Wong Koh Kee Restaurant @ Concubine Lane, Ipoh Old TownJuly 7, 2010 | 13,448 views
A pale shadow of its old self, Lorong Panglima (fondly remembered as Concubine Lane, or Yi Lai Hong in Cantonese) is still attracting the shutterbugs and foodies until this very day.
I always tell my friends, relatives, or readers who took the effort and time to send mails to me (hehe, if you insist …) that the BEST place to start a food run in Ipoh, has to be Old Town. No, NOT the Old Town White Coffee outlets that have mushroomed everywhere, but the area aptly named as old town, yet actually without a clear definition of its perimeters and deserving Heritage status. Although somewhere somehow, half a million ringgit is being pumped to spiff up Concubine Lane, the infamous lane of Lorong Panglima with a rich and interesting history behind its moniker.
Wong Koh Kee Restaurant @ Concubine Lane in Old Town – With close to eight decades of legacy, this traditional Chinese style of ‘chu char’ restaurant is still standing strong, attracting the working crowd on a daily basis.
Truth is, the lane was notorious as an opium haunt, aside from the widely-believed raunchy stories of keeping the mistresses in the now-dilapidated two-storeys pre-war buildings lining both sides of the very narrow lane. As claimed by Wong Koh Kee, the 90-years old retired owner of Wong Koh Kee Restaurant in an article featured in The Star (read the article HERE) – “A story that goes round is that opium smokers would always say they are going to their mistresses instead of to the opium den when asked by friends” he noted.
On a personal note; it does not matter whether this lane was packed with sleazy activities or not back in the olden days. People from all walks of life come to Concubine Lane for a very different reason now; Eating at Wong Koh Kee Restaurant ….
My absolute favourite Gu Lou Yuk (Sweet And Sour Pork) in Ipoh from Wong Koh Kee. Very different from the others, you can see the hollowed centre filled with the lean pork, enveloped by a crunchy batter coated with the glistening tangy and strangely ‘buttery’ sauce.
I wrote about Wong Koh Kee once back in 2008. Since then, we had our lunch here occasionally. Not as frequent as I had hoped for, as the place can get packed in an instant. The merely half-a-lot size of the restaurant is one of the contributing factor, and the scary lunch crowd in Old Town is the other. Aside from serving dishes with rice (they are all on display on the board at the wall – refer to the fourth picture down), you can also opt for their individual servings of rice with your choice of dish, at about RM4/USD1.20 onwards.
Sam Wong Dan aka Steamed Three Yolks Egg – A velvety smooth combination of steamed chicken egg, salted egg, and century egg. Delectably smooth, even your grandma will approve of this!
We almost always ordered the same dishes at Wong Koh Kee. Crispy Pei Pa Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, Sai Yeung Choy (Watercress) stir fried with Siew Yoke (roasted pork)/Chap (mixed pig’s offals), and Sam Wong Dan (Steamed Three Yolks Egg). Until we have grown weary of the same dishes, and kept wondering what else to order.
The inability of reading Chinese somehow has always been a blockade of sorts. Since all the dishes are listed in Chinese on the board with their respective prices. And asking for their recommendations will eventually lead to the same old choices. 🙂
Not that I am complaining though. For you can see almost everyone orders the same dishes. Just glance at your neighbouring tables and point away, in case you’re not sure what the dish is called.
Stir Fried Watercress (Sai Yeung Choy) with Roasted Pork – A rarity, since not many eateries cook the watercress this way.
Since this was an entirely different visit (I brought my family on an off-day), I picked almost the same dishes, but an additional Hung Siew Yue Tau (Braised Dee-fried Fish Head with Vegetables) to please both of my grandmas’ appetite. You know how the older one gets, the more jaded the tastebud is.
All the dishes were treated with such a home-cooked manner, redolent of ‘wok hei’ (breath/heat of the wok) and generous use of lard oil (no fritters though) to up the ante, so to speak. Close to 80 years of operation speaks volume, currently Wong Koh Kee is being run by the son instead.
The Sweet And Sour Pork (Gu Lou Yuk) at Wong Koh Kee is still my favourite throughout Ipoh, though I have to give credits to Sun Marpoh, Menglembu’s Mun Ji, and Top Wok for their effort in dethroning Koh Kee’s. You can really taste the difference, a faint hint of pungency probably from the use of lard in the cooking, and the not-too-thick-nor-watery tomato sauce-based gravy was top notch. And the sheer crispiness of the batter-coated pork is a clear winner.
The Steamed Three Yolks Egg (Sam Wong Dan) may look scarily greasy with a layer of oil on top of the wobbly egg custard steamed to perfection. But one bite (or one sip?) of the steamed egg and you’ll swoon in surprise. Such a simple dish, combining three types of eggs (chicken egg, century egg and salted egg) in one dish with bits of minced pork within, with chopped scallions and finely-minced fried garlic on top.
The Stir Fried Watercress (Sai Yeung Choy) with Roasted Pork disappointed us this round though. Drenched/drowned in oil, the cuts of roasted pork was soggy and too fat. Still, the watercress was good; with its naturally fibrous and crunchy nature.
I could not find the BEST angle to shoot the deep-fried fish head, already split in half. But trust me, the fish head was more than sufficient for the five of us!
The plate of Hung Siew Yue Tau came in a maddening huge portion. I was about to order five dishes for the five of us, then was stopped by the man. Then we knew why …..
The fleshy fish head (grandma’s guess was it was a grouper’s, but we had doubts) was deep-fried until crispy, then braised in a delicious gravy with lots of mixed vegetables, mushrooms, fried beancurd (tau kwa) and minced garlic. I remember the cabbages, scallions and leeks. But the others ….. I was too busy picking the bones, squishy brain matters and such to care. 🙂
Slightly tasting of muddy/earthy tones, a common grouse with freshwater fishes, this may not be everyone’s favourite. But the plate was walloped clean at the end of the meal. And grandmas burped with satisfaction. After all, dining in Wong Koh Kee brought so much memories from the yesteryears; when I was first introduced to good Chinese food by my late grandfather back in the 80’s.
Thanks to Mum, now I know what to order the next time around !!! I seriously need a lesson in reading Chinese.
Oh, no need to sweat over the drinks. Everyone gets the same Chinese tea.
A feast for five came to RM70/USD21.20, a reasonable amount to pay for a slice of heritage dining. After all, who knows what is going to happen to the eatery once the lane is being refurbished and the whole of Old Town listed in the development plans.
This type of “Lou Chiu Pai” (old brands) restaurants are few and far in between. Most would have succumbed to the pressure of development, and lost out to the challenges from the chic cafes, air-conditioned restaurants and overpriced bistros. Another similar outlet that comes to mind is Hung Kee Rice Shop on Cowan Street, next to the now defunct “Pat Kok Lau” (Yau Tet Shin Bazaar). This restaurant has been around since more than 70 years ago, and still operating. Though now is a pale shadow of its old self, the eatery attracts only the same old familiar faces.
There is also a charming corner lot restaurant on Jalan Pasar (a street that runs parallel to Lorong Panglima) named Tong Shuan, with the same ambience, and serving a seemingly limitless menu. You can request for your food to be cooked in any ways you desire, and they can improvise from your suggestions. We have our lunch there quite often, and maybe someday I will come out with a full review.
I was also told by my parents about a certain Chee Seng Restaurant on Clare Street or Jalan Mustapha al-Bakri, that was closed long ago. Anyone have heard of this place? Or any other classic eateries in Ipoh that you wanna share?
Don’t judge a book by its cover – An unassuming eatery at a back lane might just be the BEST restaurant you have ever visited!
WONG KOH KEE RESTAURANT
No 3, Lorong Panglima,
30000 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Telephone : 605-241 9474, 6016-531 3826
Business hours : 10.30am – 3.00pm
Off-days not fixed.
Here’s a GOOGLE MAP to Wong Koh Kee Restaurant
Directions : Wong Koh Kee is situated at a back lane, beside All Inn Cafe (that serves hawker fares and sweet soup – tong sui desserts), and opposite of the famous Kong Heng Coffee Shop & Thean Chun Coffee Shop.