Musings on Food: Hainan Zai

Hainan Zai (HBR Cafe)

Pictures by Gisele Soo

Hainan Zai has moved!

I first wrote a review on Hainan Zai (meaning son of person from Hainan) shortly after they opened in early 2020. Then MCO and the pandemic came and a hiatus of 2 years has brought some changes to this group of enterprising Hainanese young men. 

They now have two outlets, one in the shoplets at Kinta Medical Centre and a second one in Ipoh Garden East behind Tesco, which I recently visited.

Both the menus are identical and as in my previous review from two years ago, feature the same homemade noodles as one of their signature items. Made the traditional way using a bamboo pole to knead the dough (see video attached), these noodles require artisanal skills handed down from generation to generation and are rare and hard to come by. Somehow the owners have been fortunate enough to lure an old master noodle crafter to their team. And these noodles are what I find irresistible about Hainan Zai.

(Video courtesy of Hainan Zai)

For drinks we were recommended their signatures, the Passion Fruit Soda that was fragrant and not too sweet, RM12.90; Hainan Cha, an interesting melange of tea, coffee, milo and butter for RM6.80 (hot) and RM7.20 (cold); and Fuji Coffee, a tall glass of strong local coffee, no sugar, no milk but using creamer in layers. It suited my palate to a T. RM5 cold; RM4.80 hot.

Hainan Cha
Fuji Coffee

Most of the items on the menu were the same as before but there were some new additions. 

For starters, we had their Chicken Rice Ball. This came as four compacted and well-flavoured rice balls, served with bearded chicken (Wu Soh Kai) and separate portions of ginger and chilli sauce. My personal acid test for chicken rice rests on the sauces. If the chilli sauce and separate ginger sauce gets an A, then I’ll forgive slight imperfections in the other two elements of the chicken and the rice. In this instance, both passed muster, except for my mentioning to one of the proprietors SK Lim, that they could have been slightly more generous with the chicken! RM14.90.

Chicken Rice Ball

He then insisted that we try two types of their fried noodles and compare the two. Seafood Fried Noodles (Hainan style) were made with their homemade bamboo-kneaded noodles, wonderfully springy and al dente. Fried with chicken, prawn and cockles, it is served with a homemade chilli sauce. RM12.90 for the noodles. 

Seafood Fried Noodles

Their chilli sauce is available for sale at RM12.90 for a 180ml bottle.

The Fried noodle with cockles, prawn and egg (Cantonese style) is very similar to our local Char Kuey Teow. The ‘wok hei’ vibrates off the plate, brimming with a mildly charred fragrance. This was for me the highlight of our meal, next to the chicken rice. RM12.90.

Fried noodle with cockles, prawn and egg

Loh Mee smothered in a  thickened sauce was infinitely slurp-worthy, with their homemade springy noodles married to fish slices and topped with black vinegar. RM10.90.

Loh Mee

Asam Laksa, either the Regular or the Special, came in a yummilicious soup/sauce redolent with fresh herbs, and was rich with seafood including some very fresh cockles. RM9.90 for the Regular, RM15.90 for the Special. 

Asam Laksa Regular
Asam Laksa Special (photo courtesy of Hainan Zai)

The explanation in the menu describes it thus : Laksa is a well known Nanyang dish and now you can have it in HBR Cafe. Its taste may be different from one place to another, such as in terms of spiciness level. If you like a spicy and sour taste, then you should not miss HBR’s Laksa with the fresh Kampung Fish and laksa gravy used. You can also choose to add in cockles and others. 

The Wontons in soup were big, beautiful, bodacious and juicy. We could have ordered the wonton noodles but having had so many noodles we decided to just try the wonton and they certainly did not disappoint. Big velvety morsels of deliciousness in a clear umami broth. RM7.80.

Wontons

For dessert, we settled for The Golden Ten Years, a traditional snack gestated from years of coping with poverty when the Hainanese migrated from China. To keep their bread longer, families would dry the bread and then toast them. In the old days, families could only afford margarine and this would be slathered on, with sugar generously sprinkled on top. Today of course, they use premium butter and sugar. For someone without a sweet tooth, I found these morsels delectable. The intense combination of flavours, both sweet and salty, combined with the crunch from the toasted bread, creates a perkiness that left me craving for more. RM5.90. 

Golden Ten Years

For more information on the other dishes, please refer to the previous Food Diva write-up here.

 

Hainan Zai is pork free.

 

Hainan Zai Ipoh Garden East

Address: 9 Jalan Medan Ipoh 6, Bandar Baru Medan Ipoh, 31400 Ipoh, Perak 

Business hours: 8am-7pm

For inquiries: 011-55076295

 

Hainan Zai KMC 

Address: KMC Mall Ground Floor, Jalan Chung Thye Phin, Taman Chateau, 30250 Ipoh, Perak

Business hours: 8am-11pm 

For inquiries: 011-55016295

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