After KL, we went to Ipoh. Like I mentioned in the last post, it has a reputation for good food, but not many tourists go there. When we were checking out of Traders, the lady at the desk asked us where we were going next. I said Ipoh. She must have thought she had misunderstood me, because she looked very confused and asked me to repeat myself. I said, “Ipoh,” again, and this time she gave me a knowing nod and said, “Ah, yes, to eat.”
And we did eat well. The first night we saw a few large, open-air restaurants jam-packed with customers. We walked by one and peered in to see what everyone was eating. An old man sitting there saw us, waved, pointed to his plate and gave us a thumbs-up sign. I don’t know about you, but my motto is, “If random elderly people recommend food to you, you should eat it.” We found an empty table and sat down. There were no menus or signs. The waiter simply asked for our drink order and if we wanted noodles or rice. We chose noodles and then sat there, wondering what on earth we were going to get. A few minutes later, he brought out the restaurant’s specialty (I think it was the only thing they served, actually), Ipoh bean sprouts and chicken. While we were eating, I couldn’t get over how good the bean sprouts were. I mean, you might be thinking, really, how good can bean sprouts be? Well, let me tell you, they can be incredible! These were the best ever. Later on I read that Ipoh bean sprouts are some of the best you can find and restaurants all over Malaysia will special order them. I can see why.
Our other dinner was equally memorable. I wanted to try salted chicken, a legendary, “must-try” dish while in Ipoh. We looked up the restaurant that had it and asked at our hotel front desk how to get there. After several minutes of them having no idea what I was talking about, they finally exclaimed, “Salt chicken! You want salt chicken, yes! You are too late, you have to order in morning.” Darn. They graciously offered to get us a salted chicken for the next night, but we were planning on leaving. A little disappointed, we went out looking for something else.
I should probably mention that earlier in the day, we had randomly met Ben, a retired CPA from LA, while out walking around. Shortly after we left our hotel that night, we ran into him again and he invited us out to dinner. We went to the boastful “Restaurant The Best” and ordered several dishes to share: soup, vegetables, BBQ pork and, to my relief, a few salted chicken drumsticks. (Not a whole salted chicken, but better than nothing.) Ben was very fun to talk with, especially since he’s done a lot of traveling. He inspired us to go to Taiwan and to take the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow, both of which I’m really excited about! After dinner, we each ordered a dessert tea. I ended up with the white fungus tea. Next time I’ll stick to ice cream.
There is a bit more to Ipoh than food. They have some interesting colonial-era architecture that is worth taking a look at. We also took a bus just a few minutes out of town to see the cave temples. There are several of them and they’re literally Buddhist temples inside of limestone caves. You actually walk through a cave, complete with stalagmites and stalactites, to gold statues of deities and prayer altars. It was a very strange and cool experience. One of them, Sam Poh Tong, had hundreds of sacred tortoises swimming in a trash-filled pond. (You would think the sacred tortoises would have a better habitat.) Nan Tian Tong, just up the road, had what amounted to a religious theme park for children out front. We thought it was a little creepy.
Wow, I can’t believe I had that much to say about Ipoh. Guess I’ll wrap this post up and save our next stop, the Cameron Highlands, for next time.