Taiping Eats: Local Food Adventure
Ten days before arriving in Taiping, Malaysia, I was in Malacca, Ipoh and Penang, trying local food in the old towns and seeking out the popular ones. And I thought the food in Taiping would not be too much different from Penang or Ipoh since the little town lies mid-way between the two big cities. I was wrong.
Not only are the food in Taiping cheaper than the other cities, there are also several amazing local specialties that I have not tried before. Taiping food do have its own characteristics.
Check out the wonderful and cheap food that I tried during my short 2 days stay in Taiping. And be amazed at what this little town has to offer.
1. Kedai Makanan Tai Chien (大千茶餐室)
Tai Chien has several food stalls selling char kway teow (fried flat noodle), lor mee (noodle in thick broth), chicken rice, popiah (spring roll), etc. I visited the coffee shop twice in a day and tried the lor mee and chicken rice.
The lor mee was full of ingredients with slices of soy egg, five-spice meat roll, crispy fritters, etc, and the broth is not too thick. I finished everything, including the broth.
And I was amazed by this orange chicken rice! I was given the options for curry or orange sauce and I opted for the latter. It is common to find lemon chicken rice in Singapore and most places in Malaysia, but using orange with fried chicken was to be my first trying. The orange sauce added some citrus flavour and sweetness to the chicken rice.
One of the special coffees in Taiping that is a must-try is the hor ka sai ("tiger bites lion", or 虎咬狮 — a Hokkien way of implying "mixed things") where local coffee is added with chocolate powder (locally known as "Milo" due to the brand of the choc powder used). Hor ka sai is similar to caffe mocha except that it uses traditional coffee and without milk. The strong flavours of both the chocolate and coffee are distinctive in the mouth at every sip.
Tai Chien is one of the coffee shops in Taiping that sells this Taiping-special coffee.
2. Restoran Yut Sun (日新茶餐室)
Yut Sun is a Chinese Halal restaurant just opposite Tai Chien. It serves a wide variety of food as observed from their thick menu. And one of the highly recommended dishes is the Hainanese chicken chop, which I gave it a go.
If you are expecting Yut Sun's chicken chop to be like those in western food restaurants, then you are in the wrong place. The chicken chop is of local Hainanese-style more than western, so tune your expectations to accept this dish as something different.
The tender chicken cut is fried till crispy, more like a big chicken fritter, and topped with sauce (tastes like mushroom sauce), green beans, tomato and potato. A simple dish that looks amazingly appetising.
3. Restoran Kakak (家家茶室)
Kakak serves mainly kway teow soup with shredded chicken (鸡丝面). They will use Ipoh sha hor fun (flat rice noodle that is Ipoh's specialty) if no noodle preference is specified. It's great for breakfast with a cup of Kakak coffee.
And Kakak's coffee is something that is worth a try. The milk coffee is added with barley and can be served as hot ("Kakak Re" or 家家热) or cold ("Kakak Peng" or 家家冰) with ice cubes added. The barley adds some of its own sweetness to the coffee, giving it an additional flavour.
This barley-coffee is available at Restoran Kakak only.
4. PSL Goreng Pisang (炸香蕉)
This goreng pisang (fried banana) shop can't be missed when walking along Jalan Pasar. It's specialty is, of course, fried banana and other fried stuffs. This is a place to go for afternoon snacks. Too bad they don't serve coffee.
They have fried spring rolls, fried yam pastries, fried Chinese year cake (nian gao or 年糕) with tapioca and yam, fried banana ball, fried tapioca, and several others that I couldn't tell without trying. The food is usually for take-away but they do have a table for "eating-in".
Look at those beautiful bananas! And I picked for myself a goreng pisang, a yam pastry, a fried banana ball, a fried tapioca and a fried Chinese year cake (recommended by a local). The granny collecting the money topped up another fried tapioca for me. A little too much for one person.
And I downed everything while waiting for my clothes to be cleaned in a self-service laundry shop. The fried banana is good and not too sweet. And I like the fried Chinese year cake. The glutinous rice cake is sandwiched between a slice of tapioca and a slice of yam, which gives three different flavours and textures with each bite.
Burp! My dinner was delayed by 4 hours.
5. The Greenhouse Cafe
Any recommendation of eating places is incomplete without a cafe for coffee and light bites. The Greenhouse Cafe serves local food and western food too — but I was there for coffee after a walk in Taiping Lakes Garden in a hot afternoon.
And I am highlighting their "lime and lemongrass" cooler. Apart from lime and lemongrass, there are plums and peppermint too in a perfect sour-sweet concoction. The fragrance of the lemongrass and peppermint are quite distinctive and very refreshing. The cooler is a great drink to have, especially after a walk under the hot sun.
And I have a go at their chocolate peppermint cheesecake and a cup of cappuccino after the cooler. I like this cheesecake because it is really chocolate flakes on top and can taste the peppermint in the cheese. Most other cafes use brownie or chocolate cake with a layer of "green" cheese on top (meaning, you can't taste the peppermint).
6. Restoran Prima Taiping (百龄茶餐厅)
At the junction of Jalan Manecksha and Jalan Kota, on the closed-off road between Restoran Prima Taiping and Kedai Kopi Prima, a food street materialised as night falls. Tables and chairs are laid out in the open space and diners can order from the food stalls on both sides. There are quite a number of stalls here.
I tried the seafood noodle sold by a pork noodle stall. And it turns out to be pork noodle added with fresh seafood, not all-seafood as expected. It might seem surprising to others who do not expect pork and seafood to be mixed in a bowl of noodle, but I find it familiar — if you read my article on local food around KSL City in Johor Bahru, you will see a similar dish. But it is cheaper in Taiping.
Another amazing dish. Instead of fried oysters omelette that is commonly seen across Malaysia and Singapore, a stall sells fried cockles omelette and fried clams omelette. With only a little stomach space left, I went for a cockles omelette. A different experience. I should have asked if clams can be mixed with cockles, so I can try both at the same time.
Following night, I went back for its yong tau foo (a Hakka dish) as recommended by the host of the hostel that I stayed at. The ingredients that I picked were boiled and served in a bowl of soup. They were really fresh and quite big in size too. Luckily, I did not order rice or noodle to go along.
7. Siang Malam (夜市)
Siang Malam (Malay for "Day & Night") is located in Market Square in Taiping's commercial centre. It was built in 1885 and serves as a dry market with a food centre. Opens only at night from 6pm to 12 midnight, Siang Malam's food centre is one of Taiping's hottest nightspots for locals.
One of the unique food to try here is the various type of nasi lemak (Malay rice with coconut milk). Unlike the popular nasi lemak that is sold in cities with multiple ingredients, Taiping's mini nasi lemak comes with only one ingredient, either sambal udang (prawn in chili paste), ikan bilis (fried anchovies) or kacang (beans). Some stalls may throw in a quarter of a hard-boiled egg — so not all nasi lemak stalls sell the same thing.
I went for a sambal udang nasi lemak, which is just a small handful, and some dim sum to complete the meal. Although nasi lemak with sambal prawns seems unique, it is simply coconut-rice topped with sambal prawn. For the dim sum, I had steamed pork ribs in sauce, siew mai (dumplings) and tau pok (fried beancurd) stuffed with pork-fish paste. It was a nice meal under the roof of a 132-year-old wooden structure.
A local, whom I shared table with, recommended the char kway teow (I forgot the stall number) among the stalls here, but I had no opportunity to try. I should have extended my stay in Taiping to try more food.
There are so many nice and amazing food in Taiping and I did not have to travel far from the town centre — all the venues mentioned are located along Jalan Pasar and Jalan Kota.
And there are more eating places in the vicinity that I have yet to try. Don't miss them if you are planning a trip to Taiping.