Musings on Food
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
I am aware that some of my readers out there occasionally mutter about my writing about the same type of food over and over again especially when it comes to dishes from the typical Tai Chau or ‘Big Fry’ restaurants.
What most people overlook is that aside from the famous dishes like our Nga Choy Kai, our Curry Mee, our Salted Chicken, our famous biscuits for which people from near and far come in droves to sample and buy home, Ipoh has a plethora of small and large Tai Chau restaurants dotted all over our sprawling city and its suburbs. These are the real hidden gems of Ipoh.
However, every food establishment have their signature dishes, each one vying for recognition with different nuances in ingredients, taste and creativity. Some dishes make the grade and some miss by a mile. This column is about the dishes that make it and to keep in mind when ordering.
This week’s column is to present two of these in the same area of Seri Botani, about a mile or so away from one another. The first one, Ho Ki was recommended by Ginla Chew my reliable foodie sidekick, which apparently is a favourite haunt of Dato’ Dr Rama and his wife Mala. They were with us that evening together with a group of my other foodie friends.
Situated on a corner, set back from the main road leading off Jalan Bandar Seri Botani, just after Shen Jai School on the left, Restaurant Ho Ki is a large airy restaurant open 24/7 with a friendly proprietress Amy Ong who came and made the recommendations.
As usual we had an overload of dishes and I shall list here not all of the 11 items that we had but the ones that stood out for me. The deep fried pork belly slices or Tsau Fa Lam was delicious, crisp and well coated in a mildly sweet and sour sauce – RM15. Sautéed Cabbage with bacon bits and topped with almond slivers lending texture was unusual and tasty – RM12.
The fish was a live Tilapia cooked in a claypot with their homemade yellow rice wine, a departure from the norm, the fish fresh and without a hint of muddiness, the wine lending hints of sweetness to the dish – RM30. The homemade Tofu in a pumpkin sauce was smooth and mild – perfect for those who prefer a bland taste – RM10.
What they call Penang 3 types arrived on a hotplate, prawns, squid, scallops and ladies fingers sizzling away in an Asam Pedas sauce – tangy, spicy and guaranteed to wake up the taste buds with just the right amount of seasoning – RM25. The Yee Meen or fried dried noodles came in a soupy sauce, with mixed seafood pieces and greens, the noodles still slightly chewy (the Chinese version of al dente) and the sauce an umami complement – RM4.50 per portion.
A specialty of the house here is their Poon Choy or the one dish meal. I did not have the opportunity to try this but have promised myself a return visit. At RM288 combination of 13 items for 10 people and an additional RM100 with abalone added, this is a dish that needs to be ordered in advance.
Restoran Ho Ki
12 Jalan Lapangan Siber 5Bandar Cyber.
GPS: N 04° 32.739’ E 101° 06.702’
Tel: 05 313 1636 or Amy Ong 012 515 0710
In the same area, using Shen Jai School as the landmark, take the first right turn just after the school, continue about one kilometre past a row of shophouses and just before the housing estate on the corner on the left is LML. The night we were there it was fortunately very cool and we sat outside on the street, with Datin Lynette Tan playing hostess.
Lynette was singing the praises for this Tai Chau restaurant saying that her mother-in-law who can be quite picky in her food preferences, absolutely adores this place and promptly ordered all her favourites which I am about to share with you my dear readers.
The first dish on the table was the Fried Bitter Gourd with Salted Egg. This dish literally flew off the plate, as we tucked in, marvelling at the lightness and crispiness of the batter. Now most of us there that evening including Puan Sri Datuk Sandra Lee have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world and we all unanimously agreed that this was better than any tempura batter that we have ever tasted, ANYWHERE. When questioned, the proprietress May who was a very helpful and friendly soul, confessed that the recipe was a closely guarded secret and that she can only buy it from a former chef of hers who is taking the recipe to the grave. So I plan to go and eat more of this as soon as possible – RM13. To borrow a phrase from a food writer in Singapore, this is one dish I would say “Die, Die, Must Try”.
The Fried Pig’s Trotter was tender, juicy and almost too big a portion for the six of us – RM46.
Steamed Clams were big, steamed in white rice wine topped with scallions and coriander – RM16. A claypot of Kangkong (convolvulus) arrived and while it looked bland and boring in the pot, on tasting it, my tastebuds were aroused, well-blended flavours mildly spicy and surprise surprise, had generous chunks of fried pork lardons (Chu Yau Tsa) in it. This small touch lifted it from the ordinary to the sublime – RM11.
More goodies were yet to come. The Nyonya Steamed Fish Head that evening was a Garupa head, cut in chunks and cooked in a mildly spiced sauce, redolent of the typical Nyonya herbs – RM60. The 3-cup chicken or Sam Pui Kai which is chicken pieces braised in 3 cups of dao pan tseong or fermented bean paste, Chinese rice wine and a mixture of Thai basil leaves and bay leaves was flavourful, the basil flavour coming through quite strongly, the rice wine lending its sweetness to the dish – RM18.
As we were only six people we couldn’t do justice to the tempting possibilities that this restaurant has on offer. I promised myself that I would go back to sample more of the dishes from this restaurant as apparently anything they produce is delectable.
58 Laluan Lapangan Siber 1,Panorama Lapangan Perdana.
GPS: N 04° 33.1’ E 101° 6.425’
Tel: 05 311 0958 or May 016 262 9996
Business Hours: noon-11pm.