Ipoh, located midway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang on the Malay peninsula (a comfortable 2-hours’ drive from either city), is a veritable goldmine of good Cantonese eats. In my books, Ipoh is the second-best food city in Malaysia after Penang, and ahead of Kota Bharu, Kelantan.
Whereas Penang has incredible-tasting street foods which span Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines, plus a sprinkling of modern-fusion and Western options, and Kota Bharu stands way ahead in terms of Malay cuisine, Ipoh’s specialty lies in all manners of Cantonese and Hakka cuisine available in its myriad eateries.
Ipohians are the most food-mad bunch of people I’d ever seen - more so than Penangites or KL-lites or any other Malaysian I’d come across. For example, Foh San, Ipoh’s venerable dim sum dining institution usually opens at 6am for breakfast each morning. The first time an Ipoh friend brought me there, we arrived at 5.30am to see a big crowd already waiting outside its doors - way before us!!
Ipoh has famous eateries like Hong Hin which specializes in Hakka-style noodles - and its dining room is jam-packed with diners by 6.30am! Come at 7.30am and you’re too late and will have to endure a one-hour wait for a table. By 10am, Hong Hin will have shuttered its doors for the day!
This time, I came to try the old-world Cantonese fare at Hoong Tho, established back in 1956 and now run by the 3rd-generation of the Yuen family who started it.
The place still retains the old-world 1960s Ipoh traditional Chinese teahouse feel, with Chinese-style marble-topped tables and stools, and carved wooden chairs.
Lenggong Noodles, a house specialty - this is a simple Cantonese stir-fry of “sang mein” egg noodles with sliced meats (chicken, pork) and crunchy vegetables. I guess the secret is in the sauce and condiments, because it’s got a distinctive flavour which reminded me of food from my childhood.
Caul-fat spring roll - a hard-to-find dish which we use to find in Singapore and Penang in the old days, but not anymore: minced pork, water-chestnuts and shrimps, subtly-scented with Chinese 5-spice and other condiments, wrapped in pig’s caul and deep-fried. Very tasty indeed, and with that elusive “old world” flavour. So, the cooking skills of the Yuen family has indeed been passed down the generations.
Century egg meat dumplings: these are poached and the filling were pork-century egg force-meat, wrapped in wantan skins and poached. Served with a soy-sauce-based dressing and topped with chopped scallions and red chilis, they were delicious.
This place is a keeper. The bonus is that it’s located in Ipoh’s famous Old Town precinct where all the legendary “Ipoh white coffee” coffeeshops congregate: Nam Heong, Sun Yuan Foong, Sin Yoon Loong and Ah Chow all lie within a 100-yard radius!
Hoong Tho Restaurant
20, Jalan Bandar Timah, 30000 Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Tel: +60 5-254 9673
Operating hours: 10:30am–3pm, 6pm–9pm daily, except Tuesday.