>> Ipoh Kopitiam | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Ipoh Kopitiam

MALAYSIA 🇲🇾
Garfield Avenue facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is fully open. There are a couple tables in front but these do not seemed to be used in the evening since there is no heat.

📍 1411 S. Garfield Avenue, Alhambra, San Gabriel Valley

Despite coming to life and being spotted in mid-November by those traveling down Garfield Avenue, a menu with "soft opening" in its corner is still laid out in front of you when sitting down at Alhambra's newest restaurant. This menu is half pictures and not extensive, somewhat of a welcome relief from many experiences in the San Gabriel Valley. The focus of Ipoh Kopitiam can even be further narrowed on any given night as some dishes are bound not to be available as the restaurant finds its feet.

While Malaysian and Singaporean food is here and there in Greater Los Angeles, the ideas and culture of a kopitiam are absent except for one small cafe in Pasadena. Ipoh Kopitiam builds on that essence and expands from a small mostly takeout business catering to students at Pasadena City College into a full service restaurant that takes its coffee and food very seriously.

Interior artwork

If you have ever traveled to Ipoh you will remember it for both of these things, the city is probably the best place to go in Malaysia for traditional coffee and food. The "white" moniker of Ipoh's famous brew is more a reflection of its extremely light roasting, fans of Starbucks' sickeningly burnt beans will probably pass. A variety of beans get roasted along with margarine, and then a touch of condensed milk is added.

At Ipoh Kopitiam, their Malaysia white coffee ($3.50, below) has a final color that is a lovely medium brown. Sipping it and enjoying the wonderful photographs depicting daily life in Malaysia on the walls of the restaurant is an excellent start to an early meal, but the coffee is not strong enough to keep you awake all night even if you drink it at dinner.

Malaysia white coffee

If you are on the early side, the natural kopitiam pairing for the coffee is a side of kaya toast. There are a few ways to have your toast with different combinations of kaya, butter, and peanut butter. If you were sitting down for breakfast in Singapore before the streets get too sweaty, the option most picked would probably be kaya and butter.

Toast with homemade kaya & butter ($4.50, below) is good here, thick hunks of butter as custom sandwiched between creamy spreads of kaya, a sweet coconut spread, and lightly toasted bread. If you want to focus more on the kaya, get your order without the butter.

Toast with homemade kaya & butter

Roti canai with chicken curry

While the kisses and nudges given to Malaysian food come from all over Asia and the people that have moved there for generations, Indians that have come to the peninsula have their say on so many things. Nothing speaks to this more than the universaly beloved roti canai, a flatbread often enjoyed for breakfast as well, cooked with eggs or served with dhal or curry.

The roti canai with chicken curry ($9.95, above) is great in the morning but can also be enjoyed at night, two puffy pieces just cooked and served alongside two bowls of curry. The chicken curry is in one, while another surprise bowl with okra and a spicy chili oil fills another. The duo provide a back and forth excitement that levels up the dish that starts from an already high point.

Nasi lemak with rendang curry beef

If you already have a lot of dishes coming to the table and not room for another meat entree, use the nasi lemak with rendang curry beef ($15.95, above) as a way to try this delicious beef option. Nasi lemak is a dish that centers around fragrant rice that is cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves and comes with an assortment of tastes and textures around it. The rendang is strong, as is the tart sambal.

Sometimes you will see this with a fried egg, which is preferred to this sliced boiled version, but the rest of the ingredients make it easy to forgive. Having a peanut is crucial for each bite, to add a touch of salty sweetness.

Malaysia style bak kut teh

One dish that should not be left off your order, at least on a first visit, is Ipoh Kopitiam's excellent Malaysia style bah kut teh ($17.95, above), a pork rib soup that is served with a subtle herbal broth. While it will not be confused with a drink, the name translates to "meat bone tea" due to the earthy herbal nature of the soup.

Spoonfuls of it are great with both the white rice and squares of fried you char kway, which both come with an order. Chunks of ribs are expected to be taken off the bone and dipped in the dark soy sauce laden with bird's eye chili.

Char kway teow

Another must order at any Malaysian or Singaporean kopitiam is char kway teow ($13.95, above), a stir-fried dish starring wide, flat noodles. Again the test is passed with flying colors, memories of wok-fired late night snacks are in every bite of these nicely chewy noodles.

Even chewier are the rice noodles in a bowl Penang asam laksa ($13.95, below), named for the northern island that makes this variation of laksa different with the use of tamarind (asam) to make it sour. This is a fish noodle soup that is also salty, funky, and sweet, its murky depths seem to have a bit of everything to dredge up. Really take it over the edge with the side of fermented seafood sauce it comes with.

Penang asam laksa

A sign on the door on the Sunday night of this visit warned customers that the fan favorite Hainan chicken rice was not available, and this will probably be the case for many dinners at least for a while. Probably best to show up early in the day and probably early in the weekend for this Singaporean specialty.

Even without it though, the meal was almost perfect, and very well-rounded. Future breakfasts and more of the white coffee are looked forward to when Alhambra or its neighbors are in the business plans.

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