When nothing comes close.

This is my ultimate, my absolute favourite, king of my heart. It's my yardstick for curry noodles and so far, nothing has come close.

Restoran Hoi Yin
Teluk Cempedak

The curry is nothing short of amazing - a nice consistency, just spicy enough, and not overpowered by coconut milk, probably what I like most about it. One can taste the sweetness of the gravy, most likely made from fresh chicken. I love the pieces of chicken, boiled to such succulent perfection that it holds its own even in the spicy curry. The fantastic flavours speak volumes about the freshness of the ingredients, everything from the fishballs and cockles to the delightful tauhu pok that are like little parcels of gravy.

It definitely doesn't hurt that it's located by the beach. The relaxed atmosphere, the smell of the sea - I say there's no better way to start the day. I have fond memories of the place, of breakfasts after a good game of tennis and walks on the beach after, of trading stories and catching up. I knew at first bite, that it was going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

"Uncle, kari min, barley peng!"

Holiday Foodsteps: Ipoh - A Seafood Fest

Yeh Lai Ong
Ipoh Garden, Ipoh.

My brother has a theory about restaurants: easily bendable cutlery and plates that look like they've been too close to fire means that you're almost guaranteed a good meal. This is the place that proves his theory time and time again. No trip to Ipoh would be complete without a visit (or two) to our favourite restaurant, at least not for us anyway. It's one of those things that we talk about even before we get to Ipoh, a sort of centre piece to our holiday. The thing is, they recognise us, even if we only pay them a visit twice a year - and that's always nice, isn't it?

Claiming that no other place does steamed clams better than this place, this is where my brother gets his clam fix. Steamed in Chinese wine and ginger, this dish always has a wonderful aroma. He consumes his clams with all seriousness, treating it like an Olympic sport. There's a method to all of it apparently - one has to get the right amount of gravy into the shell before slurping everything up and adding the empty shell to the growing tower on the side plate.

I've yet to come find a place that makes a sweet and sour sauce as good as this one. There's a fantastic quality to the taste - a little garlicky, a little sweet, a little sour, a little magic. It's so good, it's almost addictive. I was tempted to order a bowl of gravy just to go with the fried mantou that was crisp and golden on the outside and deliciously soft on the inside. I think it's the authencity of the sauce, how you just know that it's the natural flavours of the ingredients coming together that makes you want to lick every bit of gravy off the crab (and of your fingers!).

Fried squid, something I can never resist. They do a mean fried squid - crispy, tasty and with the squid cooked just long enough. It was a last minute addition to the meal, and an addition that we definitely did not regret.

Deep fried pomfret. This is another one of our favourites as the fish is always fresh and the soy sauce gravy makes an excellent complement to the fish. This time, it was a little low on the soy sauce gravy, much to my disappointment though the fish was still well fried. Perhaps a better option would have been the steamed fish Teochew style, something that we had on the second visit to the restaurant that trip. Steamed with salted vegetables, the salty-sour gravy was extremely appetising.

It's funny how coming from the east cost, we look forward to seafood in Ipoh but really, it's the sort of meal that puts you in the best of moods even if the rain threatens to put a dampener on your holiday (and trust me, this trip, it did try).

Holiday Foodsteps: Ipoh - The Power of Choice

I've always loved coffee shops - the old Chinese coffee shops wih stalls selling different things, the type that if you really think about it, shouldn't be called just coffee shops. I love the hustle and bustle of busy stall-owners and how they all seem so set in their ways and the amount of choice that you get.

Thean Chun Coffee Shop
Situated in Old Town, Ipoh

My parents have fond memories of this place, of stalls that have been there for generations and of food that never disappoints.

What's a trip a Ipoh without having kuey teow, Ipoh style? For some reason, only stalls in Ipoh seem to get this absolutely right (hence the name, I suppose). The broth has to be clear, with a slight reddish tinge from the chilli oil and the flavour subtle, just natural sweetness from the prawns and meat.

This was a personal favourite - pork satay. I have to say, I've not had satay this good in a long time, if not ever - the pork was tender and not too lean, well cooked but still wonderfully juicy. The best bits were the paper thin slivers of fat between the meat. What was amusing was the way they served the satay - every table gets a starter pack, in a way, of satay and you're free to consume as many sticks of satay as you wish. The service is so good that you even get any remaining sticks of satay replaced with nice hot ones in the middle of the meal. At the end of it all, someone comes to count the number of sticks you've consumed, an interesting system.

Curry chee cheong fun. For me, this was something quite new as I'm more used to either the chee cheong fun with the sticky sweet sauce or the smooth sort you get at dim sum restaurants. The curry was not spicy and was more of a mild gravy to go with the chee cheong fun.

Creme caramel is not something you get at just any coffee shop - this was probably the first time I've seen it served at one but upon entering the shop, one would quickly notice that the creme caramel features at almost every table, always a sign that it's one of those must-have things. Well, they were all right, the creme caramel was excellent - smooth and melt-in-your-mouth. I thought it was incredibly thoughtful of them to serve every little dish of creme caramel with a glass of cold water. I couldn't think of a better way to end the meal.

Good food, great coffee and a sweet ending. That's what holidays were made for.

Holiday Foodsteps: Ipoh - Operation Curry Mee

Two things you have to remember when visiting one of the most popular breakfast spots in Ipoh:

- Patience is the name of the game
- One never messes with the system

Located along Jalan Sultan Iskandar Shah (Hugh Low Street)

Competition can get pretty heated up at a place like this - trying to get a seat is a bit like running special ops. You do a quick scan of the area upon arrival and potential tables are locked down as targets. You gesture to your troops to spread out, all the while keeping an eye out for lesser competitors who decide to give up and leave. At this point, you make eye contact with the customers seated at your potential table - mentally hurrying them up or giving them the evil eye for daring to chit chat as they finish their last few drops of iced coffee. As soon as the woman at the table reaches for her handbag, you zone in on her seat, call out to the rest of the troops and settle down at the table before anyone else can.

It's a bit like clockwork, the way they work - food orders are taken only after drinks are served and bowls of sambal arriving at your table is a sign that your noodles are on the way. I suppose it's comforting in a way, the same way counting down to your number at the bank is.

The curry noodles are of a different style here - the gravy is clearer than your usual fare with little or no coconut milk in it. It's simple, just noodles, beansprouts and bits of spring onion in a less-than-normal amount of gravy.

This is probably what really sets it apart from the rest - the meat is served seperately. A big bowl of roast pork, barbecued pork, shrimp, steamed chicken and pork innards or spare parts, as it is more fondly known as is placed on the table to be shared. Dunked into the sambal, the chicken, pork or shrimp is a complement to the noodles. It's a pretty good idea to serve them seperately as it keeps the pork crispy and ensures that the flavour of the meat is not overpowered by the curry.

I have to admit, I found the whole experience pretty interesting - everything from the hovering over tables (something I hadn't done for a long time) to the system, and of course to the different style of curry noodles. The noodles are a bit of an acquired taste, I think, and like most Malaysian favourites, curry noodles is a matter of personal preference. While this one was definitely worth trying, I'm still partial to my curry noodle shop by the beach back home in Kuantan.