[Ipoh, Malaysia] Hainanese curry with glutinous rice at Kedai Kopi Keng Nam (瓊南茶餐室)

Kedai Kopi Keng Nam (or Keng Nam Coffeeshop) is a five decade-old traditional Chinese coffeeshop in Ipoh which offers a good selection of Ipoh hawker/street food. It’s opened very early each morning, around 6.30am, and may sell out before 11 am each day. Come any later, and you’ll only see a shuttered up shop. It’s packed with local Ipohians who come here for their favourite breakfast items.

  1. My favourite item here is the chicken-and-potato curry served on glutinous rice - which is singularly, for me, the tastiest anything I’d ever tasted anywhere. :joy:
    Think of a mildly-spicy Hainanese-style curry, slow-cooked to perfection: aromatic, flavoursome, intoxicating and addictive. The glutinous rice was loose-grained and soft, the best I’d ever had south of the Thai border.

The more popular option here among the local Ipohians (but not as much for me) is the sweet but more common version: where the amazing glutinous rice is served with kaya, the coconut milk-eggs-palm sugar custardy jam much loved in Malaysia and Thailand (where it’s called “sangkaya”).

All the items here - the glutinuous rice, kaya and chicken/potato curry are cooked by Mrs Too, the wife of Keng Nam’s founder, Mr Too Heng Ling. Mr Too himself was already 93-years-old then, but still healthy and very active around the coffeeshop when I met him in late-2017. I didn’t see him at the coffeeshop this time round, but hope he’s still hale & hearty. The coffeeshop is now run by his son, Too Joon Nam, and his wife.

  1. Another popular item there is the chee cheong fun, delicate steamed rice flour rolls drizzled with a fermented red bean sauce, mildly-spicy chili sauce and topped with crisp-fried shallots and toasted sesame seeds. The Ipoh version is milder than Kuala Lumpur’s chee cheong fun which has a browner, more strongly-flavoured fermented bean sauce, and definitely nothing like Penang-style chee cheong fun with its obnoxious, coma-inducing (to non-Penangites) “hae koh” (fermented shrimp paste) dressing. The Ipoh version also has pickled green chilis on the side.

The stall selling chee cheong fun also offers steamed taro (Asian yam) pudding, called “wu tow koew” (a Cantonese term) there. It’s milder than Penang’s version, which is called “orh kueh” (a Hokkien/Fujianese and Teochew/Chaouzhou term).

  1. Another dish which is very popular at Keng Nam is the Ipoh-style curry mee or curried noodles: a combination of yellow Hokkien noodles, thin rice noodles and beansprouts topped with “char siew” (caramelised BBQ pork) and “siew yoke” (crackling-skinned roast pork) and curried chicken. Keng Nam’s curry mee is one of the best I’d tasted in Ipoh, and which I prefer over its other well-established Ipoh rivals: Xin Quan Fang, Sun Seng Fatt and Nam Chau. The one at Lim Ko Pi comes a close second, IMO.

The Ipoh version of curry mee is milder and less spicy compared to KL’s version (which suits me perfectly), but both are more assertive, spicier and has thicker gravy, compared to a similarly-named, but totally different, dish in Penang.

  1. Keng Nam also serves one of the best “pak ka fei” or Ipoh-style white coffee in town. This traditional local beverage consisted of very strong, pre-sweetened Hainanese-style coffee, with sweeetened condensed milk or evaporated milk added. Very aromatic an packed a caffeine punch like no other.

This place has become my first stop whenever I come to Ipoh - perhaps not a good idea as I’d have filled up on glutinous rice at the onset of any culinary visit to Ipoh, and will feel full for the rest of the day!

Other Ipoh coffeeshops which I’d have liked to start the day at are, in order of my preference (after Keng Nam, of course):

  • Nam Heong
  • Sin Yoon Loong
  • Kong Heng
  • Thean Chun
  • Loke Wooi Kee
  • Sun Yuan Foong
  • Ah Chow

Kedai Kopi Keng Nam
127, Jalan Raja Ekram, Kampung Jawa
30300 Ipoh, Negeri Perak
Tel: +605-255 7328
Opening hours: 6am to 11am daily