TAIPING, May 18 — Being the second largest town in Perak after Ipoh, Taiping is blessed with an assortment of wonders; Lake Gardens with its magnificent century-old angsana trees (golden rain trees), Maxwell Hill with its cooler climes, the many firsts in Malaysia (railway, police station, museum, etc), the only night safari in the country and of course, its plentiful lip-smacking street food.
We used to go on day trips from Ipoh to Taiping, all within a span of eight hours. And the hungry side of me would always have a list in hand; squeezing in at least three meals within the allocated time whenever possible.
The frequent commuting between the two towns means I have eaten at a majority of the famous eateries in Taiping; yet I still find myself craving and looking for more undiscovered gems.
Thankfully, travelling on the North South expressway from Ipoh to Taiping usually takes about 45 minutes, or an hour, tops. This allows for spontaneous day trips; or at times, even random food hunt excursions. Plus, Taiping being between Ipoh and Penang makes this town an attractive stopover for travellers both north and south bound.
Let’s start with breakfast. If you’re the indecisive kind or plain eager to sample as many items as possible, you can’t go wrong by paying the Larut Matang Food Court a visit. Come early for breakfast for a splendid selection of hawker fare ranging from Taiping’s famous char kuey teow with fish balls, mee rebus, Nyonya kuih, chee cheong fun with steamed radish cake, chicken rice, oyster omelette and many more.
For a char kuey teow that closely resembles Penang’s version, try stall number 83: Ah Leng Penang Char Kuey Teow. At merely RM3 per plate (don’t roll your eyes in disbelief, it’s true), you get a plate of flat rice noodles with wok hei (a smoky finish from the intense heat), tossed in with a generous handful of bean sprouts, chives, eggs, tiny cockles and shrimps.
Complete the meal with some bites of Nyonya kuih such as onde-onde, 9-layered kuih, kuih bingka ubi, and more. Then a glass of cham the Taiping way; two separate layers of coffee and tea with milk, frothy on top and chilled by ice.
Larut Matang Food Court is located on Jalan Panggung Wayang in Taiping town, near to The Store and the Taiping clock tower. Come early for breakfast or later for lunch. There are two sections here; halal and non-halal separated by an alley.
Just right around the corner is this red bean ice outlet named Raex; a classic amongst the locals coming for the famed drink of blended boiled red bean with milk and ice. A refreshing fix at RM1.60 per glass, coupled with a plate of rojak (from RM5 onwards) with cuttlefish, a bowl of assam laksa, skewers of all sorts of deliciousness (lok-lok) or a serving of popiah (RM1.50 each) stuffed with boiled jicama. But please remember to leave some space for lunch or tea break.
Kedai Ais Kacang Merah Raex is located at No.9, Jalan Toh Khay Beng, 34000 Taiping. Walking distance from Larut Matang Food Court and The Store. Opens from 11.30 am onwards until evening.
After all that eating, it’s time for a break. Well, a very short one. If you’re keen on exploring the city and you’re a shutterbug, then go soak in the colonial vibes of historical structures like the Perak State Museum, the Clock Tower, St George’s Institution, the Esplanade, the Taiping prison and more.
If you still want to eat, drive to Aulong for the local favourite Heo Pia (fragrant biscuits) -- crumbly, crispy biscuits with fillings of sweet maltose. At this inconspicuous house numbered 768 on Lorong 29 in Aulong Baru, Aulong Biscuits & Confectionery opens from 7 am onwards until evenings and they bake various confectioneries that are perfect as souvenirs. Go for a packet of their Heo Pia that are suited for vegetarians too, or their new coffee-flavoured ones. And don’t miss the bite-sized brown sugar biscuits too.
Aulong Biscuits & Confectionery operates from No. 768, Lorong 29, Aulong Baru, Taiping. Opens from 7am onwards until late afternoons/evenings. Call +605-808 7608 if you’re lost in the neighbourhood.
Okay, so all ready for lunch? Then head for a Hainanese meal at Yut Sun on Jalan Pasar near to the government hospital. This place serves very traditional Hainanese fare like chicken chop, roti sayur and egg rolls with a robust brew of coffee to finish the meal off. As Yut Sun serves only pork free fare, don’t be surprised to observe the many Muslims dining side by side with the other races during lunch. There used to be another shop along the main road of Jalan Kota that served non-halal Hainanese food named Wan Li, but it closed a few years back.
Yut Sun Restaurant is located at 78 & 80, Jalan Pasar, 34000 Taiping. Opens from 8am onwards until 7pm, closed on Sundays.
Since you’re already on Jalan Pasar and within walking distance of Jalan Barrack, head for the famous Taiping cendol. Refreshing cendol from either Bismillah Cendol or Ansari Famous Cendol, complete with red beans and pulut (glutinous rice), drowned in a bowl of coconut milk and gula melaka. Personally, I prefer Ansari more than Bismillah, as the former is the original Taiping cendol apparently. And they do give more a generous portion of the green noodles (cendol), and has a more comfortable seating area.
Ansari Famous Cendol operates from 10am onwards, at this side outlet on Jalan Chung Thye Phin, Taiping.
By now you should be exploding from all the food ingested, so go for a leisurely stroll around Lake Gardens which is a mere five minutes drive from this stall. Come evening, the breeze (and hopefully no rain, since Taiping is the wettest town in Malaysia!) will be stroking your face gently while the tall, overgrown angsana trees reaching down to the surface of the ponds form an arch-like a walkway for lovebirds. Spend at least half an hour or more here; you can go boating, jog or plain laze around the benches or grass while pondering, “What’s for dinner?”
Alright, recharged and ready for more? Let’s head to Kuala Sepetang for dinner then!
Formerly known as Port Weld; Kuala Sepetang is a thriving fishing village situated about 20 minutes away from Taiping town. I guess you can already sense what’s coming? Yup, seafood.
Fresh, cheap and deliciously cooked seafood from this restaurant named Tepi Sungai; you can be seated on a platform supported by stilts overlooking the river. The flower crabs are especially delightful; served either steamed or stir fried with your choice of condiments.
In our case we had the Kam Heong style with crunchy bits of dried prawns and curry leaves. They are able to whip up an amazing boiled squid with garlic oil and chilli sauce as well; and the perennial beer food favourite of deep fried little crabs or shrimps. If you’re coming in a larger group, try the large mantis prawns (not cheap, but well worth the almost RM15-20 per piece price) and the various fresh fishes steamed to perfection.
Restoran Tepi Sungai is situated at Tepi Sungai (border of town with the river), Kuala Sepetang. Opens from 11am until 9.30pm.
If you’re early you can still take a walk around the fishing village, but if the sun has set, then go for a post dinner drink or dessert at The Happy 8 Retreat a few doors away. The boutique retreat hotel accommodates travellers too, and the primarily nature-inspired interior decoration begs to be photographed.
Try the Snow Ice; finely-shaved ice with various flavours; such as jackfruit, durian, banana or chocolate. At RM6 per bowl, this is a refreshing, blissful end to the day’s eating adventure.
The Happy 8 Retreat operates from LC151A3, Tepi Sungai, Kuala Sepetang. Look for the eagle statue on top of the building; also housing a seafood restaurant named Kang Kao.
James Tan loves good food and blogs at Motormouth From Ipoh (www.j2kfm.com)