Stay at the M Boutique (pictured above), an urban-vintage boutique & hotel for young urbanites run by young urbanites. Located in the heart of Ipoh, M Boutique is modern while at the same time reminiscent of the old-world, reinterpreting the Straits Eclectic style of Ipoh’s pre-war shop houses throughout their hotel design. All shops recommended below are conveniently located within a 20-minute walk from the hotel.
Ipoh, the capital of the Malaysian state of Perak, doesn’t initially strike you as a food paradise does it? The home of Assam Laksa and Ipoh White Coffee and many other notable local foods, Ipoh is an underrated food city that’s a one and a half hour flight away from Singapore. Jae Chan, student travel-writer from Singapore, shares her food recommendations from tried-and-tested shop stalls and even one home business. Proudly not fancy, you’ll have to detour restaurants if you want these foods in their purest form. Just so you won’t long for the words we’ll ask them… Menu madame?
Bean Sprouts Chicken
Restoran Onn Kee Tauge Ayam, 51 & 53, Jalan Yau Tet Shin, 30300 Ipoh
Also known as tauge ayam in Malay or nga choi kai in Cantonese, this dish is similar to Hainanese chicken rice but served with noodles and, as indicated in it’s name, beansprouts. My favorite version of Bean Sprouts Chicken is by Onn Kee Restaurant.
Whichever side you stand on the “good ingredients don’t need extra flavouring” debate, you won’t contest the soya sauce’s presence when tasting the flavourful chicken. The hor fun (flat rice noodles) is served in a broth, flavored with dried squids and chicken bones. As for the veggie element (carnivores avert your eyes now), Ipoh’s beansprouts are must-tries as they’re larger and crunchier than other variants as their water source is from the limestone hills surrounding the Kinta Valley.
Dai Shu Geok (Big Tree Foot), Off Jalan Pasir Pinji, Jalan King, Ipoh 87286
As my virgin yong tau foo and assam laksa soup experience I have no point of comparison. However, it’s my belief that a good broth is distinguishable as soon as it hits your tounge. The assam laksa here had the right amount of zing it to it – not too acetic like some soups with too much assam. The sweetness of the soup is brought out by adding sardines. Whoever said adding a pinch of salt was baloney, this dish proves that salt does indeed bring out the sweetness of ingredients.
The yong tau fu is also sold separately. Each piece is stuffed to the brim with fresh ingredients which, with a cost of S$0.20 each, explains why this is such a popular spot for locals. I highly recommend the stuffed sar kok liew (yam bean). This had me reaching for seconds – and I’m not even fond of yam!
Wan Li Xiang Salted Chicken, No. 45, Jalan Yau Tet Shin, 30300 Ipoh
Also known as yim kook kai in Cantonese, this kampong (free-range) the chicken receives its flavour-namesake from the salt-curing process it undergoes.
Breakaway from your coveted utensils and tuck into this delicate chicken with your hands – after all it’s no way to eat meat falling off the bone with a fork. Baked together with herbs like wolfberry and dong guai, the chicken has a special herb infused aroma that isn’t overpowering (if anything with the herbal tag reminds you of bitter, Chinese medicine, this is far from it). I certainly had no qualms devouring a chicken by myself (a serving isn’t too big anyhow).
My go-to stall is Wan Li Xiang. Here you can also find variations of the original dish such as Ginseng Herbal Salted Chicken and Black Pepper Salted Chicken. Wan Li Xiang also does salted duck with the same herbal flavouring.
Seng Kee Food Trading, Lorong Gunung Rapat 3, Gunung Rapat, 31350 Ipoh
I grew up with traditional heong peah. In the memoirs of many a great chef, there’s always a recollection of a dish that, whenever eaten, brought them right back to childhood. These palm-sized biscuits do that for me.
When in Ipoh I get my biscuits at Seng Kee (a home business) as they’re one of the few manufacturers that still produce heong peah in the traditional way. They stick the dough to the sides of a clay oven and roast them over a fire fueled by coconut shells. The naturally flavoured biscuits, coupled with the sticky, sinful filling of maltose, shallots and sugar, are simply irresistible.
Something so great always has a catch. And for Seng Kee that’s its location. You have to keep your eyes peeled for house number 177 as you navigate narrow lanes (don’t bother with Google maps, ask locals for directions).
Ipoh White Coffee
Sin Yoon Loong White Coffee, 15A Jalan Bandar Timah, Ipoh 30000
Nam Heong Coffee Shop, 2, Jalan Bandar Timah, Ipoh 30000
Coined the official drink of Malaysia at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, this significant brew is not one to be missed while in town. It is precisely in Ipoh’s old town that the very first batch of white coffee was created by the Hainanese who modified the acidic taste of Western coffee to one suit the palate of the local Chinese population. The “white” in Ipoh White Coffee isn’t a reference to the color of the coffee but to the fact there are no additives in the coffee.
At Sin Yoon Loong, one of the oldest, traditional-Hainanese coffee shops in Ipoh Old Town, I was greeted by the aroma of roasted coffee beans even before I entered the coffee shop. Sin Yoon Loong also serves up food such as kaya toast, Chinese sponge cake, and other local delights. When in doubt, the combination of buttered toast with coffee is a sure win.
If you prefer your coffee less bitter, grab a cup at neighbouring Nam Heong. Nam Heong also has egg tarts with a velvety-smooth egg custard that is worth a try if you are there.
Funny Mountain Soya Bean & Tau Fu Fah, 49, Jalan Theatre, 30300 Ipoh
The soya milk at Funny Mountain is my first pick for a thirst quencher in the scorching heat. It’s silky smooth and there’s not much syrup added. The soyabean pudding is just as good. Portions are small though, so I recommend ordering at least 2 bowls in one go if you’re only in town for a short while (they’re only S$0.35).
Off Jalan Ampang, Tambun, 31400 Ipoh
Another thing synonymous with Ipoh is the pomelo. It’s said that the very best of this fruit grows in Tambun, a little suburb of Ipoh. So if you’re traveling by car be sure to stop along the road from Ipoh to Batu Gajah as there’re several pomelo farms on either side of the road, open year-round – you’ve got to try at least one massive fruit!
There are two kinds of pomelo: the sweet pomelo, which has cream-colored flesh, or the sour pomelo, which is pink. There are some which are ripe enough to be eaten then-and-there while there are others that need a few more days to ripen which are usually used as alter offerings.
Sin Eng Heong Foodstuff Manufacturers, No. 64, Jalan Mustapha Al-Bakri (Jalan Clare), 30300 Ipoh
I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to end this list with than the kaya puffs from Sin Eng Heong. Here, every single puff is handmade and, at a staggering 4,000 kaya puffs a day, that’s a lot of love!
The flaky pastry is baked to a golden-brown and packed with creamy kaya (coconut milk and pandan) that fills the pastry. The filling might be a tad-bit too sweet for some, but I have no problems with it.
As the shop has become synonymous with the best kaya puffs in Ipoh, I’d recommend giving them a call before heading down to avoid leaving empty handed and peckish.