IPOH, June 15 — I don’t know about you, but I have had my fair share of unpleasant dining experiences. Hawkers who are grumpy, arrogant and at times ruthless; they operate without a care in the world in terms of customer service. Worse is when the food quality is sub-par. You get the drill.
But when the food served is delicious or at least noteworthy, then at least the unpleasant factor is neutralised to some extent. I can put up with popular stalls like the infamous grumpy Canning Garden uncle who used to sell popiah in a back alley with never a smile on his face; the chee cheong fun man — also in Canning Garden (how ironic?) — who appears to be more temperamental than your regular kopitiam folks, and who can forget the silent treatment bestowed upon anyone who rushes the curry mee seller at Xin Quan Fang near the police station in town?
This continuous acceptance of these antics is beyond comprehension sometimes. All in the name of good food, naturally.
Bercham is a neighbourhood in Ipoh packed with people, cars and delectable Chinese food. However, being slightly further away from the tourist hotspots, ie. the unofficial dim sum street of Jalan Leong Sin Nam, white coffee shops along Jalan Bandar Timah and the central hub of the bean sprouts chicken giants locking horns (Lou Wong vs Onn Kee) has both its advantages and disadvantages.
Since the establishments in this area are far from the commercialised hub, the quality of the food served should generally be more authentic, sustained and acceptable to the harder-to-please locals around the area.
The drawback is, of course, having to navigate the maze of lanes and dealing with the lack of road signs. And sometimes, there’s that not-very-PR-savvy attitude.
Restoran Rasa Lain has been going strong for many years now. A corner shop lot in Pusat Bandar Baru Bercham with ample seating including al fresco tables set up in the evenings to cater to the deluge of hungry eaters, dinner service starts from 5pm so you might want to go early to avoid the crowd.
And wrath of the almighty rotund, bald owner.
Not that he’s a particularly nasty guy, mind you. But we did witness a slightly unsettling scene the last time we were there. A family of four was chided for “hoarding” a table for 10 but it was not their fault since there weren’t any other tables available.
Nonetheless, I’d best leave the rants aside and get straight down to business. When you are here at Rasa Lain, there are several dishes that you MUST NOT miss.
The top choice is, of course, their signature claypot crabs served with either rice or glass noodles. The latter is my preferred choice for there’s nothing more satisfying than a spoonful of soft glass noodles in a peppery broth infused by the sweetness from the crabs, and umami flavours from the strips of pork belly in the mix.
Rasa Lain also does a stellar rendition of steamed fresh la-la clams in a zesty, lemony sauce. The clams are less meaty than those at some seafood restaurants but the freshness is evident; every bite filled with sweet juices from the meat.
Marrying both Asian and Western influences is the claypot cheese prawns; this is one excellent dish that you will not be able to find elsewhere in Ipoh. Or anywhere else for that matter.
Melted cheese and a slightly tangy sauce coat the crustaceans that were probably caught that very morning, this comes highly recommended if you’re a prawn lover. Even if you are not, I have no doubt that you will be soon after tasting this dish.
Other famous dishes include the homemade Saito fish balls simply boiled and served with soy sauce and possibly a drizzle of garlic oil. If you love fish, you should also try their steamed fishes; including fish heads or deep fried sa zhui fish as starters.
Attitudes aside, I really have no qualms about coming here again and again, impressing any guest I bring. The wait for your food can be slightly daunting; he does not come to take your orders immediately, and it’s plain unfortunate that he seems to be the only person capable of doing the orders. Even after ordering, it took them a good half hour or so before the dishes arrived in succession.
If you are hesitating after reading this review, don’t. Go early, be prepared about what to order, sip on the Chinese tea while waiting, and be absolutely enamoured by the sheer sumptuousness of the claypot crabs and prawns.
I was sold after my first visit.
James Tan loves good food and blogs at Motormouth From Ipoh (www.j2kfm.com)
Kedai Makanan Rasa Lain
69, Persiaran Medan Bercham 2, Pusat Bandar Baru Bercham.
Business hours : 5pm-10pm daily.