Help the small Businesses: Hao Xian Wei

Pictures by Gisele Soo

Help the small Businesses

Now that MCO is over and RMCO is the new normal, most of us can dust off the cobwebs of the past 3 months, bid a fond farewell to our hobs and ovens and look forward to being served a proper meal in the myriad of restaurants that have reopened.

With the period of self isolation over, the tendency is to rush out and head for all your favourite restaurants. The exhilaration of having your food served to you, of no dish washing, and no racking of your brains to decide what to cook may be over but let’s not be hasty. The number of new cases may be occasionally in the single digit but COVID 19 is not going to go away that soon and it will be most prudent of us to stick to more “Tapau” or takeaway food for a while longer.  

While we’re doing that, may I suggest that we give a thought to the small businesses and restaurants struggling to get back on their feet after the 3 month hiatus. The MCO has actually given a positive push to the smaller restaurateurs, pushing their entrepreneurial skills to the max and having them come out with easy to take away one-dish meals. 

So for the next few months I am going to concentrate on the small cafes, restaurants that need a little help.Today, I will highlight some of these and suggest the best “Tapau” options for you.

 

Hao Xian Wei

William, the proprietor of Hao Xian Wei which prides fish as its signature dish, has had to adapt to the changing environment. “Fish needs to be eaten fresh, hot off the stove, but the MCO put paid to that for me. Plus all my other specials lose some flavour on the way home,” he lamented. “I therefore settled on the idea of very special Tsong or Zongzi ( Mandarin ).” 

Tsong is a wrapped Glutinous rice dumpling which for me is one of the most satisfying comfort foods to eat. It’s also a no-hassle meal. William recommends that you bring the dumpling home, boil some water, dunk it in and let it boil for half an hour. Take it out, cut the ties and voila, a steaming fragrant pyramid of deliciousness. He prefers this method to steaming the dumpling as he says that the boiling will bring all the oil to the surface, leaving it glistening and velvety. 

The fun part is digging in to discover what’s hidden inside. Most of William’s Tsong is of the Tsao Mai variety, which means that the glutinous rice has to be fried before wrapping. This gives it its characteristic brownish colour. Only the Nonya Tsong is white. 

Hokkien Tsong

The Hokkien Tsong is very special. It is bigger in size than the Hainan and Vegetarian ones because it is generously filled to the brim with goodies like fatty braised pork, salted egg yolk, roast pork, mushrooms, chestnut  and chicken. A hefty meal in one, each morsel well seasoned; the velvety rice textured with black eyed peas; the filling with its well juxtaposed textures: chestnut against black mushroom, salted egg yolk against soft chicken and the fat from the pork, braised to a quivering, jelly-like consistency, lending its unctuous texture to the whole mouthfeel. 

Heaven in a mouthful. 

And that was just a description on the Hokkien Tsong, RM12.80.

Where other Tsongs I have tasted can be dry and stodgy, William’s are very moist and velvety. The Hainanese Tsong is equally tasty but smaller and with less fillings, RM8, while the vegetarian Tsong is interesting with unusual fillings like Lion’s Mane mushroom, RM8.50. There is also a Nyonya Tsong which has a slightly sweet texture which was my least favourite, RM8.

Hainanese Tsong
Vegetarian Tsong
Nyonya Tsong

If you have big eaters at home, William has another “Tapau” goodie in the form of stuffed Tau Fu Pok, packed and frozen in packs of 6. At RM18 for 6 these are very good steamed at home and eaten with the Tsong. William orders the Tau Fu Pok in an extra large size and round shape, stuffed to the brim with a pork farcie. 

Stuffed Tau Fu Pok

Address:
Restoran Hao Xian Wei
11 Jalan Medan Ipoh 6, Bandar Baru Medan Ipoh 31400 Ipoh.

Patrick Cheong | For reservations: 012 431 1070
William Yap Chef | Owner for ordering (in Cantonese only): 017 421 6523

Business hours: 12:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Takeaway last order: 7:30 PM 

Little Tiger Char Koey Teow

SeeFoon wallows in all her childhood hawker foods. Newly-opened restaurant Little Tiger is a call to the Foodies of Ipoh and beyond, that there is a restaurant that can hold its own in our highly diverse food paradise and where local palates are mercurial and extremely critical.

SeeFoon wallows in all her childhood hawker foods

Pictures by Yugin

The tiger is one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals. People born in the year of the tiger are thought to be competitive, self-confident and brave.

For Sally Wong to call her newly-opened restaurant Little Tiger is a call to the Foodies of Ipoh and beyond, that there is a restaurant that can hold its own in our highly diverse food paradise and where local palates are mercurial and extremely critical.

But Little Tiger can definitely hold its head up high and soon count itself among the luminaries in the Ipoh hawker food scene.

For me, the fact that it is air-conditioned is already a plus point. The decor is cheerful with tropical beach scenes along one wall complete with coconut palms and when you take a photo beside the wall, people will think you’re at some idyllic beach location. The tables are clothed in batik, topped with glass and the serving bowls are all porcelain. Not that that matters of course when it comes to eating out. It’s the quality of food that counts and here it doesn’t disappoint.

Also, their pricing is reasonable . . . and yes you can get the same dishes outside for less but consider the heat, the jostling for tables and the waiting, not to mention the hygiene; and Little Tiger wins hands down.

With a partner/Chef Raymond Khoo who hails from Penang, their Char Kway Teow (one of my fave hawker dishes) comes with cockles, Chinese sausage and fresh medium-sized prawns. Fried just the way I like it . . . dry, not sweet, with oodles of chilli sauce fried with the noodles and not on the side, lots of bean sprouts and the pièce de résistance, a generous topping of chu yau char or fried lardons, RM9.90. The last time I ordered this I emphasised to the chef to make it extra hot but still it wasn’t spicy enough. I guess people don’t realise what an insane chilli palate I have!

Social media and also some of my friends were not impressed by the food when they went in the early days of opening (only around two months) but they have certainly picked up speed and most of the items I tasted a week ago were “must come back to eat again” quality.

Like the Vinegar Trotters, not too sour, not too sweet, the trotter chunks braised to the right degree of tenderness, the skin clean and without hair, RM15.90.

Vinegar Trotters

Their Chicken Curry was excellent, with their own distinctive blend of curry paste and served with potatoes in the gravy, RM8.90. This curry can be eaten with plain rice or their toasted bread which was crunchily crispy and is also part of a set with half-boiled eggs or it can be eaten with their Nasi Lemak served with either blue (from blue pea flower) or turmeric rice.

Nasi Lemak with the chicken curry

The sambal in the Nasi Lemak set was delicious, in the old sambal belacan style, the rice had adequate santan but the only disappointment was their ikan bilis and peanuts, (why did they add sugar?) and the ikan bilis was not crispy, RM13.90.

Their homemade Lobak (meat paste wrapped in bean skin and deep-fried) was tasty, redolent with 5-spice powder and actually for my taste, quite lean. Fat averse eaters will be pleased to know this, RM9.90.

Lobak

Two of my favourite noodle dishes followed. The first, a Fried Prawn Mee was yummilicious. Soaking in prawn broth yet, fried to a point to allow the broth to be absorbed into the mix of meehoon and yellow mee, the prawns were medium-sized, with bits of pork, greens, egg, and served with a superlative dry sambal which imbued the noodles with an extra layer of yum. And need I mention chu yau char . . . a generous topping of them, RM9.90.

Fried Prawn Mee
Prawn Mee

 

Equally laudable was their soup Prawn Mee, the stock simmered with prawn shells and pork bones, again embellished by the addition of their delicious dried prawn sambal, served with bean sprouts and kangkong and good-sized prawns which were very fresh. With the NO MSG sign printed on their menu, I found I could dare slurp the soup with equanimity, RM9.90.

They also have Tai Luk Meen, a thick wheat noodle pan-fried with a dark soya sauce with the usual garnitures, RM9.90.

Tai Luk Meen

Then came the desserts, a tempting plate of Kuih Muih to choose from. The selection will vary from day to day and as these are all homemade, the taste and texture were all superlative. It was a hard decision but as we were a fair-sized group we managed to select a sampling and tucked in. I particularly enjoyed the Kueh Talam and the Ubi Kayu (tapioca) topped with coconut, RM1.50-RM2 each.

Kuih Muih

Address:
LITTLE TIGER CHAR KOEY TEOW
98 Jalan Raja Ekram, Kampung Jawa, 30450 Ipoh.
Tel: 012 516 9833

Business hours:
Daily (8am-4pm, 6pm-10pm)
2 days off every 2 weeks.

 

The Palace Steamboat in Soho

At the Palace Steamboat, which opened on December 31, 2019, this was the scene as a group of us sat down for a pre-pre Chinese New Year feast

SeeFoon Gets Steamed Up Again; This Time in Soho

I love SteamBoat or Hotpot. Sitting at the table and watching the slow bubbles making its way o the surface, your pot slowly coming to the boil and everyone is sitting patiently, poised to dunk in their choice of delectables. Then the fun begins.

As ladles, scoops and chopsticks enter the pot with loud hollers of, “who’s got my meatball”, or “my slice of lamb has disappeared”, the steam opening up all the pores on one’s face, (so don’t wear makeup ladies!) and serious eating ensues.

Interior of restaurant

At the Palace Steamboat, which opened on December 31, 2019, this was the scene as a group of us sat down for a pre-pre Chinese New Year feast recently. Situated on top of Lanna Thai and accessible by lift, this bright and spacious restaurant has ample seating with table spaced comfortably apart. Each table comes equipped with its own built-in stove and 3 private rooms seating up to 10 each, provide privacy.

To whet our appetites we ordered two of their casserole rice dishes which arrived piping hot and wafting steam as we raised the lid. Of the two, my preference was for the Chicken Rice, cooked with marinated free-range chicken, dried red jujubes, goji berries and topped with scallions, hints of Chinese wine permeating the whole pot. I couldn’t get enough of this! And I am not much of a rice fan. The Lap Mei Fan is no competition to the intense Chicken Rice.

Meanwhile, all the raw ingredients for the steamboat were being laid out on the table, paper-thin slices of Sakura pork belly which absolutely melt in your mouth (RM10); very tender slices of Australian lamb (RM20) and beef (RM22); homemade fish ball (RM10); homemade tofu (RM5) and crispy tofu rolls (RM14).

Homemade Noodles

I highly recommend their homemade meatballs which were umami and tantalisingly taste worthy, RM16. As is their handmade noodles, long rolls of wheat noodles made broader than most (almost 3cm) and when cooked still had that tooth resilience which is for me, the measure of a great noodle, RM8.

Vegetables range between RM5 and RM6 with a few like the Chinese yam and crystalline ice plant going at (RM8). We had tong hou or chrysanthemum greens, choi sum, lettuce, lotus pod; enoki mushrooms and two very health-giving dried fungi which I was delighted to find on the menu.

We’ll begin with Tricholoma Matsutake, Japan’s answer to truffles. Once available only to the well-heeled, the Pine Mushrooms are highly sought after and in Japan fresh ones can cost up to US1000 per kilo. I was thrilled to find this on the menu here, albeit the dried form and from where else? China of course.

Tricholoma Matsutake

Nevertheless, these mushrooms have a sensory adventure in them, spicy and fruity taste with a hint of sweet cinnamon. And lends the broth an earthy intense aroma, adding yet another layer to the already complex soup base. They are touted to be a natural anti-cancer remedy, that doesn’t have unwanted side effects as well as having antioxidant/free-radical scavenging activity/anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to being chock full of vitamins and minerals, RM28.

The other fungus we had was the Cordyceps flower, a type of parasitic fungus with its medicinal value similar to that of the much more expensive Cordyceps Sinensis It is thought to provide an array of therapeutic benefits such as protecting the lungs, nourish the kidney, increase blood production, anti-depressant, anti-ageing and has anti-bacterial properties. It is also known medicinally to be a strong anticancer and anti-asthmatic agent. Tastes a bit like enoki mushrooms but with more bite, RM28.

Cordyceps Flower

Now that I have introduced the two health-giving fungi, I must go back to the beginning: to the broth. This is the first thing to order as there is a choice to be made. We chose the pork tripe stewed free-range chicken broth (RM58 – S, RM88 – L) which was robust and umami to begin with. After the addition of all the other ingredients described above, the resulting broth was ambrosial, each sip a drop of nectar.

During this over-indulgent festive Chinese New Year season, this will be a healthier option for me. In fact, just order up a small broth, add some fungus, vegetables and some homemade noodles and share that with a couple of friends and voila, good food and good health. What more can one ask for?

PALACE STEAMBOAT
Block E, 2-6, Soho Ipoh 2
Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, 30000 Ipoh.

019 573 3198 or 05 210 9198

Business hours:
Open 24/7
11.30am-3pm; 5.30pm-10pm.

 

Mandarin Kitchen in Falim

SeeFoon Revisits  Mandarin Kitchen in Falim

It’s been four years since I last visited Mandarin Kitchen in Falim. Not only have they since moved premises (still in Falim) but now its a bigger and roomier two shoplot space and as an added incentive, there is ample parking.

Restoran Mandarin Kitchen in Falim

What made me decide to revisit was that I heard they are now offering an ongoing promotion of fish curry for the price of RM20 on weekdays. Always thinking of my dear readers and how they would really enjoy this, I thought it was time to pay them another visit because I remember that there are some very interesting dishes on the menu. In fact, I wrote about them in issue 211 in 2015.

Sweet Sour Pork on Ice Bed @ Mandarin Kitchen in Falim
Sweet Sour Pork on Ice Bed

Revisiting this time, I got the opportunity to combine old taste memories and collect new ones and was I glad I did. I remember Chef Ng Wen Lih as one of the most creative chefs giving new twists to traditional dishes and some in the most unusual ways. So for example, my friends are always astounded when the Ku Lui Yoke or sweet-sour pork arrives on the table. The fried battered chunks of pork were served on a bed of ice which results in the batter becoming more crunchy and producing a new mouth feel. For those who like all their dishes served piping hot, this is not for their palate but for me, who is forever moaning about the heat, a cold crispy morsel of meat is just perfect, RM16/20/24.

Chef Ng’s wife Chong Lee Yong takes care of service and on the night we went, she introduced some of the new dishes (new to me as I haven’t been for so long).

We began with the Asam Prawns, medium-sized prawns marinated with a thick slightly sweetened asam paste and pan-fried. The prawns were very fresh and the sauce, although a tad sweet for my taste, was tangy and sweet without being cloying, RM22.

Asam Prawns @ Mandarin Kitchen in Falim
Asam Prawns
Pork belly with Fermented Red Yeast Rice

Next came one of their signature dishes, the Wuxi Fah Lam. Looking like Dong Po Yoke but a dark maroon-red in colour, the pork belly cut into smaller chunks but equally tender and the fat and skin, jelly smooth on the bite. Wuxi is the place in China where this style of cooking originates and the paste is very similar to the paste we get from the Fook Chow people in Sitiawan. This fermented paste made from red yeast rice lends a distinctive earthy taste to the pork. Served with homemade mantou (steamed Chinese buns), RM22.

The Fish Head Curry arrived. This is the pièce de résistance which lures people in, both for its very alluring price and the taste. At RM20 per boiling bubbling tureen, this Garoupa fish head is chopped into chunks and cooked in a creamy, very mild curry sauce that still has enough of the fire to remind you that you’re eating a curry. Monday-Friday promo only RM20; weekends RM30.

Fish Head Curry
Pork spare ribs with ice cream

Then came the most innovative dish of the evening, the Pai Kwat or pork ribs with ice cream. Yes, you got that right – ice cream! These are very meaty pork ribs on the bone, marinated and deep-fried and topped with a scoop of ice cream, this evening being the corn flavoured one. I have to admit that the taste was quite pleasing and unusual. After all why not ice cream? It’s almost a ready-made sauce when melted and though again a tad too sweet for my taste, my table mates devoured and loved it; RM15/25/36 for S/M/L.

Homemade Soft Tofu with Pumpkin Sauce @ Mandarin Kitchen in Falim
Homemade Soft Tofu with Pumpkin Sauce @ Mandarin Kitchen in Falim

Another signature dish next, the Homemade Soft Tofu, steamed and topped with a smooth pumpkin/seafood sauce laced with small prawns and salted egg yolk. The combination was velvety, umami and slurp-worthy, RM10/15/20.

We followed this with the sweet potato leaves fried with ham har cheong or preserved prawn paste – the Chinese variety and not our sambal belacan; RM8/12/16.

Sweet potato leaves fried with ham har cheong
Ice plant salad

The last greens we had was an ice plant salad, this succulent is currently the rage in Ipoh and most restaurants now have it on their menus. I love the crunchiness of the stems and leaves and prefer it raw in salads and in this case had a mayonnaise type dressing topped with oodles of crisped sliced dry cuttlefish. Yummilicious. RM12

I am glad I revisited Mandarin Kitchen.

MANDARIN KITCHEN
No. 11 & 13, Laluan Perusahaan Menglembu 2,
Kawasan Perusahaan Menglembu, 31450 Menglembu, Perak.

Tel: 012-475 7513

Business hours:
11.30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10.30pm (daily)
Off 1 weekday every 2 weeks (not fixed)