|Thean Chun is a must stopover coffee shop in Ipoh, |
with Sekeping Kong Heng on its right.
I made my first and only visit to Ipoh in August last year. It was a trip long overdue -- at least for 20 years. Thanks to the persistence of a friend who grew up there, and is now a Singapore citizen, I had a wonderful culinary escapade of 3 days 2 nights in this city of two-hour drive from the capital of Malaysia.
It’s impossible to write about Ipoh food in one article. I’m told that Ipoh has one of the highest percentages of Cantonese living in a city anywhere in the world; and, due to its geographical location, there is little dilution to this Cantonese culture and cuisine. The hawkers that I met on this trip truly are the guardians of this unique cuisine -- as most of them produce, cook, and sell much of the food from scratch using traditional methods.
For those on a whirlwind stopover, I know of one coffee shop where one could sample the true spirit of Ipoh in a matter of minutes, minus the queuing time. Thean Chun is a 10-sq-m-ish coffeeshop that has been around for as long as my friend could remember. One of its must-eats is Chicken Kuey Teow Soup (or Ipoh Hor Fun as Singaporeans call it). This dish has been one of my favourites since I first ate it in Holland Village, Singapore, nearly 40 years ago. But the true McCoy is far different from its Singapore cousin. The hor fun was so much smoother; I’m told this is due to the lime content of the water in Ipoh. Unfortunately Ipoh water doesn’t keep well over long distances. The hor fun was served in a thin but robust chicken/prawn stock. The accompanying prawns and chicken didn’t matter: just the hor fun and stock was enough to send me to heaven!
Chee cheong fun, a variation of rice noodle, is another childhood favourite of mine. Again, Thean Chun’s chee cheong fun had texture that was smoother than a face applied with SKII. When one encounters a great plate of chee cheong fun, it’s best to keep the sauce simple in order to savour the texture of the rice noodle. Therefore I declined when the offer was made to add curry sauce to it. The old man who runs the store also operates a factory that distributes his produce throughout Ipoh.
Next to his stall was a makeshift satay grill tray. The satay was great, but I had eaten better elsewhere. What caught my eye, though, were the sticks of innards -- and those were really delicious.
Just when you thought you were spoilt for choice, you were even allowed to order food from the right-next-door-coffeeshop, Kong Heng’s. A must from this neighbouring shop was the popiah. Portions were generous and the stuffing of various ingredients and sweet sauce was extremely tasty.
The endnote, and another must-try, is the custard. Creamy rich, eggy, and smooth, each nibble of this tiny dessert ended with a sweet caramelized after-taste.
Thean Chun (Hall of Mirrors)
73 Jalan Bandar Timah
30000 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Opening hours: 9.30 am till late lunch
Closed on Thursdays
P.S. Thanks Lee Lee, Johnny, Bee Bee and her family for being such wonderful hosts throughout our stay.