Cathay; A Traditional Hainanese Kopitiam on Osborne Street, IpohApril 23, 2012 | 10,085 views
The tangy, tomato-based gravy graciously slathered upon the piece of meat (chicken, pork, beef or fish) prior coated with an egg batter and then deep-fried, topped with boiled peas and onions, with a compulsory side of pan-fried cubed potatoes. This … is the epitome of one traditional Hainanese chop.
Being a Hainanese descendant myself, many people have expected me to be;
1) Being able to whip up a storm whenever and wherever, since our ancestors were supposed to be magnificent cooks, AND
2) Literally having the ‘winds’ inside the head; stereotyped as a person with an extremely moody temperament; close to churning out whirlwinds and tornadoes at the slightest point of irritation. (loosely translated to ‘Hoi Lam Ting’ … )
Then again, I can assure you that I am none of the above. But developing a strong penchant for culinary excellence and at times swayed by winds of changes that might have overwhelmed the basic sense of judgment, I may just be revealing my true colours beneath.
This, my dear readers, is a story of one classic Hainanese kopitiam in Ipoh; a rarity in this era of booming commercialization.
A piece of Hainanese-style pork chop covered in the same batter as the Hainanese chicken chop, served in a similar manner of messy sweet and sour sauce, and the exact replica of peas, potatoes and onions. It was pretty hard telling them apart.
Gradually, the search for a good Hainanese chicken chop in Ipoh took its dampening toll on me. I have had passable ones at Yut Loy in Kuala Kangsar, Yut Kee in Kuala Lumpur, Sin Kok Thye (New Cathay) in Port Klang and a relatively excellent version at Wan Li in Taiping. (Read every Hainanese chicken chop stories ever written). Yet, I could not find one in Ipoh at all.
The Hainanese-style chicken chop rice being served at Super Kinta food court had an unofficial extension at Central Cafe, which was good yet not the same authentic, Hainanese kopitiam experience I was searching for.
The batter coating the meats appeared to be slightly charred, but therein lies the charm of using egg batter rather than the conventional flour.
Then of course, the good people on All About Ipoh (if you’re not a fan yet, now you know what sets you apart from the 19k Ipoh food lovers!) recommended this coffee shop named Cathay on Osborne Street.
I went WHAT?! Eight decades of my life (yes, I’m of that age) and I have never heard of this place! Cathay Mee Stall yes I was aware of; that irresistible Indian Mee Goreng stall that has gotten me so smitten over their food … I literally fell head over heels in love with Mee Goreng and Pasembur again.
A fillet of dory covered in the same batter, and treated to a similar “professional” treatment at Cathay.
And Mum told me stories about how this Cathay actually originated from that corner coffee shop at the junction of Yang Kalsom Road. That same premise has been renamed to Beauty Baru now (what a ridiculous name?), and not without its slew of fans usually lining up for the aforementioned delicious Indian trinity of Mee Goreng, Rojak Pasembur and Mee Rebus.
I came on a Saturday, only to be met with closed doors and a pretty quiet surrounding. CLOSED ON A SATURDAY?! Yup, you’ve been warned.
Then I returned after double checking with reliable sources, ie: The grandson of the equally famous curry mee stall’s flamboyant lady owner is an acquaintance of ours. And by the way, the curry mee usually sells out by 9-10am. So either you drag yourself up to your feet by 7-8am, or tough luck going for it.
And the potatoes and onions saved the day. I hope.
Cathay opens from day until night, but offering different fares as the day goes by. In the mornings, the crowd usually settle for the noodles served from the stalls, and/or the Hainanese toast/steamed breads served with half-boiled eggs. And of course, capped off with a cup of thick coffee/tea.
We of course, settled for the Western fares; proudly displayed on the board in Chinese.
A myriad of chops : Chicken (RM9.80/USD3.30), Fish (RM12.00/USD4), Beef (RM10.80/3.60) and Pork (RM10.00/USD3.30)
The food arrived after a good 15 minutes or so, since they probably have not started warming up the wok that early in the morning. We chose the chicken, pork and fish chops, and sat back while the friendly exchange of banters started between Mum and the ladies from the curry mee stall. And yes, they have sold out everything by then; and it was barely 10am!
Stripped down to its barest Hainanese core, this coffee shop sees a steady stream of customers in the mornings, even on weekends when the street was deserted.
Truthfully, the chops were not up to par. The pork being slightly too tough (it was a real man’s meat alright!) and the dory had that unpleasant muddy taste. The chicken was clearly the best of the lot, yet this was not saying much as the crumbling batter and chicken was devoid of much taste aside from the sour-ish tomato-based gravy. The cubes of potatoes did their job well, but we wished that the onions were more caramelized instead.
Beggars can’t be choosers, alright ….
At least, we had a good taste of Hainanese fares in Ipoh that have been seriously missed since the days of FMS (When will this place going to be opened again?!!!! It’s been almost 5 years now?!).
If you happened to know of a BETTER place in Ipoh, or even Perak for good old Hainanese dishes, pray tell!
CATHAY RESTAURANT (non-Halal)
17A, Jalan Dato Tahwil Azhar (Osborne Street)
30300 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Tel No : +605-241 9414
Opens from breakfast until dinner. Closed on Saturdays.
Google Map to Cathay Restaurant
GPS Coordinates : 4.590258,101.083611
Directions : Next to Kim Bali (previously Assam House), and a few doors away from Guilin Vegetarian Restaurant. This road is parallel to Yang Kalsom Road, and connects to Lou Wong/Onn Kee at the other end. Turn left from Hugh Low Street at the junction where Paris Restaurant (where the famous Hakka mee is at), then go straight until the end. You will pass by Cathay on your LEFT.