Spices of Penang @ Medan Ipoh Bistari – Not Quite There YetNovember 27, 2012 | 3,002 views
You see, in spite of the many sterling (peppered with some misses here and there) reviews of hawker food in Ipoh, I have rarely sung praises for quintessentially-Penang street fares; like Char Koay Teow, Hokkien Mee (we call this Prawn Mee in Ipoh though) and Asam Laksa.
Yes, there were the occasional surprises that managed to make me sat up and took notice. And a few photographs complemented by positive reviews.
Yet, none of the CKT (char koay teow for short), asam laksa or Hokkien mee stalls in Ipoh come close to the real deal up north. I guess the same could be said about Ipoh chicken rice and old town white coffee wannabes elsewhere.
And then I read about Spices of Penang in Ipoh. Probably the first restaurant in Ipoh that stood up to the challenge and proudly proclaiming authenticity and representing the original taste of Penang.
Apparently the restaurant has several branches; one in Sungai Petani of Kedah (sourced from their Facebook page) and another in Sg Dua, Penang. Sounds good so far? And this one in Ipoh started operating not too long ago; to much fanfare.
There was a healthy crowd on that afternoon; almost full capacity but understandable given the fact that this was on a Saturday afternoon. The restaurant is situated at one end of the row of new shops facing Tesco in Medan Ipoh Bestari; within walking distance to the spanking new, brightly-painted with various shades of colours – Festival Walk.
Naturally, a sizeable crowd in such a new establishment can always mean two things.
One; the food served is damn good and Ipohans embrace the new outlet with sheer excitement and good feedback travels fast through word-of-mouth or social media.
Two, the momentum was built through clever marketing campaigns; listing in the dailies, flyers reaching far and wide and promotions/offers during the trying times.
I don’t think I have to explain about which one of the above holds more substance; and ensure longevity in business.
Sadly, Spices of Penang was a disappointment. We walked in with much hope and anticipation that finally there will be a platform to introduce the best of hawker foods from Penang to Ipoh.
But that was not to be. The Char Koay Teow (RM5.90/USD2) arrived in a devilishly-promising presentation; with chives, bean sprouts, golden hue from the eggs, shrimps and topped with fried shallots; with speckles of chili flakes on top of the rice noodles.
And the noodles reeked of a burnt taste that lingered long into the meal, and the ‘sar hor fun’ (kuey teow or flat rice noodles) was nowhere near the better quality ones in Ipoh.
The ambitiously-named Penang Rojak (RM5.00/USD1.70) was passable, but the few cuts of cucumber, turnip and raw mangoes, with barely a piece of prawn cracker did not do justice to the famous Malaysian fruit salad. The Rojak sauce delivered, with crushed peanuts that added a crunchy and fragrant texture to the ensemble, yet fell short of expectations.
The Penang Spicy Fried Noodles (RM5.90/USD2) was another weak interpretation of the island’s signature wet-style Mamak fried noodles in a spicy gravy. But this was much better than the Char Koay Teow, in my opinion.
Wait, was there no saving grace to the meal? The beverages were okay though. The Ais Kacang (ABC) (RM3.80/USD1.30) came with the usual suspects, plus a scoop of ice-cream on top of the mountain of shaved ice. The Cendol (RM3/USD1) was a refreshing finale to the lacklustre meal, though the processed strands of ‘cendol’ (green-coloured flour shaped into worm-like pieces) was as generic as any Cendol you can find in the food courts.
This is a somewhat big leap; a strategic step in bringing the tastes of Penang further down south to benefit the locals who crave for good Penang hawker fares. Yet, I personally believe that Spices of Penang still has a long way to go before it deserves recognition or a second branch in Perak.
For now? I’d stick to my dry curry noodles, white coffee & yong tau foo, thank you.
SPICES OF PENANG (pork-free)
30, Jalan Medan Ipoh 1D,
Medan Ipoh Bestari,
31400 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
Opens from lunch until dinner daily.
GPS Coordinates : 4.618427,101.11841
*Same road as Hokkaido Japanese Restaurant, at the other end of the row of shops facing Hokkaido. Another ramen shop named Shin Chan has opened a few doors away.
**Less you think that Penang street food selection in Ipoh are all doom and gloom, you can try Char Kway Teow @ Seng Loong stall at Stadium Ipoh, Asam Laksa @ Kee Poh, Gunung Rapat or Rojak @ Padang Kilat Ipoh to satisfy the cravings temporarily.