Tanjung Malim, Malaysia - a Taste of Curried Beef & Chicken Buns at Yik Mun (Est. 1926)
Tanjung Malim is a sleepy township on the border of 2 of Malaysia's most populous states (Perak and Selangor), about 70km or an hour's drive from KL. The town's claim-to-fame (foodwise or otherwise) is, of course, the "Tanjung Malim Pau" - steamed Chinese buns or "bao" (包), but with Malay-style curried beef or chicken filling. The Malay word, "pau", was derived from the Chinese "bao".
Owned by the Hainanese-Chinese Kok family since 1926, the eatery is "halal" and 90% of its customers are Malay-Muslims, mostly inter-state travellers, who flocked here for the delicious buns. I remembered my first taste of the buns as far back as 1975, when a family friend from KL flew down to Singapore with a fresh batch of the buns - he'd just driven from Ipoh to KL the previous day and had stopped by in Tanjung Malim to grab some of these buns. It was an epiphaniy for me back then as we'd *never* come across Chinese buns with curried filling, and it made an indelible mark on my childhood food memory - learning that, yes, it's possible to cross culinary borders and make Malay-Muslim "pau", something which we rather take for granted today.
Back to yesterday, my first taste of the famous "Tanjung Malim pau" after a nearly 40-year hiatus. The shop opens daily at 9am, so it's best to arrive here around that time. Orders will be taken by the all-Indonesian service crew, trained by the owners to brew the thickest, traditional Hainanese coffee around. At around 9.15am, the freshly-steamed "paus" will be served. At first glance, the fillings in the buns looked positively miserly - the Chinese are used to having thin dough covering generous, substantial fillings for their "bao". But this *is* Malay-style "pau" and the dough was incredibly soft & fluffy, a trademark of Yik Mun's signature buns, which more than made up for the lack of filling.
I liked the minced, spiced beef version more than the minced curried chicken version. The fillings were dry-ish, so it's best to have them steaming hot, straight off the steamer. They do taste wonderful - so now I know why they had been there for nearly 9 decades. Coffee, tea or hot chocolate beverages are served in traditional turn-of-the-century-design cups.
To find this place, go to Tanjung Malim's New Town section (the Old Town is on the other side of the Malayan railway tracks) and look out for Thandayuthapani Hindu temple, a prominent landmark near the restaurant. It opens till late, 9pm or so at night.
3 Jalan Besar
35900 Perak, Malaysia
Tanjung Malim pau is famous throughout West Malaysia. Since Yik Mun turn halal a few years back, I think the Hainanese family that owns it takes a hands-off approach and you hardly see any of the family members there. One other dish I heard is good there is the fried Hailam mee. The cooks are all Malays, the waiters are all Indonesians. The customers are all Malays, too, I think.
Most Chinese who stop by in Tanjung Malim will eat at Fu Man (http://www.j2kfm.com/fu-man-restauran...) instead. Many complain that the meat filling for Yik Mun's pau is too little!
So, Fu Man it is then the next time we drive past Tanjung Malim.
BTW, there's this Nine Emperor Gods Taoist religious festival coming up this weekend here in KL - it's a large Fujianese festival which the Hokkiens in Singapore also observe by going on an 8-day vegetarian diet. My Hokkien friends here in KL are bringing me to the main temple in Ampang to see the celebrations as well as explore the vegetarian food options which will only be available during this season.
They tell me it's huge as well up in Penang, since you all are a big Hokkien city compared to KL?