No visit to Ipoh is ever complete without a meal of Ipoh’s legendary nga choy kai - a combination of poached chicken and blanched beansprouts, drizzled with good soy sauce, sesame oil, shallot oil and chicken fat, then sprinkled with chopped scallions.
Ipoh’s beansprouts are renowned as the best in Malaysia and Singapore - crunchy and bursting with juices. Ipoh’s largest beansprouts farmers import their mung beans from Myanmar, and the beans take just 5 days to grow to its full mature length, and ready-to-eat. It’s nurturing the beans that’s labor-intensive, as the farmers needed to water them every 4-5 hours. Ipoh’s beansprouts farmers also swore by the underground mineral water which flows from the limestone hills surrounding the city for giving their beansprouts the special light, crunchy textures.
One of the top nga choy kai purveyors in Ipoh is Lou Wong, which has grown from a small push-cart back in 1957 to the large restaurant it is today, dominating the busy foodie’s epicentre in Ipoh New Town, that is the intersection of Jalan Yau Tet Shin and Osborne Street (now called Jalan Dato Tahwil Azar).
The original owner-chef was Mr Wong Chiew Sun, nicknamed “Lou Wong”, meaning “Old Wong” in Cantonese. He’d started off helping his father (Wong Swee Cheong) peddle pork and chicken porridge from a pushcart in 1955. He later switched to selling “hor fun” noodles with poached chicken and beansprouts, and also moved his business into its current location in 1986.
Today, he’d passed the business down to his nephew, 45-year-old Simon Leong Shing Ching.
Lou Wong, with its al fresco seating area that spilt out onto the road.
Lou Wong’s stiffest rival is Onn Kee, situated diagonally across from it, and with its own al fresco tables. Started by Mdm Leet Hoo 44 years ago, it was also a hawker push-cart stall, but has grown to became the huge restaurant it is today. Today, 76-year-old Mdm Leet Hoo had handed the reins of her business over to her three children - Cheng Sau Wan, Cheng Sau On and Cheng Sow Keong. Onn Kee serves exactly the same menu as Lou Wong.
There is actually another, third, contender which is just round the corner from these two deadly rivals - Lou Leong, which used to be a well-known Ipoh biscuit-maker, Yee Thye (Est. 1975), before it made an ambitious foray into the profitable nga choy kai business.
Back to Lou Wong, we ordered the requisite Hainanese-style poached chicken, gizzards & livers, steamed tofu, and blanched lettuce dressed in soy sauce and shallot oil. The rice here, cooked in chicken stock, scallions, ginger and garlic, was absolutely delicious.
One thing we noticed - majority of diners here are outstation visitors, as local Ipohians felt Lou Wong was “too touristy” and “expensive”. I thought, touristy or not, the food was fantastic, and the service was top-notch and very efficient. Prices are high, of course, perhaps 20% to 30% higher, but you do get better quality ingredients.
49, Jalan Yau Tet Shin, Taman Jubilee
30000 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Tel: +60 5-254 4199
Opening hours: 10am to 10pm daily