Monday, 28 March 2016

Dish of the Month March 2016 - Is This The World's Best Spring Roll?

I have refrained from doing standalone "Dish of the Month" posts for some time now, simply because  I found that much of the time, standalone dishes didn't really deserve the honour.  But having snuck in a sneaky trip back to Ipoh over the Good Friday long weekend, I proclaim a hundred times, nay a thousand times, "I have found a champion worthy of the name".

Bibi's is the most popular stall in what must be the most popular hawker centre in the (arguably) second most popular hawker food mecca in Malaysia.  Gluttons Square in Ipoh Garden is a true sight to behold on a weekend night, moreso on a public holiday weekend as cars from Singapore, Penang, KL and Johor pile back in.  The queue at Bibi's is also a marvel, less so if you are actually intending on getting some!

I don't know what it is about the Bibi popiah that sets it apart from its rivals, and makes it the hawker food equivalent of Torvill and Dean's 1984 Bolero.  Maybe it is the super-thin wrapper, made from a blend of high-protein wheat flour and oats, which gives the wrapper the perfect combination of resilience and elasticity to contain such a volume of filling.  I have seen many popiah vendors try to overcome the problem of the wrapper getting soggy and losing structural integrity, whether it be the use of a lettuce leaf to contain the juices, using a second wrapper, or even using less filling!  You don't see any of those problems here; the physics-defying wrapper remains strong yet moist, firm and has an unrivalled load-bearing capacity, even when left alone for extended periods.  The very mild sweetness from the oats is merely the cherry on the cream.

Or perhaps it is the dash of deep-fried shallots and oil which give it a superlative nuttiness and aroma?  Or the textural potpourri that results when you mix in stewed yam bean, a melange of chopped firm bean curd, green beans and diced omelette and a crunchy fried substance so addictive that it defies any scientific understanding?  Or is it that it costs a mere RM 2.00, less than 50 US cents, and that two of these large rolls almost make up a filling and excellent (I hesitate to say nutritious) meal?

In a world where foreign workers are demonised as untrustworthy custodians of culinary traditions, the staff at Bibi's (I suspect they are Indonesian, but can't quite work out where they are from) have been there for many years now, and work with a grace and economy of movement that would shame many a Cordon Bleu graduate.  Their moves are rehearsed, the sequences are respected, they interchange and work together like a well-oiled machine.  As a result, the popiahs are always identical, prepared quickly and with a minimum of fuss, and invariably incredibly delicious.  And I like to think that in any theoretical contest for the world's best spring roll, that a Bibi's popiah will represent Ipoh with pride and give the others a real run for the money.

If you are planning a visit to Ipoh and the infamous Gluttons Square hawker centre, based on recent experiences, I can also highly recommend Tony's Claypot Chicken Rice, a superb traditional rendition of the dish lifted with portions of premium dried salted fish studded in the rice.  If you are getting takeaway, remember to ask them for the burnt crusty rice layer at the bottom of the pot. Meng Wa Seafood and Satay Endut are other famous stalls at Gluttons Square which have apparently maintained their standards in recent years.

Restoran Kam Wan (Aneka Selera, fka Gluttons' Square)
Lengkok Canning
Ipoh Garden 31400
Ipoh Perak
Budget from RM 2.00 and upwards.  No reservations accepted.  BYO not attempted.


  1. You ain't had popiah till you've had the one from Padang Brown, Penang.

    1. Oh, you Penangites are so parochial, but I love you for it ;)

      I remember when I was in Penang many decades ago, I absentmindedly picked up a copy of the NST and went to the counter to pay. The vendor chided me in Hokkien and said I should buy The Star as it was printed in Penang! Can you imagine that happening anywhere else?