Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ipoh Funny Mountain smoothie

Everybody loves a smoothie. And when we want one, we head to a 7-eleven. No convenient store can make anything as smooth as Funny Mountain in Ipoh. But I am not talking about ice cream or yogurt. I am talking tau fu fah.

This corner place in Ipoh serves the smoothest, nicest tau fu fah I have tasted for a long long time. The place is not even a shop - too small to be one. It is a little corner at the end of a row of shops at Jalan Dato Tahwil Azar in Ipoh. The place has a unique name - Funny Mountain Soya Bean. Jalan Dato Tahwil Azar runs parallel to Jalan Yang Kalsom, and the corner is not very far from the famous Lou Wong Chicken Rice. The corner is so small, it has hardly enough space for the 2 to 3 workers running the business.

The tau fu fah they serve was heavenly. It was so smooth that it almost slipped pass my mouth, right down my throat. The corner is quite traditional in the sweetening. They use only white sugar syrup, distinctly pandan flavored. The rich pandan taste reminded me so much of the tau fu fah I used to eat when I was a young lad. In the old days, tau fu fah was served only with the same rich white pandan-flavored syrup. There was no brown sugar or gula melaka that are so commonly used nowadays.

The servings are small - really small. They come in tiny bowls. I had 2 servings and came out not entirely sated. Each bowl is 80 cents.

The corner has some benches along a five-foot way for their customers. But seats are limited and because of its popularity, a lot of the customers slurp down their bowls on their feet. Or you can drive up to the corner and enjoy your tau fu fah in the comfort of your car. They serve your bowl right up to you.

鸡公报 mata
鸡婆 bicara

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Char koay teow in Air Itam

Foodwise, Air Itam in Penang is well known for the laksa. There is however a char koay teow stall that is apparently quite popular among Air Itam folks.

We went there for breakfast one day. The stall is located in a coffee shop called Restoran Lasia which is along Jalan Air Itam, about 100 meters from the Air Itam Maybank. If you drive along Jalan Air Itam towards Kek Lok Si, the shop is on your left and is the last coffee shop before the Penang Hill round-about. It is next to a Chinese primary school.

It is a typical Chinese coffee shop but is owned and operated by an Indian gentleman. The are several stalls in the shop. The char koay teow appeared to be the most in demand. The coffee in the shop is quite good. If you get there, ask for Kopi Cikgu - kopi si kau tarik jae which is roughly translated to be thick coffee with evaporated milk, less sugar and tarik. It is the favorite beverage of my brother-in-law who is also a teacher in the nearby school.

As we sat and waited for our food, the aroma of the char koay teow prevailed in the shop. There was the distinct smell of pork lard. Char koay teow in Penang is always fried with lard, unlike those in KL and PJ. I guess that is why it is so good there.


The char koay teow arrived after about 15 minutes, quite long considering that there was not many people then. The koay teow is individually fried. The seller does not mass cook. Each plated is by itself.

The portion was quite small. If you are a good eater, you will probably require a second. Two large shrimps dominated the plate. There was the usual see hum, taugeh, koo chai (chives) and of course egg. The char koay teow was OK. The taste was really not bad. But I found the koay teow rather soggy. I would prefer my koay teow to be drier. I would not consider the char koay teow fantastic. I think there are better else where in Penang.


But do not just take my words. Go and try it. My not-so-fantastic experience was probably because of a saturation of char koay teow when I was in Penang. There must be a reason why it is so popular in Air Itam in spite of the price, which is rather high. It is RM5.00 for the small plate - up from RM4.50 not too long ago. At RM5.00, it is apparently still not the most expensive in Penang. I was told there is another stall, also in a coffee shop, that sells for RM7.00 per plate. I knew char koay teow in Penang is good. I did not know it can be so expensive. I have to try the RM7.00 one. Perhaps the next Penang visit. And if I do, I will tell you about it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Recipe for yim kai

Yim kai or salted chicken is one of my favorite way to eat the bird. I have a simple yet very delicious recipe for preparing the dish. This salted chicken is very popular in Malaysia, especially in the northern states. In Ipoh the dish is sold widely. There are even shops that sell nothing but the popular yim kai.

My recipe is really very easy to prepare. I prefer to use ayam kampung (village or free running chicken). Although more expensive, I find ayam kampung more delicious and the meat texture more firm. For my small family of 3, I usually cook just half a chicken.

There are only 2 ingredients to prepare the chicken - salt and tong kwai (angelica sinensis). I prefer to use the unrefined sea salt. I find that the unrefined sea salt not as salty as normal cooking or table salt, and the outcome is a more delicious chicken. Tong kwai is a Chinese medicinal root, available in all Chinese medicine shops. They are dried and normally sliced.

The chicken is washed and dried. Cut the chicken into quarters. You could cook the chicken whole or in halves. I find that by quartering the chicken, the baking is more even. The areas around the thighs of the chicken tend to be harder to cook. By baking the chicken whole or in halves, these areas tend to be rather raw while the rest of the bird may be over-cooked.

For half a chicken, I use 1 tablespoon of unrefined sea salt. For a whole chicken, the salt is doubled.

The amount of tong kwai depends on individual preferences. Some people do not like too strong a tong kwai flavour. I prefer a stonger taste. For half a chicken, I use 7 to 8 slices of tong kwai. Again the quantity is doubled for the whole chicken. Grind the tong kwai to a coarse power. I use a blender to do that. Then mix the ground tong kwai with the salt.

Stab the chicken all over with a fork and apply the mixture on to the chicken. Put the chicken in the fridge let it marinate for about 24 hours. Be sure to cover the marinating chicken to prevent dehydration. A cling film over the plate or dish would do nicely.

The next day, take the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before baking to allow the chicken to come to room temperature. Wrap each quarter of the bird in an aluminum foil.

Put them in a oven and bake at 210 degrees C, for 50 minutes. For the whole chicken, bake it for an additional 10 minutes.

The result is a beautiful golden baked chicken. The oil and juice of the chicken is collected in the aluminum foil. They can be use as a sauce for the chicken. Or you can use it as a stock to prepare Hainanese chicken rice, which perhaps can be another posting for my blog. I normally discard the juice. I find it too salty and sinful. The meat is good as it is without any additional flavouring.

Cut the chicken to bite pieces to serve. The chicken is aromatic and delicious. The meat is not dry and retain its succulence. The salt and tong kwai permeate into the meat. Even the breast is salty and delicious.

My family loves the dish every time I cook it. And it is so very simple to prepare.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kulim fish escapade

There is this quaint little restaurant somewhere near Kulim in Kedah that amazes me. It is not only a good makan place. It is an adventure by itself.

My brother-in-law in Penang told me about it. Nine of us drove there in 2 cars. He led the way and I followed behind. We drove across the Penang bridge, headed towards Kulim on the highway, passed Kulim town, and drove towards some place - I don't know where. Then we turned off the main road and after awhile found ourselves on an unpaved gravel country road.

We rocked and rattled for about 2-3 kilometers. We nearly missed a turn on the gravel road. Fortunately a signboard of a big tilapia fish pointed us to the right direction. We passed some cows, some oil palms and finally parked in a kind of forest clearing.  We got out of our cars and lo and behold, we were in a beautiful fish farm.

There are several ponds in the farm. Each one was teeming with fish. They were swimming and splashing at the surface and we could see that they were really big. There is a small fast flowing, clear water river in the midst of the ponds. Upstream of the river, we could see a small waterfall. Surrounding the ponds and the river is the lush forest. What a beautiful sight.


The restaurant is located in this environment. The scenery is pretty, but the restaurant is not. It is a wood and zinc structure with earthen floor - no cement. There are no lights, so I guess they only serve lunch. But surprisingly, several fans whirled overhead, apparently powered by a generator nearby.

The name of the place is Restoran Kolam Ikan. It has a very limited menu - 5 types of fish and 1 type of vegetable (lettuce), 1 type of drink (Chinese herbal tea) and rice. That is all. No chicken, no pork, no prawn, no crab, no tofu. Nothing else. The fish they serve come directly from the surrounding ponds. So you can imagine how fresh they are. 

We ordered 4 fish dishes, the vege, the drinks and of course rice. We wanted the 5th fish as well, but the guy said enough, too much for the nine of us.

The first dish was the Thai style tilapia. The dish did not come with too much garnishing, just some onions in the unmistakeable Thai chilli sauce. The fish was deep fried and it was so well done that the head, fins and tail were crispy and could be eaten, bones and all. The sauce was great. The good size and freshness of the fish made it such a very nice dish. It was probably the best Thai style fish I ever had.

The sultan fish was deep fried in soy sauce together with the scales. This is the first time I encounter a fish served with the scales. The scales were crispy and the flesh tender. This apparently is a house speciality. But I did not appreciate the scaly texture, however well done it was. I also thought that a such a good fish like the sultan should have been steamed rather than deep fried.

The steamed dish was a fresh water cat fish - pak sou kung. It was a big fish. We were served only half the head and belly, and the tail. It was steamed in a soy sauce with some ginger garnish over it. The belly was delightfully smooth. Because the fish was so very fresh and farmed in a pond, there was not a trace of fishy taste or muddy smell. A most enjoyable steamed fish.

The best of all was the eel. The meat of the eel was stir fried with dried chilli and onion. It was so very delicious. The eel was so fresh and tender that it practically melts in the mouth. I cannot describe the feeling. I thought the Japanese prepare their unagi very well, but this eel in Kulim beats them all - hands down. If you have to drive 300 km to Kulim to eat just one dish, this has to be it.

All in all, the fish meal in Kulim was a unforgettable experience. The pleasure of having a meal in a lush green forest, surrounded by ponds and a running river and on fish that were probably still alive when you made your order, is one that I will relish for a long long time.

The restaurant is apparently very popular. On weekends, you will have to wait for your table. The amazing thing is how people even come to know about  this place. It is located in a god forsaken forest. The guy who runs the restaurant apparently also owns the fish ponds. Still he must had been either very enterprising or very brave to start a restaurant in such a place.

If I have to drive back to the restaurant by myself, I most definitely will not get there. So I won't be able to give you any directions. I can offer a rudimentary map that is at the back of the proprietor's business card.

But forget it. Don't even try. You won't get there. If you are desperate enough, you can take a drive to Kulim and call the owner, Ah Yew. He is contactable at 013-4379606. By the way, they are closed on Mondays.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Perhaps the best char siew in PJ

My dear wife introduced me to this chicken rice stall in Petaling Jaya Section 17 that serves a delightful char siew. She got to know the place from her colleagues in their lunch time adventure. The stall is located in a coffee shop below a block of flats in Jalan 17/13. The name of the coffee shop is Restoran Choon Yien. Drive along Jalan 17/13 (which is not far from the Section 17 Shell station), look towards the flats and you will not miss it.

The stall serves the normal chicken rice with char siew and siew yoke (roast pork). The chicken and siew yoke are quite ordinary - nothing to shout about. They also serve a hot and sour vegetable (kai choy) boiled with meat which assumably are unsold left overs. The vege dish has quite an oomph - sour and tasty - not unlike the leftover choy keok that our mothers make after festivities.

The mainstay of the stall to me, is the char siew. The meat is grilled to perfection. The inside is succulent. The marinade is rather sweet and is really very very good. Small parts of the meat appear charred but they actually add on to the flavour.

The stall is apparently very popular. We were once there at about 12.30 pm and we could not find an empty table. The char siew sells very fast. If you can make the time, I suggest you get there before midday to avoid the crowd and not be disappointed by sold-out.

The stall also has substantial orders for char siew to take away. They are sold at RM17 per strip portion. I often go there to take away the char siew for dinner. And I have to buy them early. I once asked for 3 strip portions. The stall keeper would only sell me 2. He said he had too many orders and he had to keep some for his eat-in customers.

If you do buy and keep the char siew till dinner time like I do, I suggest you buy them whole. Tell the seller not to slice them. Before eating, I normally put the whole meat in the oven and grill them for about 10 minutes. And when I later slice them to bite pieces, the meat retain their inside succulence. The stall provides a sauce but I think the char siew is so good by itself  that it requires no additional flavouring. In fact, I prefer it without the sauce to get the true taste of the char siew.

The seller often asks me if I prefer lean meat or semi lean. The semi-lean comes with substantial fat and obviously tastes better. But it is infinitely more sinful.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sentimental Kong Heng

I start my blog by writing about a coffee shop which I have known for a long long time. It has always been my favorite eating place whenever I am in Ipoh.

The place is Kong Heng Coffee Shop in Jalan Bandar Timah (formerly known as Leech Street) in Ipoh old town. The shop is old and rustic and brings back so much memory.

It used to be operated by 2 uncles of mine. Both my uncles have passed on and it is now managed by 2 cousins. My father first took me there when I was a little kid. He was there to visit his 2 brothers. For me, it had always been the food.

The shop must be about 60 years old now. Over years, nothing very much has changed. The tables, chairs and furniture are still the same. Except that it used to have a lot of mirrors and was once popularly known as the "House of Mirrors". Now, for some reasons, the mirrors are all gone.

There are many food stalls in and around the shop. Most of the original stall operators have retired or passed on. The new set of food sellers still offer stuff that I very much enjoy.

Firstly the white coffee there is awesome. It is authentically Ipoh white coffee. It is personally prepared by one of my 2 cousins and she tells me that it is a top seller.

The sotong kangkong (yau yee hong choy) is one of a kind. You won't find sotong kangkong like this anywhere else in Malaysia. The difference is the sauce. The stall does not use ordinary chilli and sweet soy sauce. I do not know how to describe the flavour. It is kind of a mix between satay sauce and curry. You have to try it.

The popiah is also very good. The stall serves 2 types of popiah - the normal soft skin popiah and the deep fried ones. They are quite big unlike the small tiny rolls that they sell in KL and PJ. Both types are good. There are lots crunchy fried onions and dried shrimps (har mai). Sheer pleasure to bite on.

The kaoy teow soup stall is OK. Not fantastic but good enough to satisfy my palate. They use the famous soft Ipoh noddles. The soup is good. The toppings adequate.

Other food in the shop include satay (so-so), rojak (also so-so), beef soup noodle (have not tried), chicken rice and others.

I like Kong Heng a lot - not just because of the sentiment and the fact that I still get free white coffee and other drinks whenever I am there. The food there is the must-eat-again type.

The shop may be old and dilapidated. There is definitely no dining ambiance. But if you are looking for a typical old town, Hainanese kind of kopitiam, this is it.


Welcome to my food blog.

Eating is such a passion for all of us. We talk food. We dream food. We exchange notes on good eating places. We look forward to lunch time. We plan on what to have for dinner. We buy recipe books. We teach each other how to prepare this dish or that. We love food programs on television. We have business meetings in restaurants. We love our mothers and our wives because they are such good cooks.

And we grow fat and make resolutions which we will never be able to achieve.

Happy eating.