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Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken (芽菜鸡)

Ipon Bean Sprouts Chicken
Ipon Bean Sprouts Chicken pictures (2 of 5)

To say that Malaysians are talented is not an overstatement as some of the best–and most impressive–food blogs are authored by Malaysians. I am constantly amazed by the sheer talent of my fellow Malaysians, for example: Billy Law at A Table for Two. A Table for Two chronicles Billy’s eating adventures in Sydney as well as documents delectable recipes from his kitchen. Graced with outstanding food photography plus a keen sense of humor and wicked writing style, I am ready to crown A Table for Two the best new food blog of 2009! Please welcome Billy to Rasa Malaysia as he shares Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken (芽菜鸡) recipe with us–a famed dish from the state of Ipoh in Malaysia.

I can confirm this – no matter where you are, the only one topic that can reunite all Malaysian expats around the world together has to be food. I am sure you will all agree with me, Malaysian food especially. When Rasa Malaysia asked me to be a guest writer on her blog to feature a signature dish from my hometown, the answer is loud and clear – the most famous dish from Ipoh has to be Bean Sprout Chicken (芽菜鸡) with Sar Hor Fun (rice noodle).

This is a very simple dish to prepare, all you need is patience. The chicken is cooked using the same technique as Hainan Chicken. It is poached in a water bath then quickly dunk into cold water to stop the cooking process to retain its juicy smoothness texture. As for the bean sprout, it will only need to be blanched no more than 10 seconds, then drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce, and a smidge of white pepper for bit of kick.

Sounds simple? It sure is. You might be wondering how can poached chicken with blanched bean sprout and served with just rice noodle in soup can be a big hit in Ipoh? All thanks to its prime location.

Ipoh is famous for its food, due to the relatively mineral-rich water (high alkali content) owing to its location on top of a large karstic formation, makes the food especially tasty. Tourists and locals are willing to travel interstate for hours just to have a taste of the delicious food this town has to offer.

Another characteristic of this dish is the rice noodle. Its slightly translucent look and superb slippery smooth texture swimming in a sweet broth that has been boiled overnight using chicken carcasses is what make this dish popular with the locals. Sadly all I can get in supermarket here in Australia is some precooked fresh rice noodle in packets which all stick together, thick and crumbly. I am in Australia for over 13 years now, the bean sprout may not be as stout and fat, the rice noodle may never taste the same as those in Ipoh, but at least making this dish will always bring me one step closer to home.

To make this dish, I would suggest you to go for the best produce as possibly can, especially the chicken. Free range or organic chickens are the best options which gives you a better flavour and texture.

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24 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

  1. Ipoh bean sprouts are very good, short and very crunchy. The bean sprouts in the US is too long and the texture is not great. I heard that now bean sprouts are added some chemicals so they are short and crunchy, too. Your Ipoh bean sprout chicken and hor fun looks so yummy.

  2. This looks so simple to make and yet the combination of flavours and textures seem like they’d be absolutely sublime!

    This is one for the to-try list :)

  3. Jay

    Is it traditional to put the chili padis on top of the dishes? Or was it done to add color to the photograph? I’m not from Ipoh, but did eat the Ipoh style chicken and beansprout at a restaurant on Jalan Gasing in PJ almost 20yrs ago. Don’t recall having the chili padis served right on top of the dishes. Usually on the side with soy sauce.

    Anyway, another method of boiling the chicken which I’ve used for 15 years now can save some time. For those interested, here’s what I do.

    Bring pot of water to boil (I usually add salt and pieces of ginger) and drop the chicken in (enough water to completely cover the chicken).

    Now, bring the water back to boil again, cover and remove from heat immediately.

    Let it “cook” in the pot for a little over an hour (for a 2.5lb chicken for example).

    Remove from pot and drain the chicken (you can hang it or just prop it up). Brush on some sesame oil.

    It won’t be bloody even in the thigh area. I usually use Amish chicken in the US. I haven’t tried the author’s method, but I would imagine if you put the chicken in with the pot off the heat, the water temperature would have dropped significantly, thus requiring you to do a second boil for 1/2hr to properly cook the chicken.

    • hey Jay, they are not chilli padis, they are just normal red chillies. It is a common garnish, even in Ipoh. See picture here of that dish from the popular restaurant in Ipoh :

      the chilli padis with soy sauce condiment on the side usually is green chillies and not red.

      I’ve tried your method once, but I found the chicken is overcook with it in the water and then boil again. If remove from heat the flesh will be a lot more juicy and tender in my opinion. But yes, it does take longer time.

      • Jay

        Thanks for clarifying. It has been so long that I just refer to them as chilli padis since the ones sold in my local grocery stores label them as “Thai Hot Peppers” and they could be small like M’sian chilli padis, or long like the red/green chilli.

        Anyway, it’s interesting to see them used as a garnish on soup in Ipoh. I would garnish them say on mee goreng or wuu tao kou (yam cake), but never on soup.

        I might give your boiling method a try, though the possibility of bloody chicken (thigh) will bring in the health inspector faster than you can say “yum seng” :) or have my wife running for the hills.

    • Rebecca

      Hi Jay,
      The method taught by Bee is the best way so that the chicken will not over cooked and nice and the skin will be crunchy. That is the Cantonese method to boil a chicken !! She is smart to ask readers to remove the pot from the stove as in overseas mostly use the electric stoves as the heat will last at least 15 mins. I will add in some fried garlic oil and some Fish sauce to the noodle soup. fish sauce is the secret of most of the hawkers’ food especially the Char Koay Teow !! It simple to fry it in the M’wave !! I mix 2 spoons of chopped garlic and stir in oil to over it, m’wave for 1 min, stir and continue another 1 min but you have to be there and keep an eye on it as it will burn very fast. Once you see a spot is brown in the center of the bowl, stir and m’wave. Once it is slightly golden, remove as it will continue to cook in the HOT,HOT oil !!

  4. Favbabe

    I always have problem with cooking pak cham kai and now I know I undercook my chicken. The bloody sight from cutting the chicken is horrifying. I will try your method and hopefully this time the chicken is well cooked and the moisture is retained! Is the broth still as tasty from the 2nd bath?

  5. I have tried this dish in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I have been told it was the speciality and people love it. I find it very plain and lack of taste, to me that’s a basic boiled chicken with boiled beans sprouts and boiled rice noodles (tasteless by definition)….nothing special after all! So I didn’t undertand the fuss around that dish. Is it because I’m French?!

    • Jay

      Admin – if you are reading this, can you delete my first reply. Lots of typos :(

      I think the method of cooking is similar to the sous-vide method in French cooking. The uniqueness comes from a perfectly cooked whole chicken that is very moist and the chicken skin actually tastes pretty good when cooked in this manner.

      Also, with the combination of the chicken rice (though there’s so many varieties from plain yellowish white to darkish yellow brown) and the chilli paste that accompanies it. Again, the chilli paste/sauce has so many varieties depending on where you go. The dish is special in the sense it is so simple, but yet so savory at the same time.

  6. NYMY

    I had to agree with Mr Bidendum, I too found this dish to be somewhat plain in tasting. I prefer normal Chicken rice.

  7. If cooked just right, its far from bland and tasteless. Texture should be smooth and succulent, with all the essential juices sealed within the chicken. Then dipped into a mixture of soy, ginger and garlic, the taste is pure perfection!

  8. Yea, sometimes home made is better from what you can buy from outside. I just had ate steam chicken at the New Ipoh Chicken Rice Restaurant at Mid Valley last week. The outlet had just opened after renovation to the outlet. Their food is salty. I think too much MSG. Then price also increased, and the food portion became smaller compared to before renovation.


    I would like to know if somebody can help me to source some company in Ipoh can provide me the fresh Ipoh bean sprouts and ship to Hong Kong everyday.
    Thank you very much.
    Sidney Tong

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