Penang Trip 2 – Day 1 – 25 August 2013

Wuan had some work leave to clear in August. We decided to make trip to Penang again from 25th to 28th for another round of relaxation and local fruits and food. First order of the day we arrive was to catch up with Jenny, my former physiotherapist. We have not met since Wuan’s and my wedding dinner in 2009. After running through the list of food that we wanted to savour and whether the restaurants were accessible or not, we settled on Hainanese Delights Restaurant at the 1926 Heritage Hotel at Burmah Road.

Choon piah at Hainanese Delights Restaurant Penang
Choon piah is a Hainanese speciality of shredded vegetables, minced meat and crab meat spring roll that tastes even more heavenly when dipped into a localised version of Worchestershire sauce.
Photo by Wuan.

Hainanese cuisine in Penang is an eclectic mixture of Peranakan and British flavours. It takes a lot of work and ingredients to prepare just one dish like the choon piah or asam fish. As a kid, I only got to enjoy these local favourites whenever my parents hosted guests from outstation or overseas to the Loke Thye Kee Retaurant situated at the junction between Penang Road and Burmah Road or the Sin Hai Keng Restaurant opposite the Tanjung Bungah bus station. Both have closed down a long time ago.

Inchee kay bin at Hainanese Delights Restaurant Penang
Inchi kabin may be spelt differently but nobody can deny that it tastes better than THAT fast famous food chicken and has been around even longer.
Photo by Wuan

Jenny came with Guan Aik, a friend and a charming young man, if I may add, and off we went to pander to my cravings. We ordered a bit too much as we struggled to finish whatever that was left towards the end and tried to push each other to eat just a little more in order not to let the food go to waste. And then we fought to pay for the dinner which Wuan and I lost out as both Jenny and Guan Aik said that we were their guests. Err, I am also Penang lang leh. Anyway, with our tummies filled to the brim, we went to Straits Quay for a look-see of the place as Wuan and I have never been there before.

Asam fish at Hainanese Delights Restaurant Penang
This asam fish with rice can already be a complete meal for me especially when it is served with nice and tender lady’s fingers.
Photo by Wuan

I like how Straits Quay was developed from the piece of reclaimed land that was left idle for the longest time. It was near to closing time when we arrived but there were still people strolling about at the promenade. Having taken in enough of the humid and briny air, we adjourned to a German bistro and bar for some refreshments where I did a short interview with Jenny for Breaking Barriers in The Borneo Post. It had been a wonderful evening that I wished could last a little longer but Wuan was already tired from the long trip from Kuala Lumpur. We called it a night with promises to meet up again the next time Wuan and I are in Penang.

Fried mee and bee hoon at Hainanese Delights Restaurant Penang
Hainanese fried noodles was a treat when I was young. It still is a treat now as there are very few restaurants that can cook this dish to the exacting standard that my taste buds approve of.
Photo by Wuan

Extra large asam prawns at Hainanese Delights Restaurant Penang
Asam prawns are best eaten with warm rice to bring out the fragrant aroma and sourish taste of tamarind, better still with nasi lemak.
Photo by Wuan

Lor han chai at Hainanese Delights Restaurant Penang
Lor han chai also known as Buddha’s Delight is a popular vegetarian dish stir fried in a gravy of red fermented bean curd.
Photo by Wuan

Macaroni pie at Hainanese Delights Restaurant Penang
My first taste of the macaroni pie. It was cheesy and creamy, and too rich to my liking since I am on a low-protein diet.
Photo by Wuan

The Quest For Delicious Roti Babi

Roti babi from Kedai Makanan Yut Kee in Jalan Dang Wangi
Roti babi from Kedai Makanan Yut Kee in Jalan Dang Wangi.

Roti babi literally means pig bread. It is actually bread with pork filling. I am not sure if it is Nyonya or Hainanese in origin because Nyonya recipe books have it too but the ingredients have a strong Hainanese influence. Whatever its origins, I love it nonetheless. Mum used to make roti babi once in a blue moon. It is difficult to find roti babi that tastes like the ones she used to make.

I do not have the exact recipe but I did watch when she made it. It was a lot of work. That was why she did not make it often. The main ingredient for the stuffing is minced pork and crab meat. The crabs are steamed and the meat removed from the shell. Cabbage, carrots, onions and coriander are coarsely chopped. All these are then mixed together with thick soy sauce, light soy sauce and pepper.

Roti babi from Kedai Makanan Yut Kee in Jalan Dang Wangi
Roti babi from Kedai Makanan Yut Kee in Jalan Dang Wangi.

Finely chopped garlic is stir fried in the kuali with cooking oil until fragrant. The mixture is then added in and stir fried until the meat is cooked. She would usually have bought several loaves of unsliced bread from the bakery. One loaf makes four thick slices. A slit is made on one side of the crust and the mixture carefully stuffed inside. The bread is then coated with beaten eggs and deep fried until golden brown. The dipping sauce is usually Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce with cut red chillies.

As a kid, I used to dislike roti babi because it was greasy, cabbage was not one of my favourite vegetables, and the taste of Worcestershire sauce made me nauseous. Over the years, I acquired a liking for French toasts which is what roti babi partially is. Now, I am hankering for roti babi although I cannot have too much of it. My low-protein diet only allows at most half a portion.

Roti babi from Hu Tong Lot 10
Roti babi from Georgetown Penang at Lot 10 Hu Tong.

Here in Kuala Lumpur, I only know of two places that serves roti babi. Kedai Makanan Yut Kee at Jalan Dang Wangi is as authentic as Hainanese kopitiams can be. They serve roti babi and pork chop, among others. Yut Kee’s roti babi filling is small bits of sliced pork and looked rather pale for the lack of thick soy sauce. It exuded a familiar aroma but the taste was somewhat different from what I have come to like.

The other is at the newly opened food court called Hu Tong at lower ground level of Lot 10. Wuan took me there specifically because the food court serves non-halal food. There is even a Klang bak kut teh stall. Wuan wanted to order that but they were already sold out by 6.00 pm. The stall that serves roti babi, aptly named Georgetown Penang, also sells a variety of popular Penang hawker food such as laksa, Hokkien mee and char koay teow. The roti babi filling had hints of thick soy sauce but there was no aroma of deep fried eggs.

Roti babi from Hu Tong Lot 10
Roti babi from Georgetown Penang at Lot 10 Hu Tong.

Perhaps, I will have better luck hunting for the style of roti babi that Mum used to make in Penang. I know Hai Onn Hainanese Restaurant in Burmah Road has roti babi in their menu. I remember Dad used to take me there for their choon peah (spring rolls). I believe the same cook is no longer there. Reallybites posted about the roti babi she had at Hai Onn last year. The cook needs to improve on her cooking skills to make the food more presentatable. The photo that Reallybites took looked unpalatable.

If you, my dear readers, know of any place that serves a decent piece of roti babi, please do share with me here. My good neighbour Mr. Tan in Penang offered to make roti babi when I next go back but I reckon that it will be too much work for just a few slices. Mind you, he makes a mean serving of roti babi, perut ikan and other popular Peranakan dishes. In the mean time, my quest for roti babi just like how Mum used to make continues.

Choon Pneah – Hainanese Spring Roll

Hai Nan Town choon piah
Hai Nan Town choon piah – vegetable, prawns and crab meat spring roll.

Choon pneah, or better known as spring roll, was a luxury when I was a kid. That was because my parents seldom ate out at places where this was served. The few restaurants that served choon pneah in the seventies were Hainanese restaurants like the Loke Thye Koo and Hai Onn in Burmah Road, and Hollywood in Tanjung Bungah.

I was not very fond of it then as I disliked the taste of the marinate for the ingredients. The Worchestershire sauce for dipping also made me nauseous. Over the years, I grew a liking for Lea and Perrins’ quirky flavours, which went well with the deep-fried aroma of the choon pneah. Now, whenever the menu in a restaurant offers it, I would order it.

The main ingredients of minced pork, crab meat and prawns are stir-fried with julienned cabbage, sengkuang (yam bean) carrots and onions. These are then wrapped in spring roll pastry and deep fried. The roll is then cut and eaten dipped in Worchestershire and sliced red chillies. Despite having savoured some very nice choon pneah, I have yet to find one that gives that extra oomph and makes me want to go back for more.