My problem with each visit to Ipoh is: how to eat everything I want to try within the limited time I have there. It's always a case of too many things to eat, too little time (and stomach space).
Well, one just has to resort to careful prioritization and, this morning, it was to be Nam Chau - one of the best-known Ipoh-style curry mee (noodles) spot. Previous "best curry mee in Ipoh" contenders I'd tried included Xin Quan Fang (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/840660), Sun Seng Fatt (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/883425) and Keng Nam (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/626043).
Nam Chau came across as an old-world, very charming kopitiam - the sort we in Singaporea will reminisce about with a glazed look, as our *own* old-world traditional kopitiams slid ignominously into the pages of history, whilst Starbucks and other chains take over with their ubiquitous shiny counters and standard cakes/pastries which one can get anywhere from Seattle to Shanghai.
But Ipoh's kopitiams - each and everyone of them is unique, with their thick coffee brews and delicious artisanal foods - still hold sway in this very traditional town which appreciates good food. At Nam Chau, the curry mee took on a robust flavor, the thick sauce had an underlying almost sandy texture - probably due to their heavy use of powdered spices. As with every other curry mee purveyors in Ipoh, the secret is undoubtedly in their closely-guarded family recipe, which sets them apart from each and every one of their competitors.
Nam Chau's curry mee comes with your choice of noodles (thin rice noodles/ "mai fun", flat soft noodles/"hor fun" or thick egg noodles), a generous helping of Ipoh's famous crunchy beansprouts, poached shrimps and chicken, plus BBQ pork/"cha-siu" and crisp-skinned roast pork/"siu yuk", if one so desires. It'll be served topped with fragrant fresh mint leaves.
A popular side order is the crisp, deep-fried wantons filled with minced pork, shrimps and scallions - very tasty indeed.
I also ordered another menu item which is popular amongst the kopitiam's customers who chose not to have the curried noodles and stuff at 8am in the morning - the "meen pau tan": two slices of perfectly toasted bread, topped with soft-boiled eggs. Lightly sprinkle some light soy sauce and white pepper (available on every table) and you have a simple, delicious breakfast, perfect accompaniment to Nam Chau's aromatic "pak ka fei" (white coffee) which has a mellow, sourish flavor - the result of their traditional method of "aging" their coffee beans for years before actual usage.
How do I rate Nam Chau's curry mee vis-a-vis the others I'd tried? I *must* stress here that every version is very distinct and everyone, it seems, have their own personal favorite. I asked my three Ipoh friends - one (who's Hakka, educated at the town's premier St Michael's Institution before going to Australia for college) preferred Nam Chau's version without hesitation; another friend (who's Cantonese, from Sam Tet, a rival Catholic school, lived and worked in the US for many years after graduating from Berkeley) preferred to queue up at Xin Quan Fang (the "opposite the police station" curry noodle spot) to get his curry noodle fix. Our third Ipoh friend (also Hakka, from Anglo-Chinese School Ipoh before studying in Singapore's National University) preferred Sun Seng Fatt - "cleaner", "brighter ambience", lighter taste".
So, there you have it - three born-and-bred Ipoh-ites with three different preferences!
Me? I'd go back for Sun Seng Fatt, if I'm told to choose one. Perhaps, like my friend, Daniel, I very much preferred the clean, bright, relatively modern ambience, and the lighter flavors of the noodles. No compromise in their use of ingredients as well - everything's so fresh.
Nam Chau Coffeeshop
54, Jalan Bandar Timah
Tel: +6012-517 9998