Ipoh has a great food scene which unfortunately tended to get overlooked in favour of Penang, which is generally considered the culinary centre of Malaysia.
Ipoh has its own unique take on popular Malaysian dishes, with a strong Chinese influence. Indian inspired dishes such as nasi kandar feature much less prominently in local restaurants in Ipoh compared to George Town in Penang with the local culinary offerings tending more towards noodle dishes and dim sum, although Ipoh does have one particularly famous Indian style dish, ‘nasi ganja’, about which we will discuss more further on.
About Food in Ipoh
It’s difficult to pin down Ipoh’s most famous or ‘signature’ dish and if you asked 10 people in Ipoh you might well get 10 different answers. For the sake of explaining Ipoh’s culinary traditions in less than 10,000 words, its worth focusing on three dishes for which Ipoh is often associated.
The first of these three dishes is ‘kai see hor fun’ which is a noodle soup with chicken and prawn, which is more lightly flavoured than the famous noodle soup of Thailand, called keow tiaw. The Ipoh version has a stronger chicken flavour than the same dish made elsewhere in Malaysia.
The second dish which is often associated with Ipoh as its ‘signature’ dish is chicken with bean sprouts. The chicken is cooked separately to the bean spouts and they are served on different plates. Served together there is something very special about this dish as the crunch and freshness of the beansprouts works wonderfully as a contrast to soft and fatty steamed chicken. This is clever cooking and a much better dish than it sounds when described by the written word.
The third dish I would suggest you try in Ipoh is curry noddles. There are two varieties of this dish available, dry and wet. The wet version is a noodle soup with prawn, fish or meat in a thick curry sauce on top. The dry version comes with noodles minus the soup and a curry sauce which is even thicker.
In terms of Indian inspired dishes, Ipoh also has its own take on nasi kandar with the provocatively named ‘nasi ganja’. There are no narcotics in ‘nasi ganja’, its name comes from the idea that the dish is so good its addictive. What separates nasi ganja from other nasi kandar dishes is mainly the way the chicken is cooked: the chicken in the chicken curry is marinaded then deep fried creating a crust on the outside and keeping the meat tender inside. Nasi ganja is also normally served with a salted egg and a dollop of curry paste which also adds to its distinctive taste.
The most famous place to go to eat nasi ganja is at the Yong Suan Coffee Shop on the Jalan Yang Kalsom. which has been serving the dish since 1959. Expect to see long queues for take away, but quicker service if you eat in. For the ‘full’ plate including the fish curry as well as the chicken curry it will cost you 16 MYR.
These famous dishes aside, they serve really good food here in Ipoh and I really enjoyed the simple dish of nasi lemak that set me back 2 MYR in the Birch Memorial Clock Tower food court – great sambal.