DISHING out hearty, sumptuous meals since 1957, the famed Hoong Tho Restaurant in the city’s Old Town area celebrates its 60th anniversary this year in tandem with the country.
Currently managed by the Yuen family’s third generation, Andy Yuen started serving customers 11 years ago after learning how to run the business from his father.
Having started to run the celebrated establishment at the an early age, the 40-year-old now continues to work hard churning out the popular traditional dishes that have been served at the restaurant for the last six decades.
The original recipes may be old, but many customers today, especially ones who have been frequenting the establisment since they were young, still relish the classic taste of their favourite Chinese delicacies.
Yuen, who takes pride in refining these recipes so that they continue to appeal to modern tastebuds, points out that some of the dishes, such as the Yang Chow fried rice, Hoong Tho noodles, river prawn noodles, Gui Hwa glass noodles, fried wanton and dumpling soup, have been on the menu for 60 years.
Homemaker Kong Yook Yin, 66, and her 30-year-old son Kenneth Chin, who works as a salesperson, said they have been visiting the restaurant once or twice a month for the last seven years.
Kong said although she and her son were born in Ipoh, they moved to her husband’s hometown in Johor and stayed there for 30 years before moving back to Ipoh 10 years ago.
“I remember coming to eat here at this restaurant when I was in my 20s, and I’m happy that I could introduce my son to this place.
“He really loves the food here. It’s also a nostalgic experience for me when I get to dine here again after so many years,” she said.
Chin said they normally ordered the Hoong Tho noodles and fried wanton, which were his favourite, as they had a traditionally taste he liked.
“When my mum and I moved back to Ipoh, I kep coming across recommendations about this place not only from friends, but also the Internet.
“I come here with many of my colleagues too because my workplace is not too far from the Old Town area,” he said, adding that he prefers to visit Hoong Tho for brunch at around 11am to avoid the dinner crowd.
Businessman Law Teck Hin, 46, his wife Fong Lee Ching, 43, and art gallery owner Daniel Liau, also 46, were seen tucking into one of the restaurant’s newer dishes - braised pork ribs with soy sauce koey teow.
Law said that he started frequenting the restaurant in the 1980s. The youngest of six children, he said his father usually brought his siblings and himself to have a meal together.
“I cannot remember much about those days when I was still quite young, but I remember being very happy whenever I came here.
“Back in those days, Hoong Tho was considered a very grand restaurant. They also used to serve fish here as well,” he said, adding that he loved having the Hoong Tho noodles because the broth, when mixed with a hint of vinegar, was rich and tasty.
Liau related that he started becoming friends with Law at the restaurant several years ago as they were both regular customers.
“We bumped into each other at the restaurant a few times until one day, Andy decided to introduce us to one another.
“We’ve been good friends ever since. It’s nice to have an extra meal buddy here,” he said.
Liau added that he had tasted almost every dish served at the restaurant since he is also a long-time customer.
“My favourite dish here would be the Cantonese fried koey teow. The taste is very flavourful here compared with the same thing served in other places,” he said.
Also seen at the restaurant were first-timers Leon Low, 38, and his wife Bonnie Tan, 33, (pix above) both from Penang.
Low, who works as a sales and marketing manager, said they had just spent the night in Ipoh and since they were staying in a homestay near the restaurant, they decided to have lunch before heading back to the island.
“We heard good things about this restaurant from my friend in Penang, who has visited this restaurant several times now.
“He also posted up pictures of the food he had when he was here, so we wanted to come and try it out,” he said.
Low and Tan ordered the river prawn noodles, Hoong Tho noodles and fried wanton – all dishes that have been served at the restaurant since it opened its doors.
“I like it a lot, the taste is very traditional but good.
“I am considering coming back to this place soon with more friends,” he said.
Keeping a business running for 60 years is not easy, Yuen said, and it was the tenacity of his father, Yin Kok Choy, 78, which kept the restaurant going after it hit a major hurdle in the early 1980s when the restaurant’s main chef Ah Ng passed away in 1983. This was 13 years after Yuen’s grandfather, who set up the business, died.
Yuen’s uncle helped to run the restaurant after that, but he was a teacher without full kitchen experience.
“With the combined efforts of my uncle and father in handling the kitchen and maintaining the original recipies, I am proud to see that my family’s business has survived to this day,” said Yuen.