A chicken rice roundup – Ipoh
Chick these out
Saying that my love for Hainanese chicken rice is well documented, if you are a regular reader of my column, would be a mammoth understatement, because I am, well, obsessed with the dish. Maybe it's the alluring marriage of garlic and ginger in the feisty chilli sauce, or maybe it's the silken chicken cloaked in a light sesame seed-soy bath. Perhaps it's the irresistible aroma of the chicken rice, so distinctive, so fluffy, and so capable of destroying any attempts to eschew carbs. Whatever the reason, the pull is unremittingly powerful, and so you can imagine the danger I face when planning a trip to Ipoh, arguably the heartland of chicken rice in the peninsular, and home to so many meritorious versions that only a Rimowa full of elastic-waisted pants will ensure I can return home adequately clothed after a visit there. But where to begin, in a city with so much choice? Happily, I've done the research, so herewith, my (current) list of top chicken rice destinations in the picturesque erstwhile mining town of Ipoh.
Perhaps it's the irresistible aroma of the chicken rice, so distinctive, so fluffy, and so capable of destroying any attempts to eschew carbs.
Overwhelmingly popular, Lou Wong (49, Jalan Yau Tet Shin, lunch and dinner daily) has served a mean nga choy gai for decades, and survived many attempted coups from pretenders to the throne. Naysayers proclaim a pronounced decline in standards, poor service, and lack of QC in the quality of the chicken, which has variously been accused of being excessively bloody to tough as boots. But if you're into visiting institutions, then Lou Wong should be your first stop, if only to set a benchmark—high, or low, if the haters are right—for the rest of the chicken rice eateries you will doubtless frequent. The chicken may sometimes fall short of the mark to be sure, and the service ranges from surly to non-existent, but the beansprouts, like the finest opera singers, are unfailingly plump, juicy, and yield a crunch that can only be described in a long exhalation of utter satisfaction.
But if you're into visiting institutions, then Lou Wong should be your first stop, if only to set a benchmark—high, or low.
So where do the aforementioned haters dine in lieu of Lou Wong, I hear you ask? It's to Onn Kee (51, Jalan Yau Tet Shin, 10.30 - 2am), their greatest rival, that they trot, where, in the classic game of one-upmanship, Onn Kee has two restaurants, one al fresco and the second air-conditioned. Like its rival, Onn Kee's service is similarly execrable, and quality can also be inconsistent, which apparently is a luxury afforded to institutions, thereby explaining the hoardes of diners who continue to patiently patronise both eateries.
However, it is Cowan Street's (44, Jalan Raja Ekram, +6012-520 3322 (Ah Meng), dinner only, from 7pm onwards. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays) poached chicken that is giving these two outlets a good, hard run for its money. Unlike some punters who like to live on the edge and eat chicken that's tinged with more than a little red near the bone, I like mine done just so, and Cowan does its chicken perfectly. A delectable soy, sesame, shallot, and chicken oil sauce lightly doused on top of the protein, plus a plate of fat beansprouts as dance partner later, and I usually leave this place with a greasy smile plastered on my face. The only downside—and there always is one, sadly—is that the proprietor marches to the beat of his own drummer. Random operating hours invariably spell disappointment, especially for day trippers making this their last stop before hitting the highway, so ring ahead to check, to forestall disenchantment.