IPOH, March 22 — The first plate (yes plate, not bowl) of curry mee I ever ate in my life was introduced to me by my parents at Yee Fatt Tea Shop in Ipoh.
Being a local boy who spent a good chunk of my life growing up within the suburbs of this charming city, I feel compelled to share the best of what Ipoh has to offer with like-minded folks like you. Yes, food lovers out there,
I am talking to you.
Yee Fatt Tea Shop managed to stay under the radar for a good many years before the advent of social media. Back in the 90s, most day-trippers or first-time visitors to Ipoh would almost always aim for the “louder” (in terms of share of noise) bean sprout chicken outlets, dim sum restaurants or Old Town white coffee (the original coffee shops in Old Town serving the famed Ipoh brew, not the modernised kopitiam chain, mind you).
Then as a more influential and people-friendly medium of communication arrived on the scene (think blogs, Facebook, Twitter, online news portals), sharing noteworthy or should I say drool-worthy joints with each other and the community became so much easier.
Now back to our story. Yee Fatt Tea Shop has a rich legacy spanning three generations; it has occupied the same premises opposite Methodist Girls’ School (MGS) on Kampar Road (now renamed Jalan Raja Permaisuri Bainun) all this while.
Almost half a century old, their signature Hainanese curry mee has continued to reign supreme over an otherwise insipid curry mee scene in Ipoh.
Don’t get me wrong though. Ipoh has a distinctive style of curry mee unlike Penang’s which tends to be spicier and generally soupy, or Klang Valley’s where it’s called curry laksa but with a more generous dose of santan (coconut milk) but sad to say, lack of flavours.
And there are quite a number of really good outlets like Nam Chau, Xin Quan Fang and Sun Seng Fatt to name a few, but the newer ones on the scene out to challenge the king don’t even have a hope.
Dry curry noodles are possibly an Ipoh exclusive; marrying a thicker and more robust curry paste with Ipoh’s famous sar hor fun (flat rice noodles) and yellow mee. At Yee Fatt, they still do this the best and they have been doing so for umpteen years.
The curry paste here possesses a punch unlike any other, and it’s evident the moment you lay your eyes on your portion. They don’t even bother to dress or garnish your plate of dry curry noodles here; instead you get a heap of noodles and bean sprouts piled with slices of barbecued pork (char siew) and chunks of chicken.
The whole dish is then drowned in a pool of creamy, thickened curry. No halved calamansi lime, no mint leaves, no cockles, no roasted pork. A notch spicier than the otherwise milder versions elsewhere.
Yee Fatt’s dry curry noodles do not hold back on the kick. Maybe that’s how my tastebuds are geared towards spicier fare, albeit the general assumption that Ipoh folks can’t take the heat.
Still, they have managed to maintain the quality of their curry noodles after all these years; today it is cooked by the second and third generations of the Hainanese family running the place.
For breakfast, they serve curry noodles, steamed glutinous rice with chicken and mushrooms otherwise better known as lor mai gai, and lighter bites like egg tarts and yam puffs.
Oh, don’t forget to sample their herbal tea egg; don’t be turned off by the scary looking black potion with a bobbling hard-boiled egg. It is actually a sweetened tea infused with the goodness of various herbs and rock sugar.
But come lunch hour, they also serve various rice and noodle dishes; the most iconic being the pork chop rice with fried egg.
I remember vividly the afternoons I ate a quick lunch here before attending the afternoon session at school; the steamed white rice, marinated pork chop and fried egg served on an enamel plate, coupled with a glass of iced milk tea. And that was a good 20 years ago.
Now that I have moved to the Klang Valley for work, it still touches me deeply to find Yee Fatt still going strong, attracting a younger generation of food lovers and still run by the same passionate Hainanese family.
Me and my brother grew up almost in tandem with Ah Keong, the young chap now granted the honour of standing behind the noodles counter and dishing out plate after plate of dry curry noodles.
Neither long distance nor the various changes in life have marred this magical connection between my family and Yee Fatt; for as long as the love for dry curry noodles run deep, and Yee Fatt continues this heritage. This “curry mee shop opposite of MGS” will forever be etched in our minds as one of the best that Ipoh has to offer.
James Tan loves good food and blogs at Motormouth From Ipoh (www.j2kfm.com)
Yee Fatt Tea Shop
No. 39, Jalan Kampar, 30250, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Opens for breakfast and lunch only, until about 3.30pm.
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on March 21, 2014.