Kampar in the state of Perak in Malaysia was a former tin mining town, peopled mainly by Cantonese and Hakka emigrants who came here in the late-19th century. Kampar was also where the World War II Battle of Kampar took place between 31 Dec 1941 and 2 Jan 1942, pitting 1,300 retreating Allied soldiers, mainly survivors from the 1st Leicestershire Regiment and 2nd East Surreys, remnants of the 1/14th Punjab, 5/14th Punjab and 2/16th Punjab Regiments, and the 28th Gurkha Brigade, against 9,000 invading troops from the Japanese Hiroshima-based 5th Division, who had 200 tanks and 100 artillery pieces.
The pitched battle resulted in a rare Allied victory against the Japanese in the early days of the Japanese campaign in Malaya. The Japanese 5th Division suffered such heavy casualties that it was not able to take part in the subsequent Battle of Singapore.
Today, Kampar is a sleepy town of 100,000, better known as a midpoint pit-stop when one drives from Penang to Kuala Lumpur.
And one of the best-known eateries in Kampar is Heng Kee, which specializes in chicken rice, cooked in Chinese claypots atop charcoal braziers.
Founded sometime around the 1950s by a Cantonese sojourner, Lai Heng, the eatery started off as a road-side stall on wheels. He later settled in a permanent location at Chan Siew Heng Kopitiam, a traditional Chinese coffeeshop in Kampar Old Town in 1960s, before moving to Wing Loke Yuen Coffee Shop on Jalan Idris (the town’s busy restaurant-lined precinct) , towards the end of the 60s decade. Now, it’s got its own shophouse on Jalan Idris.
Heng Kee’s chicken rice is cooked with salted fish, slivers of Chinese sausages, and small pieces of chopped chicken which had been marinated with minced ginger, oyster sauce and light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is drizzled onto the rice, which is then topped with an egg & chopped scallions before serving.
The current owner-chef is 59-year-old Lai Lit Keong @ Ah Keong, who had been helping his father, Lai Heng, since he was a kid. Ah Keong now runs the eatery with clockwork efficiency, as he cooked upwards of 14 claypots at one go, effortlessly monitoring the multiple individual pots of chicken rice he had started cooking upon receiving the orders at various times.
Our dinner last night consisted of:
The famous Claypot chicken rice - greaseless and delicious: the fluffy rice was infused by the saltiness from the fish, the sweetness from the waxed Chinese sausages, and the savory flavours from the marinated chicken pieces.
We ordered two side-dishes:
Par-boiled chicken livers, gizzards and intestines, drizzled with light soy sauce and shallot-infused oil
Blanched soy bean sprouts, drizzled with the same dressing as for the chicken livers/gizzards.
Simple fare, really, but it filled one up pretty quickly.
Heng Kee (慶記馳名瓦煲雞飯)
86, Jalan Idris, Kampung Masjid, 31900 Kampar, Perak, Malaysia
Tel: +60 16-564 2386
Operating hours: 3.30pm to 9.30pm daily