Corporation in building this traditional Malay house and setting up an exquisite restaurant with the menu in the capable hands of Corporate Chef, Hospitality and Tourism, Nazrie Bin Shaaban.We sat down to a spectacular meal hosted by Ahmad Bin Mohamed Salleh, Operations manager and Mahathir Mohammed, Marketing Manager. And all prepared by Chef Amran who interprets all the recipes with his skilled touch.

From the decor, ambiance and the service coupled with the menu items, I can certainly predict that Labu Sayong will become the GO TO place for any visitor to Perak wishing to sample superlative Malay food.

Labu Sayong, named for the famous water calabash from Kuala Kangsar whose burnt-black colour and unique gourd-shape give it the ability to cool its contents quickly and some believe that water stored in such a manner is palliative against many illnesses and disorders; seats 68 people.

The downstairs area is fan cooled with ample seating and on the night we went, a magnificent spread was beckoning from the buffet table set up for buka puasa and by sheer serendipity some of my non-Muslim friends were also there, with one of them saying that this was his sixth time at the restaurant and will continue to come back! Upstairs was air conditioned and elegantly furnished serving as the perfect backdrop for fine dining.

Our first dish was the Ayam Kaduk Kerabu Limau Bali, steamed minced chicken rolled up and stuffed with dessicated coconut, cumin, turmeric, and served on bed of pomelo salad with bunga kantan or ginger flower, pegaga leaves, blue butterfly pea petals, the fragrance of the various herbs and spices blending into a heady aroma; RM13.

Next we had Tenggiri Kepai Pandan Udang Kertas, a fish mousse accompanied by crispy deep fried prawns and topped with a black seafood sauce; RM15. Then followed one of their signature dishes, the Ikan Purba Kuala Sayong, a 700g sea bass stuffed with 27 local ingredients and deep fried, accompanied with chili ginger sauce; RM60.

Rusuk Kambing or lamb rib braised with Tongkat Ali (alleged to have aphrodisiac properties) was tender with a smooth blending of spices; RM22, followed by the Beef Curry Gulai Kawah which is beef curry with banana stem, a local favourite popular at weddings. This was mild and the spices well merged with the banana stem lending a special exotic touch to the dish. Alas this was from the buffet table and not on the à la carte menu.

We then had the Rendang Daging Sayong, a beautifully tender beef rendang that was more creamy than the usual Perakean Rendang Tok and far less sweet, which suited my palate perfectly; RM25. Next came the Kari Ayam Limau Purut Sungkai, using limau purut (kaffir lime) juice and leaf to marinate with all the rest of the ingredients which were freshly ground and then cooked with red chillies; RM20.

The Ikan Perkasam Coli Bawang, a special salted fish deep fried with onions and chillies and served as a side dish, went marvellously well with the curried dishes; RM13.

For dessert we had the Wadai Kiping Gula Kabung, flour dumplings with palm sugar served with coconut milk RM10 and Sira Pisang Berangan Buah Kabung, chilled bananas with attap seeds (from the Nipah palm); RM10.

 
Labu Sayong Signature Restaurant
5 Jalan Meru Bestari A14, 31200 Ipoh.
Tel: 05 237 5237
Website: www.labusayong.com.my
Set lunch: 11.30am-2.30pm; Malay afternoon tea: 2.30pm-6pm; Dinner: 6pm-10pm.
Open 24/7; closed only 5 days a year.
Ask for their barbecued tenderloin too.
They also have a Cafe at Silveritage.

SeeFoon Remembers Kampung Malay Food

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
Pics by Tan Mei Kuan

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley ResortIt has been years since I had a bang-up, GENUINE Kampung Malay meal with all the classic dishes and condiments that today, appear to have gone the way of the Dodo bird (as in extinct!) Most roadside eating places have Tom Yam emblazoned all over their signboards and (hello?) Tom Yam is a Thai dish and the ones I’ve tasted come nowhere near the real McCoy I’ve had in Thailand. Plus they are usually laden with MSG, which as readers of my column may have noticed, I am on a strong campaign to eradicate from all kitchens!!

It was therefore such a real pleasure to be invited to a preview tasting of the Citarasa Nusantara spread at the Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort recently in anticipation of Ramadan and all the feasting that goes with breaking fast.

I am familiar with the Western, Chinese  and local dishes at the Dome as I eat there quite regularly and I can vouch for the quality of most of the dishes served here. But the Kampung Malay food prepared by Chef Din is a treat and usually only available by special order for functions and events. Other than the Chicken Berempah which is on the regular menu, everything else that is being presented on the Ramadan Buffet for this limited time only is by special order.

So in great anticipation I sat down to taste the various dishes that will be served on their buffet spread in the Malay section with Director Chris Bock, Leong Mei Yee and Executive Chef Desmond who kept doing the ‘now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t’ act as he dashed back and forth to the kitchen.

And I was not disappointed.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

Everyone living in Malaysia knows about rendang with almost every state having their own unique variation. Rendang Tok, however is a special rendang recipe for which Perak is renowned. With “Tok” to mean royalty, Perak’s rendang tok is literally food befitting the kings!

The Rendang Tok at the Dome goes one better. Instead of the usual beef chunks it is a large lamb shank, with the spiced gravy being greatly reduced from prolonged simmering until all that’s left is a thick layer that not only coats the meat but permeates every fibre of it, tender, luscious, moist mouthfuls that fall off the bone and sent me into paroxysms of foodie delight. This is a ‘die, die, must try’ dish.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

The Nasi Kerabu Kelantanese comes with Budu, a fermented fish sauce popular in Kelantan and the E. Coast of Malaysia, shredded raw vegetables, salted egg, keropok ikan or fish crackers, a chilli pickle and fish floss. Mixed by yourself or have them mix it for you and every mouthful is a burst of flavours and textures.

Ikan Perkasam Gelama was a fried fish with sourish tangy notes provided by asam keping and topped with roughly ground fried dry rice that gave the dish a delectable crunch.

The Ulam-ulaman (assorted raw greens like wing beans, cucumber, blanched ladies fingers and various leaves) arrived with two tantalising sambals, one a homemade sambal belacan (shrimp paste) and another the cincalok (preserved tiny shrimps seasoned with chopped shallots, chillies and limau kasturi – a local lime). Both the dips were very well rounded in their composition being neither too fiery nor too acidic, complementing the greens to perfection. Eaten with the Nasi Kerabu, the ulam and the dips tempered any oiliness coming from the rendang and the fried fish.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley ResortDome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

We then had the Kerabu Jantung Pisang, a salad made from banana flowers, a rare delight hardly to be found elsewhere nowadays. Mixed with an assortment of herbs and condiments, this salad was refreshing and a treat for the taste buds.

Many more Malay Kampung delights were still in store as we tucked into Pucuk Ubi Masak Lemak Telur Itik or in plain English, duck eggs cooked in a coconut sauce with Cassava leaves. This is another divine dish which I adore, the duck eggs poached to just the right consistency with the egg yolk still oozy and combined with the turmeric laced creamy coconut sauce, was heaven in a mouthful.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley ResortDome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

The Gulai Patin Masak Tempoyak was the least of my favourites. A local catfish, the Patin was cooked in a coconut sauce mixed with tempoyak, a fermented durian paste that requires an acquired taste to appreciate. Like durians for foreigners who either have a love/hate relationship with this king of fruits, tempoyak requires a further enculturation process in order to enjoy its smell and taste and although I am an avid fan of durian, I find tempoyak much harder to appreciate. But I have friends who swear by its virtues. And for those who love tempoyak, here is your opportunity to eat to your heart’s content in a conducive environment too, if you break fast at the Dome.

For dessert, don’t forget their Tapai Pulut, fermented rice pudding served with ice cream.

Dome Restaurant in Meru Valley Resort

What I have reviewed here for my dear readers are just some of the Malay Kampung temptations on the buffet spread at the Dome. There will be three rotating menus with a set carving station featuring roasted Australian beef, chicken and Dorper lamb leg and Chicken Satay every night as well as a Cold Japanese station featuring Salmon and Tuna Sashimi, mussels on the half shell, Tiger prawns and assorted Sushi and Maki. The Noodle Stall will be alternating their offerings between Asam Laksa, Mee Rebus and Prawn Mee and the Dessert spread will have a revolving series of delectable delights to tempt your taste buds.

 
Citarasa Nusantara will be available at the Dome Restaurant from June 5 to 22.
Call 05 529 3358 for reservations.
Non members are welcome.
Pork Free.

SeeFoon Discovers New Hope for Foodies in Bercham

Three years ago when I went to the Ray of Hope Kafe in Bercham, I found myself raving not only about the food but over the cleanliness of the place (in fact it’s got the cleanest toilet of any food outlet in Ipoh and possibly Malaysia).

Recently, I went back and discovered another element that makes this Kafe so endearing. Not only is the food cooked with love and care but the service is delivered with such focus and concentration by the learning disabled staff that it is a joy to experience and truly a credit to the trainers. There is a cheerful camaraderie that is truly palpable, supervised by two full time volunteer Mums whose sons were given vocational training at the centre and now work in the Kafe. Here is where their motto “Every Life Counts, Every Person Matters”, comes alive as I watch their smiling faces and the friendly jousting that goes on.

Non-profit, Non-religious

Most food outlets exist to serve food to those unwilling or unable to cook for themselves and hope to turn a profit in the process. Some special food outlets have a dual purpose: serving food as well as helping those who serve. The Ray of Hope Kafe is one of these food outlets that not only serve good food but in the process, do good as well.

The Ray of Hope is a non-profit, non-religious multi-racial centre set up by St Peter’s and St Augustine’s church, Ipoh. Its sole objective is to give hope to people with learning difficulties.

Datin Mary Yeoh who is the dynamo behind the centre and the main mover and shaker for the centre came down to say hello and self-deprecatingly said, “I’ll leave you to our new star in the kitchen. Datin Grace Lee will take care of you”. And take care of our little group she did.

Grace Lee who could be playing mahjong or lunching with her friends as the lady of leisure that she is, has instead dedicated herself to helping out in the kitchen, working with the chefs on new dishes to freshen up the quite extensive menu. Given that she is an impressive cook, the Ray of Hope Kafe has now found itself a new ray of sunshine who not only shines in the kitchen but also with the learning disabled staff who all hang on her every word and call her Aunty Grace.

We were there to try some new dishes which Grace puts on the menu as specials. And to revisit some of my other favourite dishes here.

 

Extensive Menu

The menu is extensive. There are more than 13 different rice dishes and a similar number of noodle dishes not to mention spaghetti dishes and western dishes like chicken chops with a big choice of sauces and fish and chips. Now, with specials like the delectable Taiwanese Beef Noodles which we had that day, a fulsome broth with robust body (no MSG), the beef chunks and beef tendons (yes beef tendons….now how often does one find that?) yummiliciously tender, with a choice of noodles and topped with flat leaf parsley; or the herbal chicken which comes with a rich broth redolent with Chinese herbs and chockful of cloud ear mushrooms, the menu offers more exciting possibilities. A must-have but alas only on certain days or ordered in advance in quantity. Taiwanese Beef Noodle RM17.90 (worth every bite) and Herbal Chicken RM9.50.

Also new on the menu is the Baked Sambal Fish with long beans and ladies fingers. An impressive presentation in tin foil, the fish was well imbued with spices and there was just enough sambal gravy to spoon on the fish. RM12.90 for the normal and RM22 for the special which has to be ordered in advance.

An unusual new item is the Grilled Chicken Roll stuffed with spinach and black olives. Served with a cranberry puree, the chicken was just charred on the skin, tender and moist, the stuffing lending hints of the mediterranean.

Of course, I also revisited some of my old favourites here, tasting as delectable as I remembered them from my past visits. I will mention the few items which I consider the ‘must-haves’. The Asam Laksa was a generous portion, the soup/broth had a fulsome body to it unlike some others I’ve had before which can be plain watery. I could taste the fish that had gone into making the broth as well as the various herbs and spices which are critical to its turning out successfully. Chunks of fish with pineapple and cucumber slivers, topped with a sprig of fresh mint, complemented the smooth white ‘lai fun’, enveloped in the broth – RM10.90.

The Nasi Lemak is for me one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Served with pandan flavoured coconut rice, the traditional one served with ikan bilis, peanuts, sambal (very tasty), and  chicken rendang, topped with a fried egg, is heavenly – RM9.90. There is also a special Nasi Lemak with the same rice and egg but served with a salt fish pickle and fried chicken – RM12.90.

My old favourite of the Cornish Pasty is now back on the menu. This giant puff is traditionally filled with beef but here at Ray of Hope, this is a chicken Cornish Pasty, with potatoes and onions. The pastry was light and fluffy and one pasty is enough to satisfy an average appetite – RM8.50.

Star Bakery

But it is the bakery that shines as the star of the show in the cafe. I sampled their cookies,  their different types of bread, their sweet and savoury buns, and particularly noteworthy are their new Durian Puffs. To be ordered in advance, these delectable Puffs are a steal at RM4.50 for a box of three. Order them for birthdays, or celebrations or gifts but do order them. Equally delectable are their Lemon Cheese tarts. At RM2.50 each, they were melt-in-the-mouth yummy and I, a professed non-sweet eater, found myself reaching for a second one. Their Tiramisu is most impressive considering that it’s halal and no alcohol is added – RM6.50. As is their Moist Chocolate CakeRM6.50.


Other items from the bakery which make great party offerings are their boxed cookies and their biscotti, paper thin crisps encrusted with almond and pistachio slivers, an Italian favourite of mine that is great with coffee or just for nibbling.

So for all my dear readers out there who read this column, remember that the next time you feel the urge for some confectionery, need to bring a gift to someone’s house, or organising a gathering, remember to place your order with the Ray of Hope Kafe and while there to pick up your goodies, linger awhile and try some of the items on their menu. Their catering services are excellent as I have personally used them. Not only will you enjoy the taste treat but you’ll be helping a good and worthy cause.

 
Ray of Hope Kafe (Halal)
24 & 26 Persiaran Bercham Selatan
Taman Sri Kurau
Tel: 05 548 8796 Open Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
GPS: N 04° 37.459’  E 101° 07.455’
Email: ray.of.hope.ngo@gmail.com

SeeFoon Goes Halal for Ramadan

Over the years of living in Ipoh, I have often heard of Caterbest Restaurant in Bercham as a shining example of Halal Chinese food but somehow it never made it to my list of ‘to try’ places. Recently however, a Muslim visitor was lamenting to me about the fact that while Ipoh is awash with great food, there are very few places to enjoy Halal Chinese/local dishes.

Which was what prompted me to visit Caterbest, very conveniently located on the main road of Bercham. The restaurant has two levels and the evening I was there, a party was happily breaking fast upstairs while down below, all the tables were full with families doing the same in air conditioned comfort.

Caterbest is one of those old fashioned restaurants that is fast disappearing in today’s fast food or specialised restaurant scene. This is one place where you can drop in for a Wat Dan Hor (broad flat rice noodles cooked in a velvety soupy sauce with vegetables, chicken and floating bits of egg white) RM6 for a medium portion; a chicken chop in a choice of mushroom or black pepper sauce RM15; a lamb chop RM36 or a New Zealand steak RM38. Or if a full meal is on the cards, then there is a wide choice.


The evening I was there we had their Curry Fish Head which is listed as a House Specialty. The gravy was well blended, flavourful, mild with ladies fingers, Tao Pok (beancurd puffs)  and curry leaves and the fish head pieces were very fresh. RM18 small and RM36 large. What I particularly loved was their Kerabu Pucuk Paku, blanched jungle fern served cold with a dressing of spicy sambal belacan paste with hints of coconut. RM9 small; RM18 large.

Their Inchikabin Chicken deserves mention, well marinated chunks of chicken (I always ask for the drumstick or wing portions as I find the breast meat too dry) deep fried to a well done but still juicy tenderness and topped with good quality keropok or prawn crackers. RM18 small and RM36 Large.This was followed by their Asam Prawns, very fresh large sea prawns in a tangy tamarind sauce, laced with onions and spices. RM20 small; RM40 large. Other cooking styles for the prawns include Nestum or the Butter Prawns, the latter comes smothered in a nest of fine slivers of something (I have never discovered the chef’s secret for this recipe which I suspect is milk powder) interlaced with curry leaves.

All in all Caterbest is a great restaurant for a reasonably priced meal. With prices having gone up the way they have, a meal here for 5 or 6 people need not cost more than RM100. And with good tasting and quality food to boot. And the best news is: they also cater. Hence the name!

 
Restoran Caterbest (Halal)
74 & 74A Jalan Bercham
Taman Seri Dermawan, 31400 Ipoh.
Tel: 05 547 8622. Wong Swee Kok 012 510 8022
Business Hours: 11am-3pm; 6pm-11pm