The unsung dim sum heroes of Ipoh

You should not miss the colourful, freshly steamed pau from Zui Le Xuan; the charcoal bun with custard and salted egg yolk cream is a definite highlight — Pictures by James Tan
You should not miss the colourful, freshly steamed pau from Zui Le Xuan; the charcoal bun with custard and salted egg yolk cream is a definite highlight — Pictures by James Tan

IPOH, Feb 22 — Talk about dim sum in this city well-loved by many as one of the food capitals in Malaysia, and most would point you to either Foh San, Ming Court or even Yoke Fook Moon; all three within a stone’s throw from one another.

The hype surrounding the likes of Foh San has been circulating since decades back, when they served the early risers at their old outlet at the corner of Osborne Street. Those were the decent souls making a living working through the graveyard shift, or taxi drivers stationed nearby (and they still are) looking for a hearty start to fuel the day’s worth of labour.

Now they have shifted to Leong Sin Nam road directly across Ming Court Dim Sum, which is also backed by a respectable number of years in business and personally, I think they serve higher quality dim sum compared to the new Foh San outlet.

Many a time, the locals would shy away from the frenzied crowd at the dim sum giants, where the unreasonable congestion is caused by traffic, inconsiderate double-parkers and touts looking to earn a quick buck through “extortion” via the classic “jaga kereta” guys of Ipoh.

It never fails to make me wonder when the local authorities will finally act on their “master plan” to capture these thugs smearing the good name of Ipoh.

Anyway, the multiple factors around an already tough decision to select ONE dim sum place (if you only can afford one) can be killing. Especially if you are not familiar with dim sum restaurants situated outside of the city centre. But fret not, here’s where I think I might come in and help.

Try the egg tarts and sweet and sour rolls from Zui Le Xuan; a neighbourhood coffee shop turned into a dim sum restaurant in First Garden
Try the egg tarts and sweet and sour rolls from Zui Le Xuan; a neighbourhood coffee shop turned into a dim sum restaurant in First Garden

Nestled within the neighbourhood of First Garden, directly adjacent to GP food court is Zui Le Xuan restaurant, helmed by a chef with experience from his stint at Foh San back in the good old days.

The ambience is a relatively laid-back one; the establishment occupying merely one shop lot worth of space, packed with round tables not unlike your conventional coffee shops or “chu char” places, and you still see pleasant aunties pushing trolleys fitted with incredibly hard to resist plates full of dim sum; both steamed and fried varieties.

The highlight here should be their multiple variations of steamed fluffy buns aka pau. The charcoal-infused pau, stuffed with runny, creamy salted egg yolk and custard filling (what we call lau sar pau in Cantonese) is exceptional; easily the best in Ipoh thus far.

But they are no mere one-trick pony. Their version of stuffed chee cheong fun (steamed rice rolls) with pork and fish paste, chopped water chestnuts, wood ear fungus and fragrant garlic oil is delicious, a twist to the more generic Hong Kong style chee cheong fun with shrimps or BBQ pork.

If First Garden sounds a little too far off, then venture over to another side of Ipoh, near to Bandar Baru Tambun just along the road of Jalan Perajurit from Ipoh Garden East heading to Sunway Tambun.

Most of the deep fried items from dim sum restaurants are served with a dollop of mayonnaise; in this case the combination worked wonders for Hong Kong Dim Sum BFB’s prawn roll fritters and crispy dumplings with fish paste and chopped water chestnut
Most of the deep fried items from dim sum restaurants are served with a dollop of mayonnaise; in this case the combination worked wonders for Hong Kong Dim Sum BFB’s prawn roll fritters and crispy dumplings with fish paste and chopped water chestnut

There is one unmistakably popular eatery along the road on your left, if you’re coming from Ipoh Garden East direction. Situated at a corner lot, usually with canopies (!) stretching over the street is a dim sum place named Hong Kong Dim Sum BFB (stands for bat fun bun or 8 and a half in Cantonese) that opens early in the morning.

The cute ‘carrot’ like items from Hong Kong Dim Sum BFB are actually made from mashed carrot and pumpkin, which is deep fried to a chewy-like texture
The cute ‘carrot’ like items from Hong Kong Dim Sum BFB are actually made from mashed carrot and pumpkin, which is deep fried to a chewy-like texture

Catering to a mostly neighbourhood crowd presumably, with nary another dim sum restaurant except for the one near Giant Hypermarket in Bercham, the restaurant has consistently been patronised by dim sum lovers (mostly locals, from what I observe) for their reasonably-priced fare (mostly around RM3+), freshly steamed morsels and a few interesting creations.

For one, staying true to the original tradition of making bite-sized small morsels, BFB created a type of yam puffs or woo kok about half the size of the usual version (which they also serve in tandem); creamy yam mash filled with sweet caramelised BBQ pork and topped with a piece of crab stick before being deep fried. And then there’s the child-pleaser dim sum made with mashed carrot and pumpkin stuffed into a chewy pastry skin akin to ham sui kok (savoury meat puff), which is made into shapes that resemble carrots.

A third place that I would highly recommend for under-the-radar (a bit more well-known actually after decades in business) dim sum is this classic dim sum cum Chinese cuisine restaurant named Kao Lee Dim Sum in Ipoh Garden near to Woolley Food Centre.

Aside from serving dim sum well into lunch break, Kao Lee also serves various rice and noodle dishes, as well as chicken rice and satay. Although during my last visit a few months back, they no longer serve some of those items for lunch.

Stir fried radish cake (lor bak gou) with bean sprouts and XO sauce makes a piping hot offering... If you desire something fresh... (left). Kao Lee has many years of experience in the business but they are still experimenting with new flavours, like their must-eat cempedak cream custard bun (right)
Stir fried radish cake (lor bak gou) with bean sprouts and XO sauce makes a piping hot offering... If you desire something fresh... (left). Kao Lee has many years of experience in the business but they are still experimenting with new flavours, like their must-eat cempedak cream custard bun (right)

The jade green coloured fluffy pau infused with the fragrance of pandan (juice from screwpine leaves) filled with cempedak cream should be on top of your list should you visit Kao Lee, while the sweet and sour pork bean curd sheet rolls and stir fried radish cake with bean sprouts in XO sauce are noteworthy dishes that stand out from the other dim sum joints.

The fact that most of these restaurants do not come out at the top of the lists is understandable, judging from the variety of other Ipoh street food that usually dominate the headlines; from Gunung Rapat heong peah to Ipoh old town white coffee, dry curry noodles to soybean curd pudding (tau fu fah). Hence, when dim sum gets a mention, the names like Foh San or Ming Court usually takes precedence.

However, if you have just an ounce of adventurous eating spirit in you, and you do not mind the distance travelled between the city and the suburbs (within 20 minutes tops), then consider any one of the establishments mentioned above.

Zui Le Xuan Dim Sum Restaurant
28, Off Jalan Ng Song Teik,
Taman Pertama, 30100 Ipoh, Perak
Tel No: +6012-486 0883, +6016-510 9091
Business Hours: 6.30am – 1.30pm daily

Restoran Hong Kong Dim Sum BFB
61, Persiaran Bandar Baru Tambun 16, Taman Ipoh Impian, 31400 Ipoh Garden, Perak

Kao Lee Dim Sum Restaurant
48-50, Lengkok Canning,
Ipoh Garden, 31400 Ipoh, Perak
Tel No: +605-546 5384

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

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