We were advised, prior to our roadtrip to Kampar, a quiet little town straddling the old Kuala Lumpur-Ipoh trunk road, not to leave without sampling its specialties: biskut ayam (chicken biscuit) and roti ayam (chicken bread).
Biskut ayam, a thin, sweet, crunchy "cookie" topped with what can only be described as powdered dessicated chicken, did not tickle my fancy. At all. I can do sweet and savory in one mouthful, but cookie and chicken just don't mix, not in my book. Sure, I'll allow that perhaps the cultural context in which my culinary preferences were molded does not allow me to appreciate the gustatory delights of a foodstuff resembling a Chinese almond cookie sprinkled with Knorr's chicken powder. But I'll leave it at that. For me, the door is ever closed on chicken biscuits.
Roti ayam, however, is a whole 'nother story. It's quite an ingenious creation, really: chicken curry baked in a bag of grease-proof paper that's been tucked inside a huge loaf of bread. This isn't a one-pot meal, it's a one-loaf meal.
But beyond the novelty factor, what does Kampar's roti ayam have going for it? For starters, the curry - red, with plenty of fragrant fresh curry leaves, sour and zesty with chili and a hint of lime - is kick-a**. Big chucks of long-stewed, tender chicken slide right off the bone. And the bread, slightly sweet and eggy (think challah) with a crispy, burnished crust and a tender crumb, is divine on its own, and just this side of heaven dipped in the curry.
I've been pondering the origin of this strange and wonderful treat. Kampar, a mostly Chinese town, also has a fairly large Indian population. Indian curry in a Chinese-style sweet baked dough - here we have the Malaysian ethnic mix on a plate. (I've considered, and discounted, the possibility that roti ayam is distantly related to that most frightening of American mall 'pub' food, chowder in a bread bowl.)
Is Kampar's chicken bread worth a stop on the way to Ipoh or back down to KL? Yes, most definately. I'm fairly certain it's also available to go, to be re-heated, if not baked, in one's home oven. The place to find it is here:
Yau Kee Restaurant, 55 Jalan Idris, Kampar. Tel. 05-465-1738. Open 7am-6pm. About 24 ringgit for one loaf (hey, it's big!).