I’ve frequented Taiping for as long as I can remember, albeit less often now. As a kid, the family trips would be more for weddings of relations and the weekend market (more so when I was a toddler growing up in Ipoh) at Changkat Jering. In recent years, I’ve once said to myself that it’ll be great to live in a town like this although I doubt ever considering the repercussions of missing my city-dweller foibles. Apart from the obvious advantages of living in a place like Taiping like it’s small(ish) size and friendly populace, I just love how sedap and cheap(er) the makan is. After a night in Kuala, it was off to Perak’s old administrative capital. First thing was makan at the Casual Market on Jalan Chung Thye Phin.

I’ve alluded to my favourite kuey teow Combat in an old blog post before, which is currently run by M. Jabardeen’s son. Satu makan, dua mau. The kuey teow is all that I’ve ever had from Combat (its tagline is ‘Customer is boss’!) but he does the usual mamak noodle fare. Which brings me to say where else in the world but Malaysia could you find an Indian noodle dish. You’ve never seen a Cantonese chicken masala, have you? Other Combat dishes include Combat mee goreng ayam but one dish which intrigued me was the ‘Super mee black’. M Jabardeen himself turned up later at 8pm when we were back for dinner and told us, “Itu mee goreng tapi boh kicap lebih sikit“. Should’ve guessed. What goes well with any of Combat’s kuey teow? The refreshing ayaq nyoq muda in shaved ice from the stall next door. It’s RM2 a glass now, but you’d think there was half a coconut there.

It still beggars belief how food so good can still be so cheap in this town. Like the ayaq nyoq, I wonder if I could still buy 20 pisang goreng from that roadside nyonya stall for RM2. There was one time the Casual Market mamak satay seller told us, “Saya tak pernah tengok oghang order satay tiga puluh ringgit…” I can never reconcile how KL eateries located in Bangsar or KLCC catering for the well-heeled can still claim small town authenticity. Don’t let me start on franchised items like pau and Hainanese kopi. Then again, its the sign of the times. And time has caught up in this once sleepy hillside town. As we drove by what used to be the Istana Larut, we were greeted by a Tesco with its own Starbucks outlet. And thiskopitiam‘ franchise to boot. Taiping has Yut Sun. Why the hell do you need a wannabe kopitiam meh? Nooooooooooooooooooooo! Yeah, the same reaction when I saw Taiping’s first McDonalds I think ten years back.

The following day, the clan and I descended on Bismillah, a 110-year old Indian Muslim eaterie. Yes, you heard me right the first time. A 110-year old mamak roti canai port on the corner of Main Road (Jalan Taming Sari) and Jalan Chung Thye Phin (Cross Street No.8). If you enter by the side entrance you’d see a steep staircase on your left. In the old days, Bismillah had an upstairs dining area. My maternal grandma had once dined here and being the typical Malay she left her shoes at the bottom of the steps! We were lucky to find a table (Saturday mornings are busy big time) and we sat ourselves down by the display of old bank notes. What’s so special with the place? The dagen itam (daging rendang) that is best had with the roti apparently tastes the same ever since dad was a kid. And we had the best teh tarik ever. With fresh cow’s milk, none of this susu cap teko/cap junjung business. Bismillah is living proof that when you have a trademark dish (or a few), people will come back for more.

Remember the old adage – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.