[Ipoh, Malaysia] Cantonese lunch at Wong Koh Kee, Concubine Lane

Cantonese owner-chef, Wong Koh Kee, founded his namesake restaurant nearly a century ago here on Concubine Lane, in the colorful quarter of Old Town, Ipoh. The legendary eatery is currently run by the third-generation of the Wong family, fronted by his sixty-something year-old grandson, Wong Ying Hoong.

Traditional Cantonese cooking is the byword here. Ipoh is a largely Cantonese city, and Ipoh-ians can be pretty conservative in their taste preferences. Wong Koh Kee dishes out some very tasty Cantonese fare in this busy little place.

  1. Wong Koh Kee serves perhaps the best "Gwoo Lo Yook" (sweet-sour pork) in town. This is perhaps the most common Chinese dish known to the outside world. The version here, above all, was sheer perfection: crisp, batter-fried pork smothered in sweet-tangy tomato-accented sauce, with onions and capsicums. So simple, yet so hard to get perfectly right by many a Chinese restaurant chef. The chefs here at Wong Koh Kee have truly mastered the dish to produce a flawless one, the best I’d had anywhere!

  2. Don’t miss ordering the "Sam Wong Tan" (steamed hen’s egg-century egg-salted duck’s egg. The version here incorporates minced pork into the egg custard mixture. Drizzled with good soy sauce, then topped with golden-fried shallots and minced garlic, and finely-chopped scallions, the steamed egg concoction had just the right smooth texture.

  1. The stir-fried water convolvulus with roasted pork - the dish had a savory, very slightly bitter-ish after-taste, and we were guessing what secret condiments went into the cooking of this dish - perhaps Cantonese preserved shrimp eggs (har chi)?

  2. "Hong Siew Yue Tou" (fried, braised fish-head with tofu, roasted pork & bean sauce) - this delicious platter of fried, then braised fish-head pieces, with roasted pork and tofu, flavored with preserved soy beans (taucheo) looked too big to be finished by the four of us. But it was so good, we polished off every bit of it.

We just tasted some of the best Cantonese fare in a long, long time today. This place is a definite keeper.

Address
Wong Koh Kee Restaurant
3, Jalan Panglima, 30000 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Tel: +6016-5313826
Opening hours: 10.30am to 3pm daily

6 Likes

Sweet & sour pork has long been my standard order from Chinese takeaways (most recent was last Friday’s dinner). But until fairly recently, I’d never eaten it in a “good” Cantonese restaurant (i.e. one of the better places in Manchester’s small, but perfectly formed, Chinatown). Something of a revelation with the sauce not being as, erm, gloopy, as the takeaways and, much more to my liking, more of a hit from the “sour”. What would the tangy sour element be likely to come from, Peter? It was there but I couldnt identify the flavour.

1 Like

Looks velvety and rich. Everything is so rich, even the kang kung. The steamed egg dish is interesting but I can’t eat those black eggs.

1 Like

Always a basic combination of tomato ketchup and vinegar for the sour tang, John, carefully offset by sugar to achieve that elusive perfect balance. In cheaper Chinese takeaways, they just bung all these together.

In good/proper Chinese restaurants, the sauce will have a gentler (less sharp) quality from the use of good quality vinegar, complemented by Chinese plum sauce, a bit of Worcestershire sauce (for a “fuller” flavor) and oyster sauce. Try this recipe at home:

1 Like

Century eggs are really an acquired taste. As a kid, I could not stand it - it looked weird and tasted funky. Then, at one point in my life - I simply could not remember exactly when - I suddenly developed a taste for it! I was thinking it might be when I was in Taipei many decades back, and was served a combination of cold, soft tofu with chopped century eggs, topped with a savory oyster sauce and chopped scallions. I never turned back since. :grin:

4 Likes

Thanks for that, Peter - and the recipe. Definitely one to try.

1 Like

Hi Peter, I will be in Ipoh tomorrow for a few days, mostly to eat.
Top 3 recommendations for someone from KL?
Just looking for some ‘only in Ipoh’ bites. This Cantonese place is on my list.

Besides Wong Koh Kee, you have to do Thean Chun for its “kai see hor fun”, pork satay (including pig’s intestines and pig’s liver), and the caramel custard dessert - all legendary food items which I first had here nearly 50 years ago - nowadays, the stalls are run by the second- or third-generation of the same families.

Nam Heong for its white coffee and “hor hee”, a uniquely Ipoh noodle dish. Its name is a Cantonese mispronunciation of “her ee”, the Teochew term for fish-balls. Somehow, “hor hee” became a classic Ipoh term for this noodle soup dish, garnished with a variety of fish-balls and fish-cakes.

Try and catch Ipoh “ngah choy kai” - poached chicken with beansprouts, with chicken rice at either Lou Wong or Ong Kee in Ipoh New Town.

For breakfast, try Foh San or Ming Court for dim sum.

In the evenings, you can go to Tuck Kee or its rival, Sun Tuck Kee for its “yut kwong hor”, fried noodles, topped with a raw egg yolk. They also do Cantonese noodle stir-fries (“gong fu chow”) pretty well.

1 Like

Whilst Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh are the two largest Cantonese-speaking cities in Malaysia, it’s interesting to note that the people in the two cities have different Cantonese terms for their food and drinks, as illustrated in this video. So, if you do speak Cantonese, make sure you use the right terms in the respective cities.

P.S. - It’s the same for Singapore vis-a-vis Penang, two cities with similar majority Hokkien populace. The terms for certain food and drinks can differ depending on which city you’re i

1 Like

Sounds similar to the various names we have in the UK for the humble bread roll. Where I am , it’s a barm(cake). Ten miles away, in the town where I used to work it’s a bap. And, go a few miles further east, it’s become a cob.

1 Like

Precisely! Variances even though geographically near.

Kuala Lumpur is 203 km (126 miles) south from Ipoh, whereas Penang is 158km (98 miles) north of Ipoh.

BTW, one of the historical reasons why Penang has a Hokkien majority population compared to Ipoh’s Cantonese one was the 1867 Penang Riots, which pitted the two dialect groups against each other. The Hokkiens won the 9-day skirmish against the Cantonese which left hundreds dead. It caused a mass exodus of Penang’s Cantonese population at the time southwards to Ipoh, and subsequently to Kuala Lumpur. Picture below from the Penang Museum showed armed merchants on Beach Street guarding barricades as anarchy descended upon Penang - until Indian sepoys arrived from Singapore to restore order.

Another photo - this one from an album presented to Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, by the Bishop of Penang during his 1869 visit.

1 Like
“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold