Food For Thought

“We miss the sidewalks that make walking safe!” Estefanya Gordillo, 27, and Anne Pladdet, 25, said in unison, when asked what they miss most in Ipoh compared to the Netherlands, where they are both Master’s candidates in Leisure, Tourism and Environment at Wageningen University.

 Tefa (L) & Anne (R) at a pomelo farm in Tambun, Ipoh
Tefa (L) & Anne (R) at a pomelo farm in Tambun, Ipoh

Estefanya, or Tefa, is originally from Quito, Ecuador and Anne’s hometown is Den Haag, the Netherlands. In Ipoh now, Anne is researching food tourism in the city versus Georgetown, Penang, and wants to find out what lessons can be learnt from Georgetown in the way of food promotion to both domestic and international visitors to raise the level of food tourism in Ipoh while Tefa’s research concentrates on Pasir Pinji, Ipoh, and the history of food and its significance to the local community.

 Tefa (R) & Anne (L) at the night market in Ampang, Ipoh
Tefa (R) & Anne (L) at the night market in Ampang, Ipoh

Since food tourism plays a major part in their research, Tefa and Anne dived right in to the culinary experience of Ipoh. They said, “Eating is a hobby here and we are amazed at the amount of food and the number of times one eats. We love the sharing culture too. Everyone orders something and we get to try different dishes at once.”

According to Anne, the biggest challenge is adapting to having three hot meals a day. She said, “In my country, it’s normal to only eat one hot meal a day, while the other meals are something light such as sandwiches or salads. Moreover, eating out is not as common because it’s more costly.”

Tefa (R) & Anne (L) try out local food
Tefa (R) & Anne (L) try out local food

Meanwhile, for Tefa, the spicy food reminds her of home. She said, “I left Quito to further my studies in 2013. In Ipoh, I also get to eat rice and drink fresh fruit juices daily, just like I would at home. However, I do miss cheeses and potatoes sometimes!”

On a quest to explore Ipoh’s hawker fare, Anne noticed that food is served in bright-coloured plastic tableware, which is not the case in the Netherlands, as ceramic-ware is used instead.

But just like in the Netherlands, most locals speak English which makes communication easy for the two full-time students, although Tefa requires a translator when she interviews Pasir Pinji residents.

Tefa (R) & Anne (L) pose with the dragon at Wat Puthanimittam, Ipoh
Tefa (R) & Anne (L) pose with the dragon at Wat Puthanimittam, Ipoh

Away from their research, Tefa and Anne do what any tourist would in a new city. Having gotten used to walking and cycling in the Netherlands, they now have to depend on friends to ferry them around, or get overcharged by taxis. Tefa said, “It’s strange how a 10-minute walk is deemed “impossible” by our local friends who would offer to drive us, but then we would end up riding for two to five minutes only and would arrive at our destination.”

Anne believes that when Ipoh offers more convenient and affordable transportation in the city, instead of overcharged taxis, the popularity of food outside of Ipoh Old Town would increase drastically. She said, “Ipoh’s best foods are obviously scattered in different areas of the city. Therefore, food tours should be organised to allow tourists to easily enjoy the many different offerings from Ipoh’s multi-cultural and mutli-ethnic population.”

Tefa (R) & Anne (L) at Wat Puthanimittam, Ipoh
Tefa (R) & Anne (L) at Wat Puthanimittam, Ipoh

About how else Ipoh could improve, Tefa replied, “It would be great for tourist sights to have signs put up that explain their name and history. We visited some places and unfortunately, had no one to tell to us what they were.

“I think Ipoh has touristic potential except that creativity is essential in planning its tourism industry by making use of natural environments. For example, to increase the experience of Ipoh’s culture and environment, rivers could be integrated into the food art through fishing and cooking or as picnic spots.”

Note: An edited version of this article [Food for thought] was published on 23rd May, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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With love

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