Day 5 – Where we have REAL Rojak
We’re in Billy’s hometown and he’s full of advice on what to eat. According to him, Ipoh is famous for their:
- Rice Noodles
- Bean Sprouts
- 3 in 1 coffee
The list is endless and exhaustive but you know what, in the end he’s right (just don’t tell him that!).
Once again we’re tackling the winding roads from the Cameron Highlands down towards Ipoh, it’s a place close to Billy’s heart, he’s lived here for most of his life and a lot of his family is still in the area.
Pit stop – Perak Tong Cave Temple
It’s a bit early in the day for eating (pretend I didn’t just write that) but it doesn’t stop the heat from beating down on us. Having being up in the mountains has made me utterly forget how punishing the heat is, especially for those fool enough to wander around in the middle of the day. Billy’s a little nonplussed when we ask him what there is to do in Ipoh and decides to take us to Perak Tong Cave Temple.
Perak Tong Cave Temple is a Buddhist temple situated just past a limestone cave front. The Temple and it’s gardens have obviously seen better days, but the worn, somewhat neglected look of everything has me feeling like I’ve stepped back in time. It’s nearly the middle of the day and we’re the only people walking around the caves, Billy takes us through the to the end and it’s like a scene from Indiana Jones when a Temple suddenly appears at the end of the cave.
Along with the Temple, there’s a sheltered alcove hiding away dozens of turtles and for the price of 2MYR we’ve got ourselves a handful of greenery and proceed to amuse ourselves for a while feeding the turtles. While it’s fascinating to watch the turtles fighting for the leaves it does take long for us to admit defeat and retreat to the A/C coolness of our van! We’re off to give our greetings to Billy’s parents and continue the search for food.
Lunch – Kedai Kopi Kwong Hong
Billy’s parents turn out to be a tiny Malaysian couple, they’re well past retirement but like the rest of their children are decidedly workaholics and still run their own store. Although half of my family is Chinese, unfortunately I have next to no understanding of the language and traveling through Malaysia’s language barrier is a mystery at times. Watching Billy catch up with his parents makes me feel as though I’m watching an Asian drama without subtitles, the rhythm and feel of the sentences is all there but it’s as though I just can’t string them together to make any sense.
Kedai Kopi Kwong Hong is luckily just down the road from Billy’s family shop, walking into the entrance is the sight of an entire table filled with various tofu and fish paste products. The system is utterly confusing but apparently customers simply pick out a bowlful of the condiments and their meal is tallied up that way, in the meanwhile we start with a quick snack of Chicken Feet.
It’s one of those love me or hate me dishes with most people falling into the hate categories, I’m more in the hate categories, simply because I think the effort to meat ratio is just too high (yes I’m lazy). The feet have been stewed until the flesh is soft and it’s actually a breeze to get the meat off, the bones themselves are huge with Helen marveling at the size of the leftover bones.
After seeing what Billy grew up with, I can now understand his disgust with our Jalan Alor Rojak. There really is no comparison between the two.
Thick smotherings of Rojak sauce (mixture of Tamarind, Chili, Har Ko and Belacan) covering not only the standard fruit offerings but also bean sprouts and prawn crackers all lightly dusted with peanut… it’s an irresistible mixture of sweet, chilli, soft and crunch. I’d been questioning Billy’s insistence on prawn cracker and having tasted it, I don’t think it would be the same without that contrast. I think the rest of the table agrees since the plate is wiped cleaned by the end of the meal.
In the end Lunch is quite simple, Billy’s chosen wisely with our condiments and we’re all served up our preference in noodles. Too late we’ve realised too late that the stock contains prawn and Brian unfortunately is allergic, his bowl is shared out between the rest of us an additional order of dry stir fry noodles is substituted in. The bowl sizes aren’t big like the ones I’m more accustomed to in Sydney Food Courts but it doesn’t take me long to realise that it’s more than substantial.
The tofu bowl contains a mixture of tofu wrapped vegetables and fish paste with our soup condiments a mixture of traditional fish paste balls, bitter melon gourd stuffed with fish paste, fish paste with shalots. Basically if there’s a way to incorporate fish paste, it’s been done here. The meal is essentially DIY, it’s the first of many Ipoh Noodle soups and the simple combination of prawn soup stock, smooth noodles and fish paste products is a winner.
Dinner – Lou Wong Tauge Ayam Kuetiau
There’s one place we have to eat dinner at when we’re in Ipoh, Lou Wong Tauge Ayam Kuetiau. I love their boast on one of the interior walls, “The most famous in town specialised in chicken bean sprout & kuetiau (rice noodles)”. Obviously the locals share that opinion as tables both inside and outside of the restaurant are packed out on this muggy night. Our dinner is simple – rice noodles in soup served with a whole chopped chicken with bean sprouts. The food is served in the same style as our breakfast, individual bowls of noodle soup are placed in front of us with the chicken, sprout and of course fish balls all placed on table in front of us.
I’m finally trying out some of these famed Ipoh Rice Noodles, they’re silkily smooth on the tongue cooked to a soft texture which breaks easily with the chomp of your jaw, I’m more accustomed to eating this style of noodles with Pho but it’s a transition I could make quite easily. The chicken texture is soft very similar to Hainanese style chicken and is lacking no flavour. It’s perhaps a little overcooked, but I’m easy to forgive especially when I’m eating it with soup and noodles, preferring it this way for ease of eating.
I’m blown away by the bean sprouts, it’s always been a vegetable I’ve hated all my life, spurning its addition in noodles and stir-fry. Instead of the long skinny tasteless strands I’ve grown up with, Ipoh bean sprouts are short and fat with an inherently sweet flavour. I’m so enamored of them that by the time my noodle preparations are ready I’ve got almost as many sprouts in my bowl as I have noodles.
It’s a simple meal to end our day. The soup is hot and satisfying, and despite the sweat running down my back as I eat, by the end of the meal I’m fully relaxed and chilled out in my seat. Eat hot in hot weather! I’ve no idea how it works but it never fails.
Pit Stop – Night Markets
Walking back to our car we pass by a few market stands set up along the road, Billy decides to take us over to the markets to check out the nightlife. I’ve decided to take off my tourist cap and put away the camera while roaming the markets, simply enjoying the energy of the crowds. Of course this doesn’t stop me from buying a few rather useless nick-knacks including a kitchen knife sharpener, and a hand-held sewing-stapler (which predictably is very useless).
The sight of the fish bags has me scrambling for my camera and I’m mesmermised by the sight of these poor fish trapped in tiny plastic bags, waiting to be chosen by their new owners. The bag contents aren’t limited to fish as I also spot some living seaweed and even a prawn!
Of course, the guard-dog of the stand comes out to preside over his domain!
Supper – Restoran Kam Wan (Gourmet Square)
What’s a day without supper?
We’re not really hungry anymore but it’s a good way to wind down the day with snacks and drinks. Billy has taken us to Restoran Kam Wan which in contradiction to its name is actually a long food court, I’m surprised that there aren’t more people sitting around but it’s a little early for supper (only in Malaysia could you say 11pm was early).
The usual round of drinks are going around, by this point I’ve settled on drinking 1 of 3 things at every meal – Milo Ice, Kopi Ice and Soy Milk. All three are perfect antidotes for the hot weather, Helen poh-pohs my choice of Soy Milk at one meal saying it’s too filling but I adore the sweet milky flavour.
There’s an Ice Kecang floating around the table, I’m intrigued by the use of corn and basil seeds but not enough to try some saving room for the Popiah. I’ve never had Popiah before and am not really sure what to expect, the wafer thin crepe layer is delicately wrapped around a filling of noodles, bean sprouts, nuts, turnip and a whole range of ingredients I can’t identify. The combination and size are perfect for a late night snack, but I only eat one piece before conceding to my stomach.
It’s a fail attempt at supper and Billy is shaking his head at the lot of us in disappointment, he cheekily suggests going out to find more Ice Kecang but I’m falling asleep in my chair! Nevermind, we’re only on day 5… 11 more eating days to go!
Check out the rest of the Malaysia Monday’s series here!
Kedai Kopi Kwong Hong
Jalan Gunung Rapat (opposite Gunung Rapat wet market)
31350 Gunung Rapat, Ipoh
Lou Wong Tauge Ayam Kuetiau
49, Jalan Yau Tet Shin,
Restoran Kam Wan (Gourmet Square)