Ipoh’s Simee Market: Every bite brings back happy memories

Many locals think Choy Kee’s egg tarts are the best in Ipoh.– Pictures by James Tan
Many locals think Choy Kee’s egg tarts are the best in Ipoh.– Pictures by James Tan

IPOH, May 11 — Waking up early for breakfast on a weekend morning during my school days was too rare an occasion. Unless, of course, the lure of a piping hot, fluffy egg tart proved to be too much to resist.

Imagine biting into one such piece de resistance freshly baked from the oven; crumbling pastry bursting with the aroma of butter and a wobbly, creamy centre of rich egg custard.

I found myself looking forward to Saturday mornings more often after discovering the magic of Choy Kee’s egg tarts from Simee Market.

Packed neatly in a box of 8s, the quality of the egg tarts has been well-maintained over the years. They go really well with a cup of frothy milk tea or robust Ipoh old town white coffee.

Choy Kee opens early in the morning; and on good days (weekends or public holidays), the egg tarts sell off really fast. Diehard loyalists line up even while the tarts are being baked in the oven!

If you happen to come in between batches, be prepared to wait (you can check with the ladies manning the stall on the timing for the next batch of tarts to be ready) or better yet, make full use of your time and go savour some other hawker delicacies around the market.

Simee Market has always been one of the cleaner markets (relative to the other wet markets of Ipoh) and houses quite a healthy number of hawker stalls.

On certain days when I had to tag along with Mum or grandma to the market, we would sometimes stop by the chee cheong fun stall right behind Choy Kee.

The lady managing the stall took over from her mother-in-law who has been selling her trademark chee cheong fun (CCF) since the 50s. My personal favourite is the CCF served with mushroom and minced pork gravy (what we call tung koo jup). This is a savoury brown sauce infused with the earthiness of shiitake mushrooms, and sweetness from minced pork.

The smooth sheets of steamed rice noodles studded with dried shrimps are first cut into strands and then garnished with fried shallots and sesame seeds.

The CCF ensemble is usually completed with pickled green chillies; and here lies the litmus test for some. Homemade pickled green chillies that taste fresh, crunchy and without burning the tongue are preferred over softened, spicier ones sourced from other suppliers.

Besides the mushroom gravy, the most popular combination of sauces is still the chilli + sweet sauce (lat jiu tim jeong), while some adventurous souls go for the curry pig’s skin for a heavier start to the day.

The CCF stall is sandwiched between two other equally interesting ones; on the left is the fish ball noodles stall (what we Ipohans call liew fun) with fish balls, pork balls, stuffed bell peppers and stuffed tofu dipped in the owner’s brand of tangy chilli sauce, while on the other side is the auntie selling various types of old school kuih including savoury glutinous rice with dried shrimps and omelette strips, sweet glutinous rice coloured with blue dye (pulut tai tai) served with kaya, and something very rarely seen nowadays -- white chunks of alkaline kuih (kan sui gou) served with a dark-coloured sauce made from gula Melaka and fried minced garlic.

(From left) Homemade bak zhang. Chee cheong fun with mushroom gravy and pickled green chillies. Stuffed green peppers
(From left) Homemade bak zhang. Chee cheong fun with mushroom gravy and pickled green chillies. Stuffed green peppers

If you think you have had enough, wait until you walk to the other side of the food court. Situated at the far end of the market is this stall selling various snacks like prawn fritters (cucur udang), sweet potato balls and curry puffs that are all homemade and absolutely perfectly made.

Each prawn fritter has two prawns with shells intact; fried to a crisp and diced yam bean and chopped scallions embedded into the dough. The spherical sweet potato balls from this stall were grandma’s favourite; just the right balance of sweetness and a chewy texture that’s second to none.

And if you love bak zhang — wrapped steamed glutinous rice in lotus leaf — then you’re in luck. She sells them too every morning.

And finally, another stall worth mentioning (and the ensuing guilt) is this truck on the outside of the market selling Menglembu’s famous apam balik (ban chang kueh or dai gau min).

The popularity of this stall transcends the local community though, as they move around Ipoh a lot. Made freshly on the spot before your eyes, every single bite into the thick, chewy dough filled with crushed peanuts and sugar is a real delight.

The cooked food section of Simee Market houses a few dozen hawker stalls with a strong following of their own (left). Menglembu’s famous apam balik with its generous filling of crushed peanuts and sugar (right)
The cooked food section of Simee Market houses a few dozen hawker stalls with a strong following of their own (left). Menglembu’s famous apam balik with its generous filling of crushed peanuts and sugar (right)

Best to go for the side cuts where the crispy layer is.

A stroll around Simee Market has never failed to bring a smile to my face, bringing back sweet memories of my teenage days and the lingering first bite of that delectable egg tart.

Simee Market is open early in the morning (about 6am onwards). The food stalls have different days off. The chee cheong fun stall closes on Tuesdays (not fixed), the cucur udang stall closes on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the apam balik truck does not do business on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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