Ipoh’s Heritage – Koh Kee
M Makan Kaki is off to another food hunt! What’s the first place you can think of when the word Ipoh comes up? It would most probably be Concubine Lane in Old Town. Housing the top white coffee specialists (Nam Heong & Sin Yoon Loong), get ready to face the crowd and share tables with strangers. Old Town has conquered the scene in Ipoh for generations. Its heritage is preserved till today. The history of Concubine Lane dates back to a century ago. It is a small lane located off Jalan Bandar Timah (Leech Street) in Ipoh, adjacent with Hale Lane and Market Lane.
Lorong Panglima (Panglima Lane), or better known as Yi Lai Hong in Cantonese, is a narrow, uneven path, in Ipoh’s Old Town. Believed to have been established in 1908, many rich Chinese towkays and British officers housed their concubines and mistresses in the townhouses here. I think now you would know why the area is called “Concubine Lane”. A decade ago, this place was an abandoned rusty lane and there was nothing to shout about. The effort poured into the reviving the area has changed everything. However there was a restaurant, Wong Koh Kee that lasted the test of time.
Wong Koh Kee
Tucked along the five-foot walkway, second on the left is Wong Koh Kee Restaurant. Little do you know, this restaurant has almost 100 years of history. Running the restaurant now is the third generation of Wong’s. It retains its simplicity and old charm of Ipoh, from the furniture to the cooking style. Our families have actually patronized the restaurant in the past, others, a few years ago and some last month. It is a culinary gem of Ipoh. Unfortunately from what I observe, even though there are swamps of tourists visiting the lane, many do not take interest in this restaurant. Those dining here comprises of locals which is such a pity. Finding a parking spot here especially on the weekend is next to impossible and it has affected their businesses these few years. They definitely need more recognition.
We knew what to order even before reaching Koh Kee. It has no printed menu and most customers are regulars. Just opt to ask the order taker to recommend. What we ordered is their signature dishes. My ultimate favorite sweet and sour pork, crispy fried chicken, watercress with roasted pork, deep-fried fish, and steam egg, ending with lala.
As we begin the feast..
Starting off with Koh Kee’s sweet and sour pork, it differs from the norm. It is the deep-fried crunchy batter coating chunks of lean pork which is then stir-fried. Once you bite into it, you will discover a cavity in the middle; the pork separates from the batter! Other renditions are not as crunchy and use less batter to fry the pork. Imagine like tempura but with pork instead. Lightly tossed with fresh tomatoes and cucumber before it smothers in a tangy tomato-based gravy.
Next is the steamed egg. It is silky smooth almost equivalent to ‘”tau fu fa” sliding down my throat. Made from regular eggs, century eggs, and salted eggs, combining some minced pork, it is steamed to a mirror- finish perfect texture. It came with soy sauce and sprinkled with fried garlic. The crispy fried chicken or more popularly known as – Pei Pa chicken is another contender in Koh Kee. The paper thin skin was crispy and the flesh, juicy with the soy marinade and the special five spice powder. The taste can be a bit bland to my liking but with the sweetish seafood sauce, it completes the dish.
Keeping it traditional
Moving on to the watercress -Sai Yeung Cho used to boil soup with chunks of pork (bones, ribs and all). Koh Kee however, gave this plant a twist by stir-frying it with belacan or shrimp paste accompanied by chops of roasted pork. Very much like kangkung belacan, there was a tinge of spiciness and a hint of prawn paste. Belacan can be very pungent to some people but with the right ingredients, it can complement the dish. Next is the Crispy fried fish, deep fried till flaky, till we could eat its bones. The tilapia fish was fresh and firm enough to stay in one piece as it cooks, yet tender enough for a pleasing contrast to its crispy batter coating.
A taste of home
Finishing off with lala in a spicy tomato sauce. Previously, we had the steamed version in The Museum. This time around, stir fried with spicy tomato sauce . When compared to the steamed version, I much prefer Koh Kee’s as the flavors are more savory. The sweet and spicy taste was not overpowering but brings out the freshness of the lala. To quench our thirst, we kept it traditional and had Chinese tea. Chinese dishes is incomplete without a cup of good tea.
Overall, the bill came down to RM150. For 6 dishes and rice, it is easy on the wallet and leaves you satisfied. Wong Koh Kee is well-known for simple, no-frills food. The best place for some comfort food while appreciating the old culture of Ipoh. It does remind you of the home cook food your grandmother used to make, which is what Wong Koh Kee has to offer. Do head down there and check it off your must-eat list in Ipoh.
NOTE: We do not eat for free, nor we paid for this review. We ordered and paid for everything that we consume. This review is a general summary from feedback by all members of the M Boutique Family who partook in the Food Review.