The Malaysian sun was a white orb as the steaming mug of coffee arrived at my table. I regretted stubbornly refusing the iced version. It defied logic, but this drink was the reason I’d come to Ipoh.
For Ipoh’s the birthplace of white coffee, a drink famous in Malaysia but not well known outside the country. Ipoh white coffee is special because it’s slowly roasted in margarine at a temperature lower than regular coffee beans. This gives it a unique caramelised taste that I had to try.
The recipe comes from British colonial times, when Chinese tin-miners would gather and relax. This sense of tradition gives Ipoh white coffee its appeal. The mines may have disappeared, but groups of men still gather in the palatial coffee houses, watching the day melt away.
I had a sip, savouring the coffee’s rich taste. The mug was stained with the evidence of generations who’d done the same before me. From the back of the coffee house came the sultry aroma of charcoal and roasting coffee beans. I bit into my kaya puff, a flaky pastry filled with sweet coconut jam. The bill arrived for this indulgence, a grand total of seventy cents.
After this I explored Ipoh’s charming old town. It was similar to George Town, just smaller and more decrepit. The streets were empty as the thermometer hit 35 degrees. I mindlessly perused the alleyways, finding street-art that hinted at a youthful undercurrent in this provincial city.
For lunch I had another staple, the imaginatively named Ipoh chicken rice. The chicken is poached and doused in a light soy sauce, then served with a plate of crunchy bean sprouts. I’d heard stories of people making a day trip to Ipoh just to eat this for lunch. While it was delicious, I’m not sure it justifies a two-hour drive.
And then my time was up. Ipoh had been a satisfying stop, but I had to leave. I begrudgingly boarded the bus to Kuala Lumpur, a city that I loathe. I was going there to catch a flight that would alter my journey in ways I could never expect.