This article was first published on Malay Mail Online’s Eat/Drink section HERE.
I believe it goes without saying that Ipoh’s fairly well known for the noodles. Where Sar Hor Fun (or better known through its generic term – kuey teow or flat rice noodles) has earned a massive following thanks to the success of Ipoh bean sprouts chicken, the rest of the noodle-based delights such as Chee Cheong Fun, Curry Noodles and Hakka Mee remain dormant yet gradually earning their stripes.
The Chinese culture in Ipoh has traditionally embraced the concept of a hearty start to the day; where breakfasts of champions reign supreme and a bowl of cereals, an energy bar or plain steamed bread just won’t cut it. The terrifyingly congested dim sum street along Leong Sin Nam road for one; a breathing proof of our love for kick starting the day with savouries; and the same goes for coffee shops in old town populated by various noodle stalls.
For me, on weekends I prefer to jump start this rickety engine with a satisfying breakfast of Chee Cheong Fun; the beloved steamed rice noodle rolls either served plain, or studded with briny dried shrimps, then doused in a splash of condiments usually ranging from chilli sauce and sweet bean sauce, to curry pigs skin or mushroom and minced pork gravy, to even simpler dressing of shallot oil and soy sauce to really bring out the natural sweetness of the freshly-steamed rice noodles.
There are a few good finds around town naturally, since Chee Cheong Fun or CCF for short, is not regarded as an entirely heavy meal per se. And more often than not we would be complementing our plates of CCF with sides of either yong tau foo (stuffed fish paste), or orders of hawker foods to be shared from other stalls. The case of old town’s Thean Chun is a best example; chee cheong fun coupled with pork satay and popiah from Kong Heng.
But nearer to home, and away from the tourist hubs, this infamously grumpy uncle at Canning Garden still stays true to his roots by serving his trademark CCF on metal plates and minimal intrusion to the flavours so carefully concocted from the sauces available; the sweet and spicy combination is the safest choice, lest you are game for stripped down, soy sauce and shallot oil rendition.
Think acoustic, but in a most flavourful manner.
But wait, didn’t I mention that this uncle is NOT your average friendly hawker? No joke this one. As in the case of many other stalwart hawkers with decades or half a century’s worth of legacy, he does not take a liking to small banters, lengthy orders or constant pestering for your plate of CCF. Well, take things with a pinch of salt though, and be ready for backlash should you lament about the wait (which is very bearable, trust me), or add this/omit that/etc.
I gulped and mustered some courage to stand as near to him as possible before taking my shots, though I was not reprimanded nor lashed at for doing so. Maybe I projected that tourist aura well; or he’s grown from camera-shy to a media loving animal. Yet, I could not helped myself but blurted out silly questions.
“So uncle, your stall stays open until what time?”
“Until everything runs out lah … sometimes in the morning. Sometimes by noon.”
And our conversation ended abruptly from the multitude of orders pouring in; from dine-in crowd and the ones waiting to ‘tah-pau’ (takeaway); complete with dagger stares piercing through this ‘local, pesky tourist’. I should have known better.
And so, watching him at work in a fluid manner; from selecting a handful of steamed CCF and slicing/chopping them up with a plastic apparatus the size of a butcher knife; tossing the portion into a metal plate then scooping the sauces (soy sauce, shallot oil, chilli sauce, sweet sauce) onto the noodles, before giving the shaker filled with sesame seeds a few good shakes and finally a spoonful of pickled green chillies.
Some older outlets still use wooden chopsticks but this uncle has moved on with the times and uses the conventional plastic ones.
I guess that key selling point that lure the loyalists in time and again is the smooth rice noodles, gorgeously and generously studded with dried shrimps, and his own concoction of sauces and pickled green chillies. He does not ‘taint’ his signature CCF with sides though, but feel free to order piece or two of the equally famous fried chicken from the economy rice stall.
And remember … just refrain from making snide remarks on lack of gravy options or side dishes. You’ll pay dearly.
Kedai Makanan Canning Garden
27, Lorong Cecil Rae,
Canning Garden, 31400 Ipoh, Perak.
Corner shop opposite of Canning Garden wet market
Opens from morning until sold out, usually before noon