Roti Babi At Song River Cafe

Roti babi from Song River cafe
Roti babi – Song River Cafe, Gurney Drive, Penang.

My quest for delicious roti babi saw me discovering a stall selling roti back in my hometown in Penang. This island is also where I first grew a dislike for this dish of Hainan and Peranakan origin. I was barely in my teenage years then. My mother used to make it once every few months. I was only allowed to eat only one half portion of the roti babi because she considered me too young to be eating too much of such oily food.

That was no great loss to the young me. The greasiness of the deep fried egg-coated bread dipped in the weird tasting “ang moh tau eu”, the Hokkien name for Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, and eaten with sliced red chillies, always made me nauseous. I guess the shredded cabbage bits contributed to that malady as well. As a kid, I was already a fussy eater and cabbage was one of the vegetables that my taste buds were greatly averse to. To make a long story short, over the years, I have gradually come to love it and have been having cravings for roti babi in recent years.

We made our way up to Penang on Tuesday morning, dropped the cats off for boarding in Ipoh Garden and had a late lunch with Wuan’s parents at Ipoh Old Town. We checked in at about 7pm at the Gurney Resort Hotel & Residences, our journey delayed by intermittent rain along the North South Expressway. We were tired but not that hungry and decided on Song River Cafe which was just a short distance from the hotel. I was delighted when I saw that the lor bak stall also served roti babi and duly ordered one.

Lets just say that I have eaten more delicious roti babi elsewhere. There wasn’t any hint of crab meat, potato or carrot in the filling. Perhaps, they were well mixed into the minced pork. The Worcestershire sauce also tasted bland, none of that nauseous-inducing flavour that I have come to like. One serving costs RM3.50. My cravings are definitely not satiated. The quest continues.

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.

Gurney Getaway – Day 3 (December 29, 2004)

Sunrise at Gurney Drive
Sunrise at Gurney Drive.

0658: Wuan, as she usually does, woke up just before 7am and took this shot of Tanjung Tokong. Penang too was beginning to stir to life. The tide had receded, leaving bare a swathe of mud from one end of Gurney Drive all the way to Tanjung Tokong several miles away. The reclaimed land near there was beginning to take shape – a stretch of land stood where the sea formerly was.

View of Gunung Jerai from Gurney Drive
Gunung Jerai from Gurney Drive.

0808: It was a beautiful morning. We could see the hazy outline of Gunung Jerai in the distance. I remember having seen the peak from the other side many years ago when I followed Dad on his monthly trips to Kedah. In the plains it rose, a mass of green that seemed out of place among the the padi fields, buffalos and kampung houses.

Nasi lemak breakfast at Restoran Khaleel at Gurney Drive
Nasi lemak breakfast at Restoran Khaleel at Gurney Drive

0823: We stopped at Khaleel for breakfast. That is the only Mamak restaurant the entire stretch of Gurney Drive. We had nasi lemak, teh halia and roti canai. The sambal was exceptionally spicy but the fried anchovies and peanuts was crunchy and nice.

Pretty red flowers (Calliandra haematocephala) at Gurney Drive
Pretty furry red flowers called the Dwarf powder puff (Calliandra haematocephala) at Gurney Drive.

0901: Further up the road, Wuan was fascinated by a bush of red furry flowers outside one of the few residential houses left in Gurney Drive. The rest had been turned into food outlets or demolished and condominiums built over them. That was one of the brighter spots in Gurney Drive which had been taken over by the drabness and the concrete rigidity of condominiums. It was like a refreshing oasis of red in a sea of filth and commercialisation.

Indian rotiman with traditional tricycle cart at Gurney Drive
Indian rotiman with traditional tricycle cart at Gurney Drive.

0906: The rotiman playing his trade on a human powered cycle is a vanishing sight in Penang. They used to have a big bell they hit with a rod that produced an unmistakable ring. As kids, we would run out upon hearing that to buy butter buns spread with kaya and margarine. In a few years’ time this image will be but just a memory of days gone by. We could also see the golden pinnacle of a stupa from where we were and decided to make a quick trip there.

Interesting-looking ficus tree Burma Lane
Interesting-looking ficus tree at Burma Lane.

0912: We passed this interesting looking tree and could not resist the photo opportunity. I am not sure if it is a banyan tree. Countless roots appeared from its branches and grew down into the soil to form trunks. The locals here, in their superstitions, would build small shrines to worship spirits that was believed to reside in such trees.

Stupa of the Wat Chayamangkalaram Siamese Buddhist Temple
Stupa of the Wat Chayamangkalaram Siamese Buddhist Temple in Pulau Tikus Penang.

0914: The towering golden stupa seemed out of place amidst the modern structures surrounding it. That is the landmark of the Wat Chayamangkalaram Siamese Buddhist Temple. It houses a reclining Buddha in its main hall. Right across the road from this temple is the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple. Both temples are lavishly crafted in the design their country of origin. These are one of the main tourist attractions in Penang. More images of the temples are available in the Gallery.

Rescue helicopter circling over Gurney Drive after the tsunami
Rescue helicopter circling over Gurney Drive after the tsunami.

1055: On our way back to the hotel, we saw the search and rescue helicopter circling in a search pattern again. It was searching off the sea of Gurney Drive yesterday. We had wanted to photograph it then when it passed closest to us but the digicam battery went flat just at that precise moment. After Wuan had replaced it with a fresh set of batteries, the craft was too far away already. We did not let the opportunity elude us this time.

Cleaning crew clearing the mud from Gurney Drive after the tsunami
Cleaning crew clearing the mud from Gurney Drive after the tsunami.

1111: The cleaning crew were cleaning this end of the road today. They must have been at it for the past three days, making sure that all traces that the tsunami left behind were thoroughly washed off. Like yesterday, they sportingly allowed us to snap a few shots of them at work and gave us the thumbs-up sign afterwards.

Cafeteria at Penang Senior Citizens Association
Cafeteria at Penang Senior Citizens Association.

1400: Lunch was at the Senior Citizens Association Cafeteria somewhere near Pulau Tikus. We had some of the famous local delicacies like choon peah, roti babi and mee sua tau. Wuan had a field day snapping shots of the flowers in the huge compound. There were hibiscus in various colours and shades and several species of heliconias. After lunch, we spent the rest of the day window shopping at Gurney Plaza, again.

Night view of Gurney Drive
Seafront at Gurney Drive by night.

1930: We emerged from the shopping complex into the dusky sky outside. People were beginning to fill the promenade – the evening strollers and those looking to dine there. There were no signs that this side of Penang was hit by a tidal wave. Life went on as usual, almost. The evening scene of Gurney Drive is still as beautiful as it was years ago. But that will soon disappear. The sea is being reclaimed. When that is completed, Penangites and tourists alike will not be able to enjoy the sights, sounds and smell of Gurney Drive like they used to for the past decades. We are losing one of the island’s most enduring symbols to development that most of us are unaware of or are a reluctant partner to.