Tuesday, December 30, 2008

a coffee to call home - 舊街場白咖啡 - white coffee a-la-carte Old Town

Despite the news of economic gloom, this trip home seems that there is something stirring in the air in Ipoh - it is getting back into life again, albeit the city center. After having hollowed out the past decade or more, the stranded developments in the city center are back into completion, and with new projects beginning piling works.

Overlooking the Kinta River not far from the St Michael Institution, there is a row of newly opened chic Riverfront café. The internationally acclaimed super star daughter of Ipoh – Michelle - was the guest-of-honour for the opening. (The other famous daughter is Sybil Kathigasu – a war heroine during the Japanese occupation). Next to it a new hotel complex is getting into works.

Closer to the older section of the Old Town, and overlooking Ipoh Padang at the Lawyer’s row – a row of pre-war shop /cum office buildings - a few modern restaurants – i.e not your usual coffee shop style eateries - are up with decent good biz during lunch break.

Well, you still have the every green eatery - the likes of the Old town White Coffee -舊街場白咖啡 – gau gai cheong bak kafe (Cantonese) jiu jia chang bai kafei- (pinyin) -and the chicken hor fun – 河粉– rice noodles.

The Old Town white coffee label has leaped into Malaysia’s coffee billboard big time. With its fragrantly thick coffee with a chocolaty flavor, the die hearts Ipoh-rians would never a second have a second thought on their choice of the cuppa – be it UCC or Starbucks coffee.

Unlike the Singapore Katong Laksa along Easst Coast Road which has a few claimants and self-declared pioneers, the true blue Old Town White coffee is clearly identifiable to the corner coffee shop on this side of the road closer to the little India of Ipoh Old Town – the Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong - 新源隆茶室- Sin Yoon Loong Coffee Shop.

Not so very long ago, a few many years back where - during the Chinese New Year festive mart at Kereta Ayer Chinatown – I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a tiny cup of the Ipoh Old Town White Coffee. Unlike the Ipoh Hor Fun, or even the Menglembu Groundnut, Old Town white coffee was a very local production and a localized name then.

Since then, as they said the rest was history. The Old Town While Coffee is getting to rival the Ipoh hor fun as the de-facto brand of Ipoh.

The Old Town White Coffee label has lent its name to a chain of coffee outlets in shopping complexes and popular joins in the cities. Like the Killiney Road Coffee or Toast - is a modern version of the traditional coffee shop.

The spark & inspiration to these local version of the café outlet would perhaps be the American coffee chain – with modern management and setting but offering a local taste and flavor.

It’s the 21st century version of the local coffee shop culture with each promoting its signature drink and specialty dish. Another modern twist of the café would be the - Hong Kong Cha Chan Tiang- 香港茶餐廰- with its never-to-miss milk tea.

Whatever the names of these modern local café outlet is – perhaps the name that would outlast it all would be the café that I saw in Ipoh , Jusco: It’s name in Chinese character is: ( well, haven’t I told you to learn Chinese, for you will miss much if you don’t)

- gong si gong fei

Which literary means a place for a gentleman (or a gentlewoman) to chit and chat while having a cuppa.

Well, what ever it is the name to be, Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong – the establishment in Ipoh Old Town - will continue to serve the unending stream of Ipoh-rians , as it has done so for the past 60 odd years and more - come what may

Postscript –

1. Well, now and then the entrepreneurial Ipoh-rians will throw up a nation wide food-ie craze. Close to two decades or so back – Ipoh style western steak pioneered by Leong Foo – generated an almost nation, if not a Perak-state wide steak craze. It originated some where in the Ipoh Garden eatery where the ex-wrestler ventured into food.

2. Perhaps we have not met for over 25 odd years or more. We were once in the same class in primary school in ACS Ipoh. He is now running the coffee shop together with his brothers, and the 3rd generation Wong of Hainanese stock-海南人-, and got to know that his mum is a Hakka -客家人。

The coffee shop biz was pioneered by the Hainanese during colonial times. And as in Singapore and rest of the Peninsula Malay – in the early days, coffee shop biz was run by Hainanese.

A Hainanese and a Hakka mix was - perhaps unique to and a product of Ipoh. For in Ipoh – the majority of the early settlers were Hakkas, with a mix of Cantonese, while the Hokkien and Teochew were the minority ethic group

Being founded as a tin-mining town, Ipoh was where the migrant Hakkas congregated. The early Hakkas ventured from their homeland as miners. And the hills and mountains of Ipoh, remained them of the homeland in the mountainous areas of North-east Guangdong – 广东省-south China.

3. 講士講啡

Or in Chinese PRC, with simplified strokes : 讲士讲啡- jiang shi jiang fei – in pinyin

gong si gong fei – is rendered in Cantonese –the lingua franca among the ethnic Chinese in Ipoh.
It is to mean:
A gentleman having a conversation in a Café or about Cafe
With the 啡 – fei - from - 咖啡 – kafei – coffee

Or the pun:

讲是讲非 – jiang shi jiang fei - to chit & chat of the right and wrong.

For : 是非 – shi fei – means right and wrong.