Ipoh “Kai Si Hor Fun” & my mother’s recipe

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun at Restoran Pau Kee, Kuala Lumpur

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun at Restoran Pau Kee, RM4.20 per bowl or approximately A$1.35

NOTE: This post is also submitted to celebrate
Merdeka Open House 2011: Makan Through Malaysia which is in conjunction with Malaysia’s National Day on 31 August 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Growing up as kids in Malaysia, a dish that is child friendly among the array of curries and spicy Malaysian food is the Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun or Ipoh Sar Hor Fun as it is commonly known. Kids with a more adventurous and spicy palate are usually “elevated” by their parents to laksa status whereas those who are a little meek and bashful are fed with this more “bland” noodles.

Kai Si means shredded chicken while Hor Fun is rice noodles in Cantonese. This humble bowl of delicious noodles was made famous in Ipoh, a town located two hours north of Kuala Lumpur.

Owners Aunty & Uncle preparing wonton and nooodles

Owners "Aunty" & "Uncle" preparing wonton and nooodles

One particular stall in Kuala Lumpur that is famous for this noodles is what is now known as Restoran Pau Kee off Jalan Imbi.

It is strange that we never knew the names of the couple despite having patronised their stall for over thirty years and I suspect it might be the same for many of their loyal customers.

Everytime I am in KL, I try to frequent their stall and I refer to them as “Aunty” and “Uncle”, the husband and wife team who continues to dish out these delicious noodles.

Aunty putting the finishing touches on yet another bowl of noodles

"Aunty" putting the finishing touches on yet another bowl of noodles

It was probably back in the 1970s where this couple started business and they must have sold many thousand bowls of these noodles in the last 30 odd years or so. Their stall have since shifted from Tong Shin terrace to Jalan Imbi where they are now the sole operator specialising in their famous noodles, prawn wontons, chicken, curry noodles and vegetables.

Uncle ladling broth onto the noodles

"Uncle" ladling broth onto the noodles

The items on the wall menus are not extensive but loyal customers who come here know exactly what they are looking for.  The classic Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun is merely rice noodles in chicken and prawn stock with slivers of chicken, prawns and vegetables.

Chicken and beansprouts RM8.00 or approximately A$2.60

Chicken and beansprouts RM8.00 or approximately A$2.60

Through the years, I have found this simple bowl of noodles to be tasty and easy to eat as the smooth silky noodles would just sliver down my throat. The serving is quite standard for Malaysia but small by Australian standards and one bowl is definitely not quite sufficient.

Therefore, on hand are other offerings where the chicken and beansprouts are smooth with a tasty concoction of soy sauce.

Prawn wontons, 8 pieces for RM4.00 or approximately A$1.30

Prawn wontons, 8 pieces for RM4.00 or approximately A$1.30

The prawn wontons are soft and delicate whiles the prawn cutlet inside is fresh and crunchy.

Kai lan vegetables RM5.00 or approximately A$1.60

Kai lan vegetables RM5.00 or approximately A$1.60

A serve of kai lan in soy sauce and deep fried spring onions  is always popular, the vegetables fresh and crunchy.

Restoran Pau Kee at Imbi square, Kuala Lumpur

Restoran Pau Kee at Imbi square, Kuala Lumpur

Restoran Pau Kee
10 Jalan Utara off Jalan Imbi
(Building next to the Honda showroom)
Kuala Lumpur 55 100
Malaysia
Tel: +6 016 375 1360

Opening hours:
7.00am – 5.00pm daily
Closed on alternate Tuesdays

~~~~~~

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun
- My mother’s beautiful “chicken soup for the soul” recipe

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun at home in Sydney

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun at home in Sydney

Back in Sydney where I now live, I occasionally crave for a hearty bowl of Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun, especially on a cold and wet winter day.

I learnt this recipe from my mother many years ago. Not only is it tasty, this dish has the potent quality of melting girls’ hearts. This bowl of noodles is Mysaucepan‘s perennial favourite and a smile comes to her face whenever we decide to cook these noodles at home. This is one of the earliest dishes that I learnt when I first started cooking many years ago and to this day, this dish has a special place in my heart because it is my mother’s recipe and my wife’s favourite Malaysian food.

Whenever I cook these noodles, I fondly remember my mother because it is simple and she imparted the details to me through a casual conversation without any written recipe. A picture paints a thousand words and I used to stand next to her in the kitchen observing how she prepares these delicious noodles.

But I’m glad that whenever she visits us in Sydney now, I am able to cook this meal for my parents.

My grandmmother and my mother on her wedding day

My grandmmother and my mother on her wedding day

Over the years, I have refined this recipe time and again and have thrown countless of Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun parties at home that have proved a winner with our Aussie and Malaysian friends alike.

Fresh green prawns

Fresh green prawns

Thanks mum! Here’s your recipe to be shared with the world.

The verdict: Restoran Pau Kee vs my mother’s recipe

Restoran Pau Kee with its tried and test recipe is probably the quintessential yardstick for Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun in Kuala Lumpur. Their resilience and success over more than three decades are testimony to their efforts in maintaining quality and consistency.

From my most recent bowl of these noodles at Restoran Pau Kee in July 2011, I would humbly say, with all due respect to “Aunty” & “Uncle”, that I believe the stock from my mother’s recipe has more depth, complexity and intensity of flavour. This is probably due in no part to my cooking skills but more to do with the fresher and probably far more superior quality prawns and other key ingredients that I have the privilege to cook with in Sydney. Cooking smaller and more intimate portions at home as opposed to larger portions in a commercial environment probably makes a big difference as well.

Having said this, I never fail to still visit Restoran Pau Kee each time I visit KL because this place is an institution. It is a place of familiarity and comfort where their faces remind me of my childhood.

Most importantly, I believe in paying homage to the pioneers of food culture who have in their own way shaped my thinking and belief about food and how food has affected my life in general.

Green prawns cooked in stock pot

Green prawns cooked in stock pot

Slitting the prawns down its back makes it easy to peel after being cooked.

Green prawns cooled in cold water

Green prawns cooled in cold water

Run the prawns under cold water to stop its cooking to ensure meat is firm and to prevent being soft and powdery.

Chicken drumsticks and bones simmering in stock pot

Chicken drumsticks and bones simmering in stock pot

Gently simmer drumsticks until cooked, removing any scum and excess oil / fat on the surface of the stock.

1 tablespoon of white peppercorn to be pounded

1 tablespoon of white peppercorn to be crushed

Gently pound a large tablespoon of white peppercorn seeds with a pestel and mortar and only add to stock when it is boiling to infuse its peppery flavour.

Fresh prawn heads, head shell removed

Fresh prawn heads, head shells removed

The key to this recipe is using very fresh prawns which we are lucky that Sydney has plentiful. The prawn heads can be gently rinsed under a running tap to remove excess innards (optional). Do bear in mind the intense prawn flavours come from the prawn heads and its innards.

Simmer prawn heads in vegetable oil

Simmer prawn heads in vegetable oil

The important process of separately simmering the prawn heads in a small saucepan allows maximum flavours to be infused into the oil.

Prawn heads simmered in vegatable oil

Prawn heads simmered in vegatable oil

Drain the oil from the prawn heads and set aside later to be used as a drizzle when serving the noodles.

Pour a few ladles of boiling stock onto the drained prawn heads in the small saucepan to extract any extra flavour then add this stock back onto the main stock pot.

Bright orange prawn flavoured vegetable oil

Bright orange prawn flavoured oil

The prawn flavoured oil is the key to bringing this entire bowl of noodles to life by imparting its strong prawn flavours as well as adding a beautiful orange hue on top of the soup.

The prawns have always been slit lengthwise by hawkers who sell this noodles in Malaysia.

Prawns sliced lengthwise

Prawns sliced lengthwise

I suspect the reason for doing so is to make the prawn portions look bigger. The cross-section slit down the middle of each prawn can also absorb more of the fresh red chillies and soya dipping sauce to make each morsel more tasty.

Fresh hor fun or rice noodles

Fresh hor fun or rice noodles

Fresh rice noodles is important as it is a lot smoother and silkier than dried rice noodles that need to be rehydrated. Substitute with dried rice noodles as a last resort if fresh noodles are not available.

Drizzle prawn oil onto noodles

Mysaucepan drizzling prawn oil onto her bowl of noodles

Drizzling a generous spoon of the prawn flavoured oil onto the noodles adds the intense prawn aroma and taste that sets this bowl of noodles apart from those without this flavoursome oil. Its vibrant orange colour is testimony to the freshness of Sydney’s fresh green prawns and seafood in general.

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun at home in Sydney

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun at home in Sydney

In the thick of a cold winter’s night, this bowl of heart-warming noodles is Malaysia’s answer to a bowl of “chicken soup for the soul”.

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun at home in Sydney

Ipoh Kai Si Hor Fun at home in Sydney

So dear readers,

What is your top 3 favourite winter food?

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34 Responses to Ipoh “Kai Si Hor Fun” & my mother’s recipe

  1. Thanks for sharing the recipe, your mother’s recipe sounds delicious!

  2. Your mother’s wedding photos look like my mother’s! I love it when she shares recipes with me too :)

  3. Your photos are so beautiful! Mothers recipes are always the best!

  4. This is such a great post! I can see all the love and care you put into that great steaming bowl of delicious noodle soup. Quite a bit of effort involved but no doubt worth it!

  5. tania says:

    Love this. I will follow your recipe and hopefully will do as good a job as Aunty and Uncle. I never really thought about the little Malaysian children that dont like chilli, surely they would be ostrasized!

  6. Juliana says:

    Oh! Your mom’s picture is so pretty…what a beautiful lady.
    The food looks awesome, especially you mom’s noodle soup recipe.
    Hope you are having a great week :-)

  7. Your mother’s recipe looks really lovely, it’s always hard to top mum’s cooking.

  8. Alice says:

    I absolutely loved reading and looking at this post. Salivating at the beautiful photos. Keep em coming.

    • Chopinand says:

      Hey Alice,

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post but when are you going to be our guest blogger and share some of your fabulous recipes and baking secrets ??

  9. lily ng says:

    You are so lucky to be in Sydney where the seafood is the best. Me, here in Denver, thousands of miles from the coast, fat chance i even get to see any fresh seafood. If i am unlucky to get the prawn heads which do not have much ‘the good stuff’, i will cheat and make some red oil with annatto seeds, the flavor is not there but at least it is red.

    • Chopinand says:

      Hi Lily,

      I know we are indeed fortunate to get such great seafood in Sydney. I guess this whole recipe is predicated upon very fresh prawns.

      I have never heard of annatto seeds but just googled it and wonder if the flavour of these seeds might overpower the stock because it has nutmeg flavours. Also, the colour will make the soup red instead.

      If you “have to cheat”, I would suggest you sautee thinly grated carrots in oil with more prawn heads. Discard the grated carrots and prawn heads when finished. The sweetness from the carrots will be subtle and complement the stock but its bright orange will colour the oil which is really what is needed for the noodles to look good and appetising.

      Hope this helps :)

  10. sophia says:

    Wow…you’ve got some beauty genes!!! Your mom and grandma are both stunningly gorgeous.

    Hee, I voted for laksa, though I rarely get to enjoy it.

    Loved this post. by the way, I always thought “kai si” is a bad word…Doesn’t it mean “you want to die?” or something like that? lol.

    • Chopinand says:

      Sophia,

      You really crack me up. “kai si” is Cantonese for shredded chicken.

      I think you are thinking of “li ai si, ah?” which is in Hokkien, meaning, “you want to die”??

      How do you say “you want to die” in Korean?

      • sophia says:

        Ah I see! Haha, these dialects. They confuse me. I only tend to remember the curse words.

        In Korean: “Juk eul lae?!” Say it with widened scary eyes, teeth bared, nose wrinkled, lips twisted and fist raised. You hear it all the time in Korean drama! I say it all the time in my own life drama too! :-)

        • Chopinand says:

          Hehe, I learn something new but I guess it’s not advisable to say this to an ajumma carrying a bowl of boiling hotpot in a Korean restaurant? :)

  11. Hannah says:

    “Aunty” has such a friendly, kind face! I’d love to try both versions :)

  12. Mei Sze says:

    Absolutely beautiful recipe. I can see why the secret’s all in the broth – such simplicty and yet so potent. All the flavours from bones carcass and prawns. Mmmmmm..Thanks for the sharing the recipe. Will definitely make this someday soon considering I have been on a noodle eating spree. :P
    Thank you :)

  13. Manu says:

    Yet another great post! The noodles look so tasty!!! I would love a bowl to warm me up today!

    Aren’t mothers’ recipes the best ever?? I love all my mum’s recipes and whenever I cook them here, they always bring me back to my happy childhood! <3

    BTW, your mum looked so beautiful in that photo!!!

  14. I’m always astonished by the beauty of Asian people. Your mom looks so wonderful on that picture, and it looks like she gave you a lot of cooking talent as well! :) I love that you do all that wonderful cooking at home, and I can imagine that the way you dive into the depth of a recipe corrensponds to how you approach a piano piece …

    A thing that made me laugh was how you expressed that some Malaysian children are elevated to laksa status by their parents. :D

    My favorite winter dishes aren’t so different from what I eat during the rest of the year – vegetables stir fries with chicken or seafood – but I usually go with the season and will use more winter veggies like squash, turnip, and kale then. I also crave soups a lot.

  15. Shu Han says:

    I am totally bookmarking this. it’s funny because i just posted an entry on making fresh rice noodles. I love slurping down kway teow/hor fun because they’re so soft and slippery! and I really love it when people share their mother’s recipes. Mum’s the word, always!

    http://mummyicancook.blogspot.com/2011/08/homemade-rice-noodle-sheets-chee-cheong.html

  16. Cheah says:

    Your Ipoh kai si hor fun looks good. Here in Ipoh, a bowl will cost around RM3.50 to Rm4.00 and some hawkers use corn to make their soup base and it’s sweet and tasty.
    Others will put in chicken frames and prawn shells.

  17. Joanne says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your mom’s recipe with us! Now…if only I could find fresh rice noodles…

  18. Chopinand says:

    Hi Vivian, thanks for dropping by. It’s one of my fave recipes.

    Hi Lorraine, I think black and white photos from yesteryears are nostalgic and so romantic.

    Hi Maris, thank you.

    Hi leaf, it looks like effort but I’ve done this so many times, it’s second nature and I do other things at the same time.

    Hi tania, LOL. Malaysian kids will eat spicy stuff eventually, it’s just a matter of when and not if.

    Hi Juliana, she is beautiful in many ways. Thank you.

    Hi Dumpling Girl, it is definitely hard to top this recipe.

    Hi Hannah, I did some searching and have just found out after so many decades that “Aunty” is Mrs Chong and “Uncle” is obviously…. Mr Chong!! The wierd and wonderful world of Google. :)

    Hi Mei Sze, you are absolutely spot on. Get the stock right and everything pretty much falls into place. :)

    Hi Manu, yes mother’s recipes are always best because it’s comfort and familiarity.

    Hi Kath, you are right in drawing some similar parallels between cooking and music. It’s not about the food or the composer it is? It’s really a sense of timing, combining the right ingredients in proportionate amounts and expressing a lot of love and emotion and the outcome will be fine. :) :)

    Hi Shu Han, fresh rice noodles, especially your home made ones will be awesome with this recipe! If I ever made fresh rice noodles myself coz I think it’s too much work since it’s readily available here in Sydney, I would hand tear them so that they come in odd shapes and it would suit so many Asian soup recipes.

    Hi Cheah, I had a few bowls in Ipoh last December. I can’t remember which shop it was but they were RM3.30 each and very nice and tasty. I find using corn to make soup to be a bit of a waste as I rather eat the corn steamed coz they are so sweet. The sweet complexity of this broth really comes from adding that few extra piece of pork bones with the chicken carcass. The irony is that good quality pork tail bones from chinese butchers are cheaper than the organic sweet corns here in Australia and they make such a huge taste difference to chinese cooking.

    Hi Joanne, thanks for dropping by. Your solution is to visit Mei Sze’s blog above. :)

  19. tigerfish says:

    The stock made with prawns and chicken must be screaming delicious! And that made me scream delicious too!

  20. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful food memory and recipe with the rest of us. In one hotel I worked for we would make lobster oil the same way and the dish hand would have to leave the kitchen or he would swell up like a melon!

  21. unkaleong says:

    I just had lunch at Pau Kee and just googled it to see who had written about it before. Your blog came up on the first page :) Great write up!

  22. babe_kl says:

    Thanks for your entry, wow so yummy and slippery the hor fun. One bowl please!

  23. The broth must be delicious with all the ingredients you add to flavor it.

  24. rokh says:

    wow, now i know that so much ‘kungfu’ goes into a dish that we normally would think as ‘simple’ comfort food! in Taiping we too have a famous kai si hor fun but sans the prawns. I am interested to try this out and also tweek to make a Taiping version! :)

  25. Julie says:

    WOW thank you the recipe. I have bookmarked, hope I can make it soon!

  26. Pingback: Giddy Tigers » The Chicken Soup for My Soul

  27. Audrey says:

    Thanks for the recipe. Made it for dinner today and it was awesome!! A hit with my family!!

  28. Charmaine says:

    A piping hot bowl of Ipoh Hor Fun would have been perfect for this wintry long weekend. Have bookmarked this recipe for another wintry weekend. Thanks for sharing.

  29. Grace says:

    OMGosh thank you so much for sharing, I was having hard time locating them, almost a year since they moved from TongShin Terrace :) Am a pure Ipoh born but was living in KL for almost 20 years but relocated to Singapore for almost 9 years! There’s no noodle is as good as in any corner of Ipoh coffee shop but this Ipoh chicken hor fun is not that bad and the die for Prawn Wanton! I can cook the chicken & prawn soup but is the prawn wanton is not really that to easy to major even you get the freshest prawn from the see hahahaha!

    I must take my Singapore friends here :)

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