Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 6 September 2018
In a glimpse, Ipoh wasn’t much different to parts of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Lines of colorful shop houses were seen on the streets of the main old town and food stalls selling amongst them. But in a 5-day visit to this town in between cities, I could see that the city was an eclectic town, which was said to be the next big thing in travel, and ended up exceeding my expectations. If anything, Ipoh is Indohoy, a combination of a lot of drawings and good food. You can probably guess, who’s in for the drawings and who’s claiming the food.
The city really started to shape as a mining city in the 1870s, which was said to cause more Chinese descendants compared to Malays as Chinese were more into the business. I’m much reminded of Singkawang, a city also built from a mining community where the Chinese-Indonesians predominated and I felt that rare sense of being a minority in my own country. But the Malaysian feel in Ipoh was still quite strong, especially with the distinct patch of the Indian community, which Indonesia lacks of. With this history, Ipoh is blessed with a beautiful train station dubbed the ‘Taj Mahal’. But as time evolved, the city no longer continued mining and became a quieter city, one for the Malaysians to spend a weekend.
Little did I know that Ipoh is the Malaysia’s food capital. I didn’t expect much from the food, which was possibly why I was so blown away by the taste. It was thanks to my company none other than local travel blogger, Kuan Ju or KJ from travelicious.com. She took us to all of her favorite places, including that of art and paintings. Having said that, here is the short list.
White coffee is said to originate in Ipoh and it is THE drink for breakfast and afternoon tea time. It had that signature coffee mixed with condense milk taste of Asia but the coffee was lighter though with a nice kick of bitterness, and the milk blended smoothly with the coffee. It was the perfect balance to some of the sweet and savory breakfast dishes such as the kaya toast, caramel pudding or noodles. I couldn’t resist myself and even bought a pack of sachet coffee home, despite knowing it wasn’t going to be as good.
Sin Loon is the local’s place to have breakfast. And the best thing about it is that you have to share a big round table with other guests, if you don’t occupy all the chairs with your own group. It’s a great way to mingle with locals or tourists alike, and definitely a way to see what the locals prefer or how they eat it.
Apparently the communal style eatery is a norm especially where they serve heavy meals. Thean Chun was recommended as they sold the best hor fun, the thick white rice noodles, according to KJ. It is said that you have officially visited Ipoh once you have had a bowl of the local hor fun. In Thean Chun, the noodles are served in clear broth, with greens, sprinkled with herbs, shredded chicken and shrimp. On the side are chopped green chili pickles, which is a must. The food was heavenly. The noodles were like Ryan Gosling on every red carpet event. Smooth and delicious. The broth wasn’t over powering the taste of the chicken or shrimp, and the pickled chili gave that oomph of sourness. I had died and gone to heaven at first slurp.
I love to snack so an afternoon dessert is always necessary. In the middle of Concubine Lane is a famous tau fa or tofu dessert place. There are several menus to choose from but all have the same basic tofu ingredient. The tofu was smooth and the broth slightly sweet and spicy from ginger. At the time, it was raining, so it was the perfect dish to have. What’s interesting about this place was it had these unique shaped chairs, which was said to be a design since the mining days. Positioning your legs on the stool, mimicking a squatting position, was said to be relaxing.
The one said to be really good and famous is Funny Mountain on Jalan Theater, but I didn’t have the chance to try it. Maybe you should and let me know the outcome. Deal?
On a plate, ‘ayam tauge’ hasn’t got much appeal. It’s as its name. ‘Ayam’ and ‘tauge’; chicken and bean sprout. But don’t be fooled by its look. The chicken was soft and had just enough savory taste from the soy sauce to be remembered eternally. The bean sprout was something else. It was thick, white, and crunchy with a slight sweet taste. It was the best… wait for it… bean sprout I have ever tasted! The dish had a slight taste of spices added but nothing to overpower the bean sprout itself. It is said that Ipoh people are very proud of their bean sprout; I think it’s the good water quality from the surrounding karst area. Add to that, smooth white noodles in mildly savory broth as the carbs to just neutral things out.
There are a few venues, but I was take to the one on the corner of a street in the old town. Don’t be fooled by the crowded venue across the road, this place is where the locals swear by.
The mural culture was something else. I’ve seen many murals of Ipoh online. Most of them were made by Ernest Zacharevic, who had been famous with his works in Penang beforehand. Little did I know that Ipoh has had a strong mural community even before Zacharevic put his stamps on its walls. Walking around the city, not only in the old town, you would see many murals that depict the daily lives of the locals made by different artists with different styles. Aside to spread all over the old town there were three other places that you should visit when talking about the mural culture in Ipoh.
Eric Lai is said to be the artist that nurtured Ipoh’s art community. Located on Panglima Lane, murals mostly depict much of the local culture and way of life, aside to some imaginary ones; from Indian dancers, a tribute to mothers, Nelson Mandela, all the way to robotic systems, all are colorful in this lane. You can catch a glimpse of what really matters for the local people’s lives through their paintings. Amongst them are also Eric’s work, one of them being the boys playing together.
Another mural worth visiting is located on Jalan C. M. Yusuff, formerly Chamberlain Road. This mural tells the story of the exact spot since the mining days; what this spot had been and clearly you can see what it had become today. Walking pass it from the beginning, it felt like a Wizzard of Oz movie scene where things started in black and white and suddenly it was in color.
“It’s a way for children to learn their history,” said Mr. Chen, who teaches art in the local university and was part of the project of making murals around the city.
Just outside of Ipoh, right on the walls of the surrounding karst mountains, might possibly be Ipoh’s roots to mural culture. Ancient drawings in shades of purple and red decorate the white karst and are said to be the only ancient paintings in the peninsula. There are figures of a dugong and a ‘tapir’, aside to the usual symbols and hunting activities. More advanced drawings than the ancient paintings I’ve seen in Indonesia. There are two types of human figure which were intriguing, making me think that there might be two periods that contributed to the wall. Don’t take my word for it, I’m just blabbering. Better see it for yourself.
There a lot of other places to visit in Ipoh such as their museum and a near by castle but I didn’t have to visit them. Possibly, Vira will tell you all about it one day. In the meantime, let me drool on my photos of food again.
This trip was a collaboration between IWasHere Networks and Panorama Tours.