The city of Ipoh is located about 200 km north of Kuala Lumpur. Journey through the North South Expressway (NSE or PLUS Highway) takes a breezy 2 1/2 hours through scenic rolling valleys, palm oil plantations and limestone hills of Peninsula Malaysia. Distances from other major cities: Penang (2 hours), Johor Bharu (6 hours), Singapore (6 1/2 hours) and Kuantan (5 hours).
The Old Town Kopitiam is located on Jalan Tun Sambanthan in Ipoh old town, or you can simply get to Ipoh Padang and look for this eating joint. It is hard to miss the signboard at the entrance.
Hardcore kopitiam connoisseurs will swear by at least three coffee shops that serve the country's best cuppa - Kemaman Hai-Peng Kopitiam, Kluang Railway Station Kopitiam and Ipoh Old Town Kopitiam. In honesty, little would differentiate between any of these (or others that I may not know of). They indeed serve fabulous coffee, just like Starbucks or Coffee Beans. Except that the laid-back old-world ambience cannot be found in modern coffee joints. To me, that is the biggest difference.
First, let me start with the culture of kopitiam. Yes, it is a culture whether we Malaysians like it or not. The word kopitiam originates from Chinese dialects which means "a coffee house" or "kedai kopi" in Malay. Kopitiam culture does not revolve on the mere physical existence of these age-old coffee shops. Rather, the act of getting together with friends and families, gossiping and telling life stories with a shot of caffeine fix pretty much signifies what kopitiam-ing is all about. There was a TV sitcom by that name that ran for a few seasons, and when a web forum has a thread under "Kopitiam" section, it usually means "anything goes".
So there, the whole shebang of kopitiam culture in Malaysia. Let me now throw away the whole political and social anecdotes, and begin the wholesome journey of really great food at Old Town Kopitiam. First, the kopitiam is beautifully located inside a renovated pre-war shop house. Its exterior has been repainted while the internal is tastefully decorated with charming fixtures that really bring back the memory of the good old times. Actually, I went here twice, just for the food. Yes, it was that good.
Ordering a cup of the fabled Ipoh white coffee is a given, except if that person does not drink coffee at all. The brewed white coffee comes in frothy milk topping and it is tastefully sweetened. The feeling is sensational, really. In general, white coffee is a unique blend of the finest Liberica, Arabica and Robusta beans, and premium grade non-dairy creamer. To get a better overview of its uniqueness, I found a snippet from Wikipedia that best explains the process of making white coffee:
Traditionally, Malaysian style "black" coffee roast (also known as Hainanese coffee; not to be confused with the serving style of coffee without milk) is produced by roasting the beans with sugar and margarine. "White" coffee, on the other hand, is produced with only margarine and without any sugar, resulting in a roast that is less dark, hence the term "white" coffee.
That honest-to-goodness cup of coffee usually goes with selected food. The most traditional way is to have it on the side of toasted bread slices with scrumptious spread of margarine and kaya (a custard-like egg and coconut milk mixture cooked till brown). The breads are home-made and usually dark in colour which certainly beats the over-processed and bleached types commonly found in supermarkets. Otherwise, the noodles at this joint are probably the next best thing since slice breads, pun intended. I got the chance to savour a hearty bowl of chicken hor fun and I thought it was really amazing, even for breakfast. Other types of noodle in the offing are lum mee, prawn mee, curry mee, assam laksa (hands down, my #1 favourite food), tom yam siam mee hoon and nissin mee. If you find the noodles are too alien for your taste, fret not. Common fares like nasi lemak, nasi goreng, etc are also on the menu.
Finally, before I end this gastronomic article, I wish to emphasise that there are plenty of other kopitiams in the city, especially in the old town of Ipoh. Some have not changed for many years, with family-run businesses and close-knit regular guests. One could swear by any other kopitiam that he or she fancies better than this modern-looking Old Town Kopitiam in this up-market alley fronting the Ipoh Padang. The key is to keep on looking and ask the locals for the hunt of that ultimate cuppa.
Anyway, I managed to get the business card of the restaurant manager, Wilson Beh. He can be contacted at 017-221-5030. The Old Town Kopitiam opens daily from 0800 -2400 hrs. Bon appétit!
Simply a must-do when in Ipoh. The food and the ambience were really something to treasure.