Hainan Kia (HBR Cafe)
Pictures by Gisele Soo
SeeFoon Enjoys an Oxymoron and other specialties
Fried Porridge struck me as an oxymoron (a self-contradicting word or group of words) and an interesting one which immediately piqued my curiosity.
This happened at the newly opened Hainan Kia (they opened in January) which of course had to close during the MCO but since reopening, is now doing a roaring business.
I reckoned there must be lots of Hainanese in Ipoh, all pining for a taste of the food that Grandma used to make, long lost in the mists of time. Now they are all queuing for a taste of their own history, made possible by a group of four young partners who joined forces to bring the authentic Hainanese taste to Ipoh.
Hainan Kia, which means “Hainanese Child”, is located in a small bungalow on Jalan Haji Eusoff. It was bustling on the day I went there, and even though it was late (1.45pm) there were still people arriving.
Naturally the first item on the menu that I asked for was their Fried Porridge. How can you fry porridge which is liquid, I asked. It was then explained to me that the porridge (congee) was made first and the ingredients that go in are fried “a la minute” as per order.
Hainan is a Chinese island province in the South China Sea, about halfway between southern China and Vietnam. The food is lighter, less oily, and more mildly seasoned than that of the Chinese mainland. Seafood predominates the menu, as prawn, crab, and both freshwater and ocean fish are widely available.
Malaysian Hainanese is a hodgepodge cuisine, a product of the country’s history as a colony. Hainanese Chinese were among the last to make their way to British Malaya, beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the early 20th Century. By that time, Cantonese, Teochew, Hokkien and Hakka clan associations, which were established to help new arrivals find work and housing, had taken most employment opportunities. So many Hainanese people ended up taking positions as cooks in British military camps and in the homes of British expatriates and wealthy Chinese, where they learned to churn out perfectly cooked roasts, make cream of mushroom soup, boil eggs just so, fry up crispy chops and knead dough for bread and pastries.
Soon they put this experience to use in their own restaurants and coffee shops, where they combined their own cooking styles with what they learnt from the Brits and the local cuisine. Thus, Malaysian Hainanese cuisine was born.
I had the privilege of enjoying the services of a Hainanese cook when I got married many years ago in Singapore and I still remember the taste of his curries, and his various delectables that he would serve up.
For those going to Hainan Kia expecting to find the popular and renowned Hainanese Chicken Rice, you’ll be in for a let down. They do NOT serve that here. Instead they serve some of the very authentic A Dou Mee and Bao Loh Fun, the latter dish which they claim they are the only cafe in the whole of Malaysia that serves, a must-try street food back in Hainan island.
Most of the noodle dishes at this cafe uses their homemade Zu Sheng Noodles, the dough being not hand-rolled but rather utilizes a unique method of kneading with a bamboo pole which the chef uses like a lever between his legs (watch accompanying video). The noodles after cooking will have a springiness to them (al dente in Italian) attributed to the bamboo “kung fu” rather than lye water which is commonly used in other noodles with the same springiness.
(Video courtesy of Hainan Kia)
Undoubtedly, the secret to producing such unique noodles also largely depends on the process of rolling. The noodles which can be purchased from the restaurant (when they have extra) come in three flavours of egg, pandan and spinach.
A Dou Mee is a traditional noodle dish, its name meaning “grandmother” in Hainanese dialect. It appeals to most palates with a clean fresh broth and comes with sotong, fish paste, bean curd with optional cockles, and is served with a special homemade curry paste. Hence the degree of spice can be controlled by yourself, adding more if you’re into spicy food like me. RM12.90.
Bao Loh Fun (a type of noodle like our local Lai Fun), is one of the top four Hainanese noodles, originating from Hainan Island. Usually eaten for breakfast, the very thick and starchy gravy is the essence of the dish, cooked with minced meat and sour vegetables or “Ham Choy” and “Mui Choy” or preserved vegetables. Boiled peanuts are added to the dish, as are slivered carrots and lettuce. The uniqueness of the taste seems to have impressed many people as they can rarely try this elsewhere throughout Malaysia. RM12.90.
The Seafood Curry Noodles are headily aromatic, each bowl finished with a touch of santan, the noodles vying for attention with large prawns, fish chunks, squid and a few greens. Add sambal if the need for extra spice arises, though the soup is already slurp-worthy and spicy on its own. RM16.90.
The same Zu Sheng Noodles also come stir fried with mixed seafood or in clear broth for those who are looking for a non spicy taste.
Next to arrive was the Slipper Lobster Claypot Porridge, a large tureen of porridge (congee) that was hearty and crowd pleasing, the slipper lobster taking centre stage, embellished with Chinese crullers and fried dried slivered sotong imbuing the dish with its characteristic fragrance. Served with a garlicky, spicy sauce. RM38.80.
Another claypot dish came in the form of the Tung Fen Hai or Claypot Glass Noodle Crab. Dominated by an extra large flower crab with the carapace on top, the noodles were accompanied by celery, carrots, ginger slivers, loofa rounds and an omelette. A very umami broth made this a very refreshing item. RM38.80.
And before I forget, did I mention that the Chicken Chop here is one of the best I have ever tasted? It brings back memories of my Hainanese cook who did this perfectly, crispy on the edges and tender on the inside, smothered with a Lee and Perrin anchovy-based sauce that was superlative! RM13.90.
By this time, we were all suffering with a surfeit of food but we had to push ourselves and taste their Kaya Toast. Served with premium butter and the bread sliced thin, the homemade kaya was fragrant, making this a most satisfying dessert. RM4.50.
The kaya is available for sale so don’t forget to pick up a jar.
*Hainan Kia is pork-free.
48, Jalan Haji Eusoff, Perumahan Jalan Kampar, 30250 Ipoh, Perak
8am-6pm, opens daily
Delivery available through Foodpanda and GrabFood