While in Ipoh, one of the not-to-miss places is Foh San (pronounced as Foo San), a famous dim sum restaurant in the heart of town which has been around for many years. I haven’t been back here since I was a teenager because my parents, both Ipoh-ites, find it too commercialised and overrated.
Much has changed from the shop’s humble beginnings. Today, it is a large double-storey building occupying several shop lots, with a nicely decorated interior and high, airy ceilings.
Unlike conventional dimsum stalls, Foh San has done away with ladies pushing carts laden with tantalising dimsum, where patrons can pick the dishes they want when it passes by their table. Instead, there are self-service counters where you go up to them and pick up what you want.
First order of the day was chao lor bak gou, or stir fried spicy radish cakes! This is one of my dad and brother’s favourite dishes and a must-have when we have dimsum. Cooked with crunchy beansprouts, chilli, dried shrimp and topped with chopped spring onions, the radish cakes have a soft and chewy texture. Alternatively there is also the fried version without vegetables.
Siew mai (pork and shrimp dumplings). They were okay, but I’ve definitely had better.
The lotus-leaf wrapped glutinous rice was not too shabby. Sticky and savoury, it came stuffed with peanuts, Shiitake mushrooms, chicken and egg yolk at the center. The leaf wrapping gave it a fragrant flavour and smell.
One of the best dishes that we ordered was the century egg porridge. Not too watery and with just the right consistency, the porridge was flavourful enough without needing to add pepper or soy sauce. The serving was generous for two people, and it was chock full of century eggs and tender pork belly. The pork belly was awesome – chewy, melt-in-the-mouth – it was almost like eating fish.
Not everyone can stomach century eggs, but I love that stuff. It’s basically made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mix of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls, which turns the egg white a translucent black and the yolk into a creamy center. Some people have said it smells/tastes like ammonia + sulphur. Westerners might find it gross, but for someone who grew up with it, I don’t find it weird at all. Like durian, it’s an acquired taste.
For dessert, there was lotus paste mochi…
Flaky egg tarts,…
And ‘Ma Lai Gou‘, steamed Chinese sponge cake which is fluffy, light, porous and filled with chopped almonds.
The bill came to just over RM60, which is very cheap considering we ordered quite a lot of food.
So what is the verdict for one of the ‘granddaddies’ of dimsum shops in Ipoh? Some of the dishes were hit and misses, but the overall quality is alright. We went during a quiet time so there weren’t many customers, but I wouldn’t line up for a few hours just to eat it.
FOH SAN DIM SUM RESTAURANT