As a city where food is a point of civic pride, Ipoh was already celebrated for its diverse culinary scene long before it landed on Lonely Planet’s list of Asia’s Top Ten cities to visit. The capital city of northern Malaysian state Perak is particularly renowned for its Chinese cuisine, thanks to the discovery of tin, which attracted a mass influx of Chinese immigrants, especially those of Hakka and Cantonese descent, in the 19th century. Here are five popular eateries and neighbourhood gems that locals swear by and visiting foodies should try.
Supposedly dating back to Ipoh’s tin mining heydays, the smooth, aromatic and milky beverage is prepared by brewing roasted coffee powder in a sock sieve before it is mixed with evaporated and sweetened condensed milk in a warmed cup, and whisked until it achieves a head of creamy foam. These days, you can drink this beverage at any respectable coffee shop in Ipoh, but for a nostalgic hit, park yourself at a low chiew phai (venerable institutions or vintage coffee shops) in Old Town, that historic section of Ipoh where tin miners sought respite in a comforting cuppa more than a century ago.
Bean Sprouts Chicken (Nga Choy Kai)
After white coffee, nga choy kai (bean sprouts chicken) must be Ipoh’s most famous culinary icon. Think poached chicken that’s slide-off-the-bone tender, served with a side of juicy and crunchy blanched bean sprouts and silky noodles; Ipoh's famed limestone water is credited for everything from the local lasses' alabaster complexions to succulent sprouts to slippery fine hor fun rice noodles.
Chicken Noodles (Kai Si Hor Fun)
Kai si hor fun is hor fun (rice noodles) steeped in a clear savoury broth heaped with tender chicken strips and shelled prawns. Many locals will cite Thean Chun Coffee Shop, a former barbershop with distinctive end-to-end wall mirrors, as having the best version in town. Round off your meal with chilled creamy caramel custard rounds, almost always sold out by late lunch.
If an eatery has served only one item since opening in 1940 and is still a crowd-puller, you can bet it’s fantastic. Crammed ceiling-high with stacks of its trademark red-and-white takeaway boxes, Restoran Aun Kheng Lim sells free-range birds seasoned with dong quai (angelica root) that’s wrapped in greaseproof paper and baked for 40 minutes in giant woks filled with rock salt, resulting in flavourful, fall-off-the-bone tender meat.
Standing room only at most times, the holy trinity of Restoran Foh San, Yoke Fook Moon and Ming Court on dim sum belt Jalan Leong Sin Nam is regarded as the gold standard for dim sum. For sure, their renditions of traditional favourites like har kow (steamed prawn dumplings), lor mai kai (savoury glutinous rice), fried radish cakes and egg custard tarts are excellent. But several new establishments are also rewarding for the palate, not to mention less of a parking nightmare. Restoran Lok Hin Dim Sum’s innovative chef churns out pillow-soft lao sar pau (steamed buns with salted egg yolk lava). Try the garlic fish balls. Bouncy, salty and springy, these lime-sized morsels are unique to Ipoh dim sum shops.