My parents moved to Ipoh last year after a year in Penang. One of the reasons was because the food there is better. Having visited both places, I have to agree. Actually I’ve been to quite a few places in Malaysia (other than the two cities, I’ve also been to Langkawi, KL, Klang, Kota Kina Balu), and I’ve gotta pass the trophy for the best food to Ipoh. Penang is well-renowned for its food but I didn’t think it was really that amazing; perhaps I found it too oily/strong-flavoured/Peranakan/Hokkien style for my liking? Ipoh cuisine on the other hand is primarily based on the Cantonese cuisine due to its population there, which I feel is a bit more subtle in taste (ok I may be biased…?).
I fell in love with the Ipoh’s food: it was amazing, and so much cheaper than the food in Singapore!!! The Ipoh hor fun in particular is very impressive; the silkiness was not like anything I’ve ever had before (even in HK), and the broth it was in was just perfection in a bowl – rich in umami taste without any MSG aftertaste. I eavesdropped the table next to my family’s because of their very obvious Singlish; they said it was really really good as well! Here are some photos of the original Ipoh hor fun I had (they were at different stalls): In Cantonese, it is 河粉 ‘hor fun’, in Teochew/Hokkien it is 粿條 ‘kway teow’; which is why some dishes in Singapore call the same rice noodle with different names depending on whether it is of Cantonese origin (e.g. the Ipoh hor fun or San Lao hor fun) or of Hokkien/Teochew origins (e.g. char kway teow) – at least this is what I think. The ones in Ipoh are cut to a shorter width than normal and has a more tender consistency, which increases the slurp factor. Needless to say, I have high standards for Ipoh hor fun. The ones at the hawker/food courts in Singapore are sorely disappointing: unremarkable kway teow with MSG laden soup / oyster sauce. So I was looking forward to trying the one at Ipoh Lou Yau Bean Sprouts Chicken as their hor fun and beansprouts are claimed to be imported all the way from Ipoh, made with the karst limestone mineral-rich mountain spring water said to impart the smoothness to hor fun and the plumpness to the beansprouts. For those who don’t speak Canto, Lou Yau = 老友 = old friend (not in age, but in friendship!).
Their Kampong (village) Chicken is a must-try. We ordered it as part of the One Person Hor Fun Set: with Hor Fun, Steamed Chicken and Bean Sprouts ($8.50). They use free-range chickens (apparently from Malaysia) gently boiled in a broth with herbs and spices to keep the meat tender before being submerged in an ice bath to gelatinise the skin. This method is a must for good chicken rice stalls around Singapore that want to differentiate themselves from people like me who just boil the chicken and are too lazy to do the extra step 😛 (it’s one of the dishes that is my family’s favourite during my weekly cooking duty in Australia; we got the recipe from a Malaysian family we met in Adelaide. I’ll have to put it up here someday…). I digress. The kampong chicken here is very good, particularly the chicken skin: strong chicken fragrance, having a tinge of yellow, with an almost jelly-like texture; akin to fresh chicken in HK. While living in Australia, none of the chickens had this quality, even the organic/free-range ones. Maybe it’s an Asian chicken thing. The chicken meat was a bit chewy in texture and may not be to some Singaporean’s liking if they prefer the more soft, moister meat in the famous Hainanese-style chicken rice stores. I have a feeling it is more tough because the chickens are free-range and have developed more muscle; as it was similar texture to the chicken I had in Ipoh. I also have to give credit to the ginger spring onion sauce which was awesome and reminded me of the bottle of ginger sauce my grandma would always keep in the fridge (which I’m not sure will be sitting for how long to preserve… hahaha but it never seems to go bad). It was full of salty, oily, gingery goodness grated in big chunks for full-on ginger shiokness. Most Singapore chicken rice stalls only provide chilli and dark sweet sauce. Even when they provide ginger sauce, it doesn’t quite taste right, infusing it with vinegar rather than oil and spring onion like it should be. But the chilli sauce here is a bit too vinegary, a bit too little lime juice.
Here comes the big question: is the ‘hor fun’ as good as the one in Ipoh? I have to say yes, I can’t really tell a difference. The silkiness, smoothness, and slipperiness (without oiliness) of the noodles was just like the one I had there. But there’s a catch; the flavouring of it was nowhere as good as the original. The hor fun was sitting in a bed of what tasted like watered down soy sauce topped with some fried shallots and spring onion, which totally didn’t do justice to the yummy hor fun. In the photo on the poster, the dry hor fun looked nothing like reality; it looked appetising in a reddish brown oily sauce! The bean sprouts are reminiscent of the dish I had in Ipoh, being sweet, juicy and plump, but it didn’t look as fat. Perhaps it’s because it became a bit less fresh after the transportation to Singapore. I also think it would be nicer with a stronger scent of sesame oil like the one in Ipoh. The Ipoh hor fun with chicken and prawn (soup) ($6.90) was good, but nothing as nice as compared to the one in Ipoh. The stock is the main thing that was amazing in Ipoh; rich, full of the natural sweetness of crustacean-y taste and chicken and just look at the photo at the top; with oil floating at the top which was an undescribable yumminess. The one in Lou Yau was light with a mild chicken stock fragrance, which was definitely nicer than the MSG-laden ones you find in food courts, but was underwhelming compared to the original, even the colour gave it away (the original one in Ipoh had a slightly reddish hue to it from the prawny goodness I guess?). The shredded chicken breast was a bit dry, and I wish they had given unshelled prawns like they do in Ipoh. Nevertheless the delicious hor fun made up for these shortcomings.
On the menu, there are also other sides like Braised Chicken Feet ($4.50), Cold Tofu with Dried Shrimps ($4.50) and Saito Fishball Soup ($5/6 pieces). There are also Ipoh desserts like Ipoh Herbal Tea ($2.50) or Luo Han Guo Longan Tea ($2.50).
The ingredients are all there (authentic and fresh) to almost replicate the Ipoh experience, but unfortunately it was not executed in the best way in terms of the flavouring. If you like your chicken with the old-town chewy texture, it is a great place to get your fix. For the hor fun; was it worth the extra dollars to get this over food court Ipoh hor fun? Definitely. But is it enough to save you a trip all the way to Ipoh to taste the real thing? Unfortunately not quite there yet.
All prices stated are nett (inclusive of GST and service charge)
Ipoh Lou Yau Bean Sprouts Chicken 怡保老友芽菜鷄
9 Bishan Place, #B1-23 Junction 8 Shopping Centre, Singapore 579837
Tel: 6258 0633
Closest MRT: Bishan
Opening Hours: 11:00am – 10:00pm
Other branches: IMM, Centrepoint, Vivocity, White Sands, Chervon House, Chinatown Point, Century Square, Bedok Mall, One KM