IPOH, July 26 — There are some breakfast places in Ipoh that have remained evergreen; a hit with the loyal early risers in the quiet neighbourhoods of Ipoh, yet inconspicuous enough to stay out of the (tourist) spotlight.
If you ask me, one of the last things that I wish upon waking up on a relaxing Sunday morning is to fight for a seat with the boisterous, ravenous crowd or scramble for that last basket of steaming hot dumplings from the kitchen.
I don’t need to name the establishments here, but safe to say if you are wise enough to avoid the white coffee outlets in Ipoh Old Town and the dim sum madhouses in town, then you deserve a pat on the back.
But of course, some of you might get a kick out of the long, snaking queue, rowdy environment and lengthy waiting time plus lacklustre service despite the service charges imposed. With booming tourism, and a higher influx of day-trippers to Ipoh, the situation progresses to a more dire one come extended weekends or public holidays.
Although I cannot say that I am not filled with pride upon seeing the bustling scene at kopitiams in the mornings; young and old slurping up Ipoh’s curry noodles, Hakka noodles or even kai see hor fun (chicken kuey teow soup), followed by a shared platter of blanched bean sprouts, basketful of dim sum, fresh popiah rolls and capping the feast off with a pleasant smile plastered across lips stained with robust Ipoh Old Town white coffee.
On most of the better mood days, maybe.
However, when the cranky spell hits or should the spectacularly-hot weather overwhelm the emotion, I would rather escape from the crowd and settle for something equally delicious at somewhere more obscure.
One coffee shop that must have escaped most, if not all, guide books happens to be within 10 minutes’ drive from home in Bercham and goes by the name Foo Kwai.
Despite the relatively strategic location facing the main road of Jalan Bercham that connects where you exit the North South Expressway and the inner residential hub of Kampung Bercham, Foo Kwai has managed to stay somewhat “invisible.”
Until now, maybe.
From the outside, the establishment looks just like any other coffee shop you see in Ipoh — tables and plastic chairs spilling over onto the sidewalk and street in the morning, half-rolled up blinds providing a little shade for those seated within: all happily chowing down the noodles and stuffed bean curd.
Yes, this stall at Foo Kwai excels in their rendition of homemade yong tau foo coupled with their lip-smacking curry noodles.
The curry broth appears to possess a darker, murkier red-brownish tinge and is packed with flavours from the spices used to create that magically-balanced and piquant taste.
Garnished with a sprig of fresh mint leaves, it is served with noodles of your choice, a handful of bean sprouts, and do NOT forget to order your portion with their homemade caramelised barbecued pork (char siew).
Unlike the usually bland and predictably-lean char siew with an outer bright red perimeter (read: food colouring) served by most noodle stalls, including wanton mee sellers, Foo Kwai’s version mimics the dark maroon, caramelised and almost charred version of homemade char siew commonly sold in the Klang Valley (Meng Kee, Famous Seremban Favourites and Toast & Roast are but some of the more popular names related to this type of char siew, but you can also find similarly rendered versions at Overseas Restaurant and Bercham Cheong Kee).
Needless to say, the few slices of meat is never enough, so feel free to order a side portion of this. Else, you can also save stomach space for their many varieties of yong tau foo, including the ubiquitous stuffed bean curd (duh!), green chillies, yam bean fritters (sar kok liew), crispy bean curd sheets (foo pei) and fried wanton dumplings.
Compared to the other famous yong tau foo places like Big Tree Foot, Nam Fatt on Kampar road, or even Let’s Rock, I would say Foo Kwai does a good job, but admittedly not the highest in the ranks.
So there, one of my frequent breakfast haunts in Bercham that you should visit if ever you grow weary of the incessant crowd in the city, or prefer a more local, neighbourhood kopitiam to start your day with.
Foo Kwai Restaurant
243, Jalan Bercham, Taman Desa Kencana, 31400 Ipoh, Perak
Open for breakfast until lunch
James Tan loves good food and blogs at Motormouth From Ipoh (www.j2kfm.com)