RMCO travel: In Ipoh, weekend brunch means dim sum. Here's how to do it right

Dim sum culture is alive and well in Ipoh. – Pictures by CK Lim
Dim sum culture is alive and well in Ipoh. – Pictures by CK Lim

IPOH, Sept 10 – It’s a contradiction: a sweet, toothsome crust that is almost entirely a bubble of air; a savoury cha siu (barbecued pork) filling that’s barely there and strangely just the right amount. The star here, I quickly realise, is the crispy yet chewy pastry.

Where has the inimitable ham sui gok been all my life?

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to dim sum restaurants in the Klang Valley. Perhaps this particular dim sum is more common in Ipoh. Either way, a weekend getaway to the heart of Kinta Valley is designed for foodies.

In Ipoh, everyone has their own favourite dim sum spot. For those in the town centre, the Three Amigos are typically Foh San, Ming Court and Yoke Fook Moon, all conveniently located along Jalan Leong Sin Nam, affectionately called “Dim Sum Street” by those in the know.

And everyone seems to be in the know in Ipoh. Every local we meet has an opinion about dim sum and is more than happy to share it. Our GrabCar driver tells us Foh San is more comfortable, thanks to the tourists, while Ming Court’s portions are smaller.

But, he adds, without missing a beat, that means you can order more to try.

Ipohans are spoilt for choice. Reputable dim sum spots elsewhere include Zui Le Xuan Dim Sum on Jalan Ng Seong Teik, Sun Kim Aik on Jalan Lahat, Sun Kok Kee Restaurant in Bercham and Kao Lee Dim Sum in Ipoh Garden. It all depends on what you fancy and how far you’re willing to travel.

Some attract more tourists, for sure. But even the Three Amigos count local Ipohans, especially those working nearby, as regulars. Fortunately we are weekend tourists and more than happy to drop by whichever is closest to our hotel.

How does one have dim sum in Ipoh? Our local friends advise us to expect a wait. Queueing for a table is common if you’re after good dim sum, especially on weekends. At Ming Court, we tell the staff at the door the number of people in our group and he passes us a chit with a number on it.

When your number is called, you might be asked to dap toi or share a table with other patrons. It’s typical dim sum parlour etiquette, albeit with appropriate social distancing nowadays as per the recovery movement control order (RMCO).

No more cramped, elbow-to-elbow navigation of sipping tea or trying your best not to drop the tiny siu mai (four to a basket here rather than the usual trio found elsewhere) as you pick it up with chopsticks.

Pour some Chinese tea (left) and begin with some 'ham sui gok' or fried glutinous rice dumplings (right).
Pour some Chinese tea (left) and begin with some 'ham sui gok' or fried glutinous rice dumplings (right).

Speaking of tea, it’s all self-service in terms of getting our own tea refills. There’s a hot water station so if you’re hardcore tea drinker, be prepared to make a few trips. Other places have the wait staff refill your empty teapot for you but that’s inefficient if they are busy or inattentive.

Here at Ming Court, the servers take trays of dim sum, fresh from the kitchen, directly to our table and everyone else’s. It’s a circuitous route only they understand but given everyone’s satisfied looks, no one is left behind nor left waiting too long for their turn.

Elsewhere they might go the traditional route with servers pushing rickety trolleys to you for your perusal or you might have to order from a menu, with the accompanying sense of peacefulness.

I don’t know though – isn’t the hurried and harried sense of managed chaos part of the appeal of dining at a dim sum restaurant?

So, yes, be forewarned and prepared. Manage your expectations, as we did, and you’d have a splendid time. Pour yourself some Chinese tea and get ready for “battle” as a veritable army of servers will soon descend on you, carrying trays of enticing morsels.

More often than not, they will start plopping down baskets or dishes of dim sum with full expectation you would, obviously, want them. (Why wouldn’t you?)

'Ma lai gou' or steamed sponge cake (left). 'Wu gok' or crispy taro puffs (right).
'Ma lai gou' or steamed sponge cake (left). 'Wu gok' or crispy taro puffs (right).

There are har gow (prawn dumplings) and fried prawn rolls to dunk in mayonnaise. Slippery smooth chee cheong fun, Hong Kong style. Caramel-tinged ma lai gou (steamed sponge cake) and creamy ji ma wu (black sesame sweet soup).

It takes more than a fair bit of self-control and hard-heartedness to say no and reject the dim sum you aren’t interested in. Sometimes you do want what they have to offer but there’s no hurry; you really ought to finish what’s before you before it gets cold.

A dim sum parlour in Ipoh teaches you very quickly to get over your FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out); otherwise be prepared to struggle finishing more dim sum than you can handle or face the horror of cold, congealing carbohydrates...

A true dim sum spread means enjoying a wide variety of flavours and textures.
A true dim sum spread means enjoying a wide variety of flavours and textures.

A true dim sum spread means enjoying a wide variety of flavours and textures – and enjoying these treats while they are at their best. Fluffy and hot from the steamer, a freshly made cha siu bao is a real delight. Tearing into one with your hands (clean from frequent washing, one hopes) is an experience like none other.

Fluffy and hot from the steamer, a freshly made 'cha siu bao' is a real delight.
Fluffy and hot from the steamer, a freshly made 'cha siu bao' is a real delight.

Those who need their fill of rice can’t go wrong with a bowl of congee, studded with lean pork and century egg. Or perhaps a glistening lor mai gai waiting for you to dig in and discover its treasures of mushroom, chicken, Chinese waxed sausage.and that indispensable sliver of hard boiled egg.

Everyone has their favourite dim sum, an Achilles’ heel that threatens an ever-expanding waistline. (“Just one more round,” you hear someone plead with their dining companion. “Just one more har gow wouldn’t hurt...”)

Me, I judge a dim sum restaurant, rightfully or not, by its wu gok or crispy taro puffs. It’s almost always my final order of the meal, all the better to relish its feathery, flaky perfection – or bemoan its lacklustre construction.

Ming Court’s wu gok passes with flying colours, pairing a thin pastry crust and satisfyingly savoury meat filling. Thank goodness.

Queueing for a table is common if you’re after good dim sum, especially on weekends.
Queueing for a table is common if you’re after good dim sum, especially on weekends.

Whether for locals or for tourists, Ipoh’s dim sum scene shines. And if the queue – even longer than before, when we first entered – outside Ming Court is anything to judge by, surely enough other patrons agree.

Ming Court Hong Kong Dim Sum

36, Jalan Leong Sin Nam, Ipoh, Perak

Open daily (except Thu closed) 6am-12:30pm

Tel: 05-255 7134