IPOH, Oct 12 — People come from all over the country and even from abroad to enjoy the food haven that is Ipoh. Partly owing to its strategic and accessible location along the North-South Expressway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, frequent public transportation schedule (you can take a train or a bus from Kuala Lumpur) as well as a twice a day direct flight from Singapore.
The surge in visitors during the past few years, compounded by the advent and proliferation of social media, has paved the way for the discovery of hidden gems.
From the what-appears-to-be-blatantly-overhyped Ipoh bean sprouts chicken (fondly known as nga choy gai) to Ipoh’s best kept secret (no more) of a kaya puff maker at Sin Eng Heong, and commercialized entities such as Old Town White Coffee and Foh San Dim Sum... the crowds are everywhere.
However, despite the extensive coverage of Ipoh street food by various media, I still constantly receive queries about halal food options in Ipoh.
This is somewhat understandable as the hard fact remains that Chinese hawker stalls and food establishments are more in focus when it comes to food hunting in Ipoh. Comparing the options of halal cuisine to other towns, Ipoh has a distinctive lack of memorable choices e.g. Nasi Dagang/Kerabu in Kota Baru, Nasi Kandar in Penang or even Nasi Lemak in the Klang Valley.
But all is not lost. There is actually quite a substantial number of noteworthy halal food establishments in town.
Let’s start with the breakfast staple of Malaysians: nasi lemak.
Not taking into account the dozens of warung nasi lemak by the roadside in the mornings within most neighbourhoods, one famous name that comes to mind is Allongs Nasi Lemak in Ipoh Garden.
Their nasi lemak with sambal sotong kering (dried cuttlefish in spicy chili paste) is a surefire hit with the breakfast crowd; judging from the constant stream of customers early in the morning, as well as during lunch breaks.
The magic lies in their signature sambal sotong kering; a piquant blend of spicy, sweet and savoury flavours complementing the pieces of chewy, dried cuttlefish.
Should you wish for an alternative, try their lontong; boiled compressed rice cakes cooked in a milky broth laden with spices and sweetness from the santan, cabbages, dried shrimps and grated coconut, then topped with the highlight ie: sambal sotong kering.
A short drive away will lead you to the food court at Stadium Ipoh; housing an insane number of food stalls with intermittent business hours. Some stalls only operate during the day while others only open at night.
At the far end of the row, nearer to the public swimming pool is this stall named Fuad Roti Canai. A hot favourite with the working class heroes within the vicinity, this stall run by a couple of young Malay chaps dishes out plate after plate of piping hot Indian style flatbreads for breakfast and lunch.
Although the roti canai here is not entirely praiseworthy, the dhall curry with a dollop of sambal manages to kick things up a notch.
A few stalls away from Fuad Roti Canai is Wak Nasi Lemak with their own legion of fans.
Just across the road you will find Restoran Tasik Raban; famous for their wide array of cooked Malay dishes, in particular the grilled fish (ikan bakar) topped (or rather, smothered) with their delectable blend of chili paste with an abundance of finely-chopped onions and dried shrimps.
Here, you will be treated to a feast for all senses from the endless stretch of colourful curries, grilled chicken, and even the rarely available gulai tempoyak ikan patin. Especially worth trying is their bountiful spread of ulam (raw greens) served with a few condiments like the sambal tempoyak (fermented durian flesh with a slightly spicy kick), sambal belacan (fermented shrimp paste with chili) and more.
Come sundown, take a short stroll towards Gourmet Square (now known as Restoran Kam Wan) for a taste of Satay Endut, easily one of the most popular satay stalls in Ipoh.
They cater for events as well, so you can almost be guaranteed of a satisfying experience with their chunky grilled skewered chicken and beef served with a sweet peanut sauce with a very mild hint of chili.
You may have noticed that I merely covered a small area within the suburbs of Ipoh Garden-Canning Garden. There are many more halal food outlets in Ipoh worthy of a try. Maybe I should consider running a second chapter to this collection. Or a third. We shall see.
No 24, Pesara Ipoh 1, Taman Ipoh, 31400 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Fuad Roti Canai (Stall No 54) and Wak Nasi Lemak (Stall No 51)
Medan Selera Stadium, 31400 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Restoran Tasik Raban
PT158964, Jalan Kompleks Sukan, 31400 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Kam Wan Restaurant (Gourmet Square Aka “Tung Koo Thing”)
Lengkok Canning, Ipoh Garden, 31400 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
James Tan loves good food and blogs at Motormouth From Ipoh (www.j2kfm.com)