That Canning Garden ‘chee cheong fun’ uncle!

Keep calm and don’t disturb the grumpy master-at-work to get excellent chee cheong fun — Pictures by James Tan
Keep calm and don’t disturb the grumpy master-at-work to get excellent chee cheong fun — Pictures by James Tan

IPOH, April 13 — I believe it goes without saying that Ipoh’s pretty well known for the noodles. Where sar hor fun (or better known through its generic term — kuey teow or flat rice noodles) has earned a massive following thanks to the success of Ipoh bean sprouts chicken, the rest of the noodle-based delights such as chee cheong fun, Curry Noodles and Hakka Mee remain unsung though they are gradually gaining prominence.

The Chinese culture in Ipoh has traditionally embraced the concept of a hearty start to the day; where breakfasts of champions reign supreme and a bowl of cereal, an energy bar or plain steamed bread just won’t cut it.

The terrifyingly congested dim sum street along Leong Sin Nam Road for one is breathing proof of our love for kickstarting the day with savouries; and the same goes for coffee shops in Old Town populated by various noodle stalls.

For me, on weekends I prefer to jump start this rickety engine with a satisfying breakfast of chee cheong fun; the beloved steamed rice noodle rolls either served plain, or studded with briny dried shrimps, then doused in a splash of condiments usually ranging from chilli sauce and sweet bean sauce, to pigs’ skin curry or mushroom and minced pork gravy, to even simpler dressings of shallot oil and soy sauce to really bring out the natural sweetness of the freshly-steamed rice noodles.

There are a few good finds around town naturally, since chee cheong fun or CCF for short, is not regarded as an entirely heavy meal per se. And more often than not we would be complementing our plates of CCF with sides of either yong tau foo (stuffed fish paste), or orders of hawker foods from other stalls, to be shared.

The case of Old Town’s Thean Chun is a best example; chee cheong fun coupled with pork satay and popiah from Kong Heng.

But nearer to home, and away from the tourist hubs, this infamously grumpy uncle at Canning Garden still stays true to his roots by serving his trademark CCF on metal plates and with the minimal intrusion to the flavours so carefully concocted from the sauces available; the sweet and spicy combination is the safest choice but if you are game for stripped down, soy sauce and shallot oil rendition.

Think acoustic, but in a most flavourful manner.

But wait, didn’t I mention that this uncle is NOT your average friendly hawker? No joke this one. As in the case of many other stalwart hawkers with decades or half a century’s worth of legacy, he does not have a liking for light banter, lengthy orders or constant pestering for your plate of CCF.

But take things with a pinch of salt and be ready for a backlash should you lament about the wait (which is very bearable, trust me), or add this/omit that/etc.

Silky steamed rice noodle rolls are kept like precious treasure in a metal box (left). Chee cheong fun is served on old school metal plates (right)
Silky steamed rice noodle rolls are kept like precious treasure in a metal box (left). Chee cheong fun is served on old school metal plates (right)

I gulped and mustered some courage to stand as near to him as possible before taking my shots, though I was not reprimanded nor lashed at for doing so. Maybe I projected that tourist aura well; or he’s grown from camera-shy to a media-loving animal. Yet, I could not help myself but blurted out some silly questions.

“So uncle, your stall stays open until what time?”

“Until everything runs out lah... sometimes in the morning. Sometimes by noon.”

But our conversation ended abruptly from the multitude of orders pouring in; from dine-in crowd and the ones waiting to tah pau (takeaway); complete with dagger stares piercing through this “local, pesky tourist.” I should have known better.

Like an elegant samurai, the master cuts the rice rolls swiftly with a plastic apparatus (left). The master uses shallot oil with a dash of chilli, sweet and soy sauce (right)
Like an elegant samurai, the master cuts the rice rolls swiftly with a plastic apparatus (left). The master uses shallot oil with a dash of chilli, sweet and soy sauce (right)

And so, watching him at work in a fluid manner; from selecting a handful of steamed CCF and slicing/chopping them up with a plastic apparatus the size of a butcher knife, tossing the portion into a metal plate, then scooping the sauces (soy sauce, shallot oil, chilli sauce, sweet sauce) onto the noodles, before giving the shaker filled with sesame seeds a few good shakes and finally a spoonful of pickled green chillies.

Some older outlets still use wooden chopsticks but this uncle has moved on with the times and uses the conventional plastic ones.

I guess the key selling point that lures the loyalists in time and again is the smooth rice noodles, gorgeously and generously studded with dried shrimps, and his own concoction of sauces and pickled green chillies. He does not “taint” his signature CCF with sides though, but feel free to order a piece or two of the equally famous fried chicken from the economy rice stall.

And remember... just refrain from making snide remarks on his lack of gravy options or side dishes. Or you’ll pay dearly. You’ve been warned.

James Tan loves good food and blogs at Motormouth From Ipoh (www.j2kfm.com)

Kedai Makanan Canning Garden
27, Lorong Cecil Rae, Canning Garden, 31400 Ipoh, Perak.
Corner shop opposite of Canning Garden wet market
Opens from morning until sold out, usually before noon

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