We had a chance to sample some typical Foochow dishes in Sitiawan, a small town in the state of Perak. A renowned Foochow stronghold, Sitiawan's own claim to fame includes being the birthplace of the infamous head of the Communist Party in Malaya, Chin Peng and a former Malaysian Minister of Transport. Kampung Koh, another village near Sitiawan is known for its spicy, garlicky chilli sauce.
Many of the residents here are descendents from the Foochows of Kutien, one of the 10 sub-districts in Foochow, China. Since the 10th century, Foochow or Fuzhou was the capital of the Fujian province and one of the greatest tea ports in the world. It subsequently became a treaty port following the Opium War (1839–1842).
These hardy, down-to-earth people thrives on hearty, home-style dishes that are substantial in portions, big on taste but not on presentation.
Thick, starchy soups and stews feature prominently with as many as five or six soups served in a typical Foochow banquet.
For some truly authentic Foochow food, check out Restoran Sun Hong Siong, an unassuming family-run eatery right in the heart of Ayer Tawar town in Perak.
Our meal began with a deliciously smooth and slightly starchy broth of minced beancurd, crab meat, minced pork and chopped cabbage, interspersed with threads of beaten egg and sesame oil. It reminded us of a good, politically correct ‘shark’s fin’ soup!
Next came a dish of sweet and sour fish. Using a type of local fish known as ‘teik soh’ (due to my own poor grasp of Hokkien, I was unable to fathom the English name but this long, tubular fish is preferred for its firm, white flesh that does not have too many bones in it), it was sliced and deep-fried before being doused with a piquant sweet and sour sauce. Fiery red in colour, the sweet and sour nuances of this distinctive sauce bore hints of Worchestershire sauce, garlic and ground chillies. Also included in the dish was some sliced potatoes.
The pork rolls here are good enough to rival the best Penang ‘loh bak’ (pork rolls). Tasty enough to be eaten on its own, the rolls comprise lots of minced pork and liver, lightly seasoned and then wrap in a light web of pig’s caul. Coated in a light batter, the sliced pork rolls are crispy and utterly delectable eaten with some pickled cucumber.
Known colloquially as ‘big dish fry’, the plate of ‘chap chye’ (mixed vegetables) comprised cauliflower stir-fried with slivers of dried squid, shrimps, baby corn, black fungus, glass noodles, carrot, mushroom, beancurd sticks, Chinese cabbage, minced pork and whole pips of garlic.
The second soup that we had stood out in complete contrast from the earlier one. Redolent with strips of fish maw, black fungus, beaten egg, minced meat and ginger in it, the soup tantalized our tastebuds with a zesty intermingling of sour, spicy and sweet flavours.
Personally, I like the fragrant oil chicken with sliced onions, potatoes, ‘choy sum’ (Chinese mustard leaves), pickled cucumber and chillies as well as the ubiquitous Foochow fishballs. Superbly bouncy and sweet with generous minced pork filling, the Foochow fishballs came in a clear soup with lots of sea kelp and beaten egg.
Dinner concluded with ‘lor mee’ or thick, fat yellow noodles braised in yet another thick, eggy broth. For those who are Hokkiens, this specialty is comfort food at its best and will definitely go down well.
Dining at Sun Hong Siong is quite an experience in itself as you can see the cooks at work, frying and dishing up their customers’ orders speedily from the giant woks. The shop building itself is still a simple wooden structure with cement floor, facing the main road. Throughout the evening we were there, the restaurant drew a steady stream of customers that kept all its tables occupied.
The food portions are big and substantial. Dishes are roughly priced between RM10 and RM20 each depending on what you order and the portion size. In the mornings, you can also have ‘dim sum’ such as steamed ‘pau’ (soft buns) and ‘siew mai’ (pork dumplings) for breakfast.
So if you wish to sample some truly authentic Foochow food minus the frills, then this is just the place to go to.
RESTORAN SUN HONG SIONG (non-halal)
Perak Darul Ridzuan
Tel: 05 6726544