Sunday May 30, 2010
Come to Kimberly Street
PENANG By HELEN ONG
Pictures by HELEN ONG
This long, one-way street in the heart of George Town’s Chinatown transforms into a street food paradise from mid-afternoon.
ONE of the things I love about Penang is its living history – some things are done just the way they’ve been for the past few decades and, with any luck, it won’t change. Take, for example, Lebuh Kimberly, the long, one-way street in the heart of Chinatown that links the busy Jalan Carnarvon to Jalan Penang.
During the day, it is just another of George Town’s many busy old roads with the inevitable eateries.
These are interspersed by ancient shops where their equally ancient proprietors sit at the entrance, waiting, the way their father or grandfather might have done decades ago, for customers to come in and buy any of the myriad items on sale. There’s everything available, from prayer paraphernalia to slippers, clothes and toys.
Mid-afternoon, however, the middle section, particularly near the Lebuh Cintra junction, transforms into a wonderful street food paradise which goes on till they sell out in the late evening. Scattered around the three or four kopitiams, the brightly-lit stalls offering all types of local delights line both sides of the narrow road, vying with cars and motorcycles for parking space. Many of the customers live around the vicinity. Others come from all over Penang or Malaysia.
Although some are relative newcomers like Ah Heng who’s been selling Hokkien Mee outside the Bee Hooi Coffee Garden for just six or seven years, others have been there for decades, if not generations, making them an integral, inherent part of Penang’s wonderful heritage.
Inside, practically every day for the past 24 years, Ah Oon has been there frying up his black KL-style Hokkien Tua Tiao Mee (tai lok mee), quite different from the lighter, thinner Penang version. It’s delicious and fragrant with extra chee yiao char (pork scratchings). Apparently KLites who live here love coming for a dose of their favourite fried noodles.
Opposite, Ah Sim’s economy-style noodles are just as popular. Business is brisk; even as her assistant is busy frying up enormous wokfuls of the beehoon, mee or kuey teow, cars pull up right in front of her stall and just wind down their windows to shout out their order. Each generous serving costs just RM1.20 a packet (when she started 40-plus years ago it was 80 sen) and is eaten with pickled green chilli or her own home-made red chilli sauce.
A bit further down the road, Ah Chai, who took over from his aunt, has been running the 66 Lok Lok Stall for the past 30 or 40 years.
A stone’s throw away, Ah Sean’s Char Kuey Stall is now almost legendary in Penang. He has already been featured by various publications and TV channels. The stall, started by his father, has been stationed outside the Kedai Kopi Sin Guat Keong for the past 54 years. You’ll also find Ah Beng in there – his is the only night-time Chee Cheong Fun stall around.
One of the oldest stalls here must be the hot desserts place situated in front of the Restoran Traditional House of Dessert at No. 84. Started by Goh Cheng Hoe’s father in 1933, it serves home-made heng jeen (almond) milk – or tea or cream, depending on your interpretation of it – which is usually eaten with eu char kuey (fried dough sticks). To be frank, although it’s supposed to have detoxifyng qualities, I personally prefer the hot red bean soup and cold ginkgo and leng jee kang (lotus seed) in syrup.
Now in his early 60s and with a problematic leg, the genial old man has handed the reins over to his son-in-law Terence Tang and son Lin Xiang, 28. They run both the stall and a restaurant which they opened a year ago. “It means our customers can enjoy our desserts even when the weather is wet,” Goh said. Even the stall is an antique: it is the same one his father started with.
Across the road, the Duck Kuey Chap Stall run by Por Beng Kuan is set to become another Penang institution. He took over from the previous proprietor in 1980, and now he is assisted by his wife and sons.
The whole duck – and he can go through 30 of those in an evening – is first boiled and the stock used to make the dark soup with plenty of ngor yiong hoon (five-spice powder) and good soya sauce. Then the gamey meat is shredded and eaten with congee, rice or home-made kuey chap, the kuey teow-like squares of steamed rice floor. Extra liao include coagulated pig’s blood, heart, intestines and even the ears and snout. Hmmm ...
■ Helen Ong loves Penang and food, not necessarily in that order. Check out her website at www.helenong.com.