Ipoh 2012 - Kong Heng and Thean Chun Cafe
Search the web for Ipoh Food and the name Kong Heng is bound to come up. Together with Thean Chun Cafe next door, these 2 quintessential kopitiams are probably the most popular food spots in Ipoh.
The 2 kopitiams are like brother and sister. You can sit in one and order dishes from the other, and vice versa. I found that it is easier to get a seat in Thean Chun due to the presence of some 2 seater tables squeezed next to the wall with mirrors. Thean Chun is often called the House of Mirrors due to large rectangular mirrors lining the wall on one side of the cafe.
Trying to get a table on a Saturday or Sunday morning is almost impossible. I decided to wait until the last day of my stay in Ipoh - which was a Monday, to visit the shops. So is the reputation well deserved?
I ordered the most popular items - Ipoh Hor Fun, Satays, Popiah, and Caramel Egg Custard.
And the verdict - the Ipoh Hor Fun is easily the best I've had. It is a very small portion - but so well executed. These are very humble ingredients - shreds of chicken, small prawns, and rice noodles in a chicken broth, taken to extremely high levels. The broth is so delicate yet rich in flavour, I wish there was more. And the rice noodles had the silky smooth texture that Ipoh is famous for - supposedly due to its water which is high in minerals from the surrounding limestone hills.
The Popiah though, is quite standard, not much to write home about.
They have an interesting way of serving the satays here. Whole plates of it are put on the table, and you just eat as much as you like and pay based on the number of sticks you have taken. An honour system that has worked surprisingly well all these years.
The chicken satays are good - well seasoned with a rich smokey taste from the strong heat of the charcoal grill, but it was the pork liver satays that are a revelation. The chucks of liver are perfectly grilled, and still tender with a great flavour and texture. The accompanying satay sauce is also no slouch - thick and strongly flavour instead of runny and weak.
What about the famous Caramel Egg Custard? It was good - but I would not say it is the best I've had. I felt the sauce was a bit weak in taste, though the custard was perfectly done.
I also tried the Yong Tau Foo which is similar to what you get all over Malaysia, but here they have some unusual ingredients such as large sausages which are deep-fried and added to the mix. Those are really good.
If you ever visit Ipoh, you owe it to yourself to visit these 2 local institutions to feel and taste what Ipoh is all about.