Holiday Foodsteps: Foh San, Ipoh

Foh San isn't a restaurant, it's an institution. It's an impressive structure and from what I've been told, a far cry from the small, crowded outlet that it used to be. With a setting not unlike a traditional Chinese teahouse, it's open-air concept really helps keep it from getting too stuffy.

Restoran Foh San

51 Jalan Leong Sin Nam
30300, Ipoh, Perak

Chin Toi

Yam Cake

This, I was completely taken by - lotus paste encased in a soft, chewy, glutinous shell.

I can see why Foh San enjoys such popularity - a wide selection of delicious morsels to be shared, well-made dim sum and an incredibly inviting atmosphere. With it's clever mix of traditional dim sum carts and self-service counters, there's almost no waiting time - good news for a bunch of hungry breakfast-seekers. I have to admit, they seemed to have everything covered - a take-away counter just outside the restaurant and lifts for the elderly. While a little more expensive than some other dim sum places, Foh San is well worth a visit.

It's the little things: Super-duper-yummy

It was an instant reconnection - the colourful toffee and caramel flavoured sticks of ice cream and me. Upon tearing open the packet, you get a whiff of that sweet toffee-caramel, something that you get only if you pay very close attention, and something that I associate only with the Rainbow. I remember Wall's undergoing some rebranding some years ago, replacing the familiar lion with Mat Kool, the monkey and for some reason, the Rainbow wasn't quite the same. It's back though, and hopefully for good.

Oh, how I could go on and on about the delights of the Rainbow, but I'd suggest picking one up at the supermarket instead - trust me, it's the stuff that turns days around.

It's funny how despite all the fancy tubs of ice cream and copious amounts of Italian gelato that I've had since the days of the neighbourhood Paddle Pop ice cream man, nothing beats the comfort of a Wall's Paddle Pop Rainbow.

I guess that's because it's "Super, duper, yummy" ;)

Holiday Foodsteps: Hot Wok, Penang

We thought it would be nice to step away from the chaos that comes with hawker food to sample some Penang Nyonya delights. Having grown up thinking that all grandmothers wore either sarongs or wooden clogs, I've always been a fan of the eclectic mix of flavours that Nyonya cuisine presents and so when we stumbled upon Hot Wok, we thought we'd take a chance.

Hot Wok
124-E & F Jalan Burma
10050 Penang, Malaysia.
Telephone: (604) 227 3368

I love how Nyonya cuisine seems to be a marriage of cultures - Chinese cooking with a dash of Malay-influenced spices.

Inchi Kabin - crispy on the outside and deliciously succulent on the inside, this dish is a childhood favourite. Coupled with the slightly tangy "ang mo tau eu", the Nyonya version of Lea & Perrins sauce, it had such an addictive quality that we ordered seconds.

Assam prawns. Coated with the dark, sticky assam sauce, the prawns were fresh. However, I would have preferred the sauce to be a little less sweet and little more sour.

Gulai tumis - the spicy-sour fish curry that's always a crowd pleaser. With a rather generous amount of brinjals and long beans, this dish goes extremely well with a bowl of steaming hot rice. While the dish had to be sent back the first time for being slightly undercooked, it came back well-cooked and with a nice balance of flavours.

The "Hong Bak", with it's gravy on the slightly thicker side, was quite enjoyable as well, reminding me very much of the version we get at home. Despite the rather large meal, we couldn't resist dessert and our selection of cendol, mango cendol and honeydew sago seemed to be spot on.

With the grandmother and aunts in tow, it was a pretty tough crowd to please but I'd say that Hot Wok managed to hold it's own.

Holiday Foodsteps: The streets of Penang

"No, left!"
"Wait, isn't this Burmah Road?"
"Argh, I knew we should have turned right!"

That's Penang for you, well for us anyway - a maze of roads, too much to eat and too little time. With hopes of leaving the directions to the GPS navigator shattered very early into the trip, we had to rely on the age-old practice of winding down the window to ask for directions from the neighbouring car at each set of traffic lights. It's amazing how many times in a row one can take the same wrong turn - on hindsight, perhaps having 4 women scream directions in the car isn't exactly ideal.

Needless to say, we were an extremely hungry crew by the time we found our hotel and settled on a place to eat. Ah, but the delicious smell of laksa and the sound of the kuey teow being expertly fried was worth every wrong turn.

I've always thought of Penang as the land in which the hawker is king. With stalls that have been around for generations and hawkers whose names my grandmother remembers, it's a matter of getting to the right places to eat, or in our case, trying to stumble upon them. While I will not attempt to advice on the best places to eat in Penang (I expect that much debate goes on about that), I will share with you some of my favourite hawker dishes.

Clockwise from top left - char kuey teow, prawn noodles (or Hokkien mee, in Penang), laksa, loh bak

Char kuey teow is a little lighter in colour in Penang than it is everywhere else in Malaysia but it's lack of colour definitely doesn't translate to a lack of flavour. My brother is a big fan of prawn noodles and after getting over the initial confusion of it being called Hokkien mee in Penang, he promptly gave the Penang version a thumbs up. I'm all for assam laksa as well because really, how can one resist the robust flavours of the tangy broth? I'm a loh bak lover, true and true - the spice-laden pork rolled in crispy beancurd skin, the other little crispy pieces that get piled on top and the slices of century egg that add that extra bit of texture. Dunked into that special sauce, I could have it as a meal on its own.

Clockwise from top left - chee cheong fun, pie tee, sar hor fun, yam cake.

My absolute favourite, however, is the cendol. There's something about the cendol in Penang that is more flavourful - perhaps it's the more generous helpings of gula melaka, or the creaminess of the coconut milk. The cendol and ais kacang never failed, no matter where we went. While not pictured, the muar chee sold in the hawker area along Gurney Drive get's a special mention as well. Penang, with Gurney Drive in particular, was where a 5 year old me first fell in love with the soft, sweet, peanut-y, chewy delight that is muar chee. Cut into tiny pieces, rolled in the peanut-sugar mixture and served warm, it's different from the usual muar chee balls that we tend to get and oh-so-good.

The choices seem endless with everything from oyster omelettes to mee rebus. Decisions are tough and we somehow always ended up with far too much to eat. With that said, it's key to pick the right places to go though as some of the hawker areas aren't the most hygenic of places and the last thing you'd want is for a bout of food poisoning to put a damper on your holiday.

They say that a family that eats together stays together. I think we've definitely got that covered.

Oriental Pavilion

To kick off our little trip up the west coast of Malaysia, we decided that it would be nice to sit down to a dainty meal of dim sum. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of London's tiny Chinatown restaurants where dim sum is sometimes served as an all-you-can-eat buffet, our first official vacation meal stop was a picture of serenity.

Oriental Pavilion
1st Floor ,Jaya 33, Jln Semangat, Section 13,
Petaling Jaya, Selangor,
03- 7956 9288

With soft piped-in jazz, the pre-noon scene was a rather quiet one with the restaurant starting to fill up only as we were leaving.

The favourites were all there, and very well represented.

I found the yam puffs particularly enjoyable - with a light crispy outer shell and a generous filling, they weren't overly oily or over-fried.

We also enjoyed a small portion of roast pork and roast duck that came served rather unusually, with some soft steamed tofu.

While the dim sum was definitely decent, it was the ambience that I enjoyed most - a Chinese restaurant with the classic set-up only perhaps missing the gentle sounds of the gu zheng coming from a corner.

Tea, anyone?

Char Siu

Call me biased, but I think my mum makes the best char siu. None of the dry, reddish-pink tinged fare, this is the real deal - slightly sweet and sticky, moist and deliciously soft from the slow-cooking. The best part is that it's really a whole lot easier to make than I thought, a simple recipe that requires some patience and a little love.


Streaky pork
Soy sauce

The best cut of pork to use for this is the streakier bits as the thin slivers of fat between the meat will keep everything moist and lend it that melt-in-your mouth texture.
Marinade the pork in soy sauce, pepper and honey for 2 to 4 hours.
In a deep pan or wok, heat a small amount of oil (mum uses olive oil) and add to the oil the pork, marinade and all.
On medium heat, allow the marinade to start bubbling before turning down the heat to slowly cook the pork for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, keeping a close eye on it to ensure even cooking.

It goes to show that sometimes, it's the simplest recipes that are the best. I've never found anything to top this version of char siu yet. I'm beginning to think that I'm never going to and I'm definitely not complaining.