[Butterworth, Malaysia] Hainanese dinner at Salad Bowl, Chain Ferry Road

Salad Bowl is a Hainanese-owned eatery that was established in 1976 by its 78-year-old owner-chef, Lee Chiang Huat. Mr Lee is one of Penang’s last old-school Hainanese chefs, his own father was from a generation who came from Hainan Island to work for the British colonialists in British Malaya.

Today, Salad Bowl still offers some of the best onion soups and oxtail soups around, and is Butterworth’s leading purveyor of Hainanese-Western and Nyonya fare for the past 4 decades. Septuagenarian Lee Chiang Huat, still runs the kitchen, which he’d inherited from his father, whilst his 50-year-old son, Lee Keng Kiat, manages the front of the house.

  1. Oxtail soup - this is the typical East-meets-West Hainanese rendition of a “Western” oxtail soup, but given an Oriental slant (more garlic, drop of soy sauce, etc.). A soft, slightly sweet bread roll & a small slice of cold butter are served on the side.

  2. Choon peah (Hainanese spring rolls) - a heftier version of the Chinese spring roll. A choon peah is usually cut into 3 or 4 pieces, before serving. Its filling would include minced pork, shredded cabbage, julienned shitake mushrooms and even glass noodles, on top of the shredded jicama and carrots which the smaller Chinese spring rolls would contain. The Hainanese would also serve the choon peah with a dipping sauce made from Worcestershire sauce and cut, red chilis. It;s good, but I’d had better versions at other Hainanese eateries like Beach Corner and Ocean Green.

  3. Foo yong tan (Shrimp and vegetable omelette) - this is a heavy, rich omelette containing shrimps, shredded carrots, onions, lettuce and shallots. It’s pretty tasty.

  4. Curry Kapitan (Penang-Nyonya dry chicken curry) - this was supposed to be the house specialty, and I do have Penang friends (even serious gourmands) who sang praises of it. For some reason, it’s not really to my taste - the version here seemed to lack the citrusy lemongrass scent, and the piquant chili-belacan-galangal scent that I associate with good Curry Kapitan.

I’m completely perplexed and still do not know why my friends liked the version here - I surmise that they were probably regulars who, through the past 4 decades, had somehow “acquired” a taste for Salad Bowl’s version.

  1. Hokkien char mee - so Salad Bowl offers a Hokkien-style fried noodle dish, instead of their own Hainanese-style one. The mix of yellow egg noodles and the finer rice noodles was stir-fried with chicken, shrimps and choy sum greens. The brown gravy tasted of soy sauce and perhaps oyster sauce. Golden-fried shallots were sprinkled on top before serving.
    Again, the version here garnered lofty praises from my dining companions - it’s pretty good.

  2. Inche kabin - this is a typical Penang-Nyonya dish of chicken marinated in spices and coconut milk, then deep-fried upon order. It resulted in rich-tasting, slightly-spiced (not chili-spicy) chicken pieces which are crisp on the outside, and juicy inside. This chicken dish is usually served with prawn crackers, and a Worcestershire-cut red chilis dipping sauce on the side.

Overall, Salad Bowl delivers, with its retro menu replete with dishes which one remembers from 1970s Malaysia/Singapore, but hardly found anywhere else these days. Old-fashioned flavours are the order of the day at this old place.

Salad Bowl Coffee House
4623, Jalan Chain Ferry, Kompleks Chain Ferry, 12100 Butterworth, Penang
Tel: +604-323 2948
Opening hours: 11am to 11pm Mon-Sat. Closed on Sundays.


A couple of friends were visiting from Singapore, so I introduced them to this spot which I know will please them: one can’t find these retro dishes which dated back to the 1950s/60s in Singapore anymore, but which Salad Bowl still excelled in producing to this day:

But we ordered almost exclusively from their Chinese & Nyonya sections of the menu for this meal:
:small_orange_diamond: 𝙄𝙣𝙘𝙝𝙚 𝙠𝙖𝙗𝙞𝙣 - this is a typical Penang-Nyonya dish of Hainanese origin: chicken marinated in spices and coconut milk, then deep-fried upon order. The name comes from Hainanese for marinated chicken slices: “Yean chi ka pin”.

:small_orange_diamond: 𝘾𝙪𝙧𝙧𝙮 𝙆𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙩𝙖𝙣 - this was one of the house specialties, a dry Penang-Nyonya curry which is also of Hainanese origin. Hainanese chefs dominated the naval ship kitchens during the British colonial era, hence the dish’s nautical allusion.

:small_orange_diamond: 𝙁𝙤𝙤 𝙮𝙤𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙖𝙣 - a rich omelette containing shrimps, faux sharks-fin, shredded carrots, onions, lettuce and shallots.

:small_orange_diamond: 𝙈𝙪𝙩𝙩𝙤𝙣 𝙘𝙪𝙧𝙧𝙮 – very tasty Indian-style curried mutton with a real depth of flavor. Whilst the Curry Kapitan uses “wet” spices (i.e., lemongrass, chilis, galangal, kaffir lime leaves) to obtain its flavors/scent, the Indian-style mutton curry uses “dry” spices (cumin, coriander, cardamom, etc.)

:small_orange_diamond: 𝙃𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙖𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙚 𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙘𝙠𝙚𝙣 𝙘𝙝𝙤𝙥 – we ordered this on a whim, the only option we chose from the Hainanese-Western section of the menu. Good chicken chop, although the crinkled French fries weren’t exactly the Hainanese-style potato wedges we were expecting. The sauce here has a hint of tomato ketchup, instead of the traditional Hainanese brown sauce that we preferred. Still, their rendition was pretty tasty.

The father-and-son team helming Salad Bowl - octogenarian owner-chef Lee Chiang Huat still runs the kitchen, whilst his 52-year-old son, Lee Keng Kiat, manages the front of the house:


@klyeoh the “Sizzling” dishes on the menu remind me of a special category of dishes in India (well, Mumbai anyway) called “Sizzlers” - names so because they are served on hot cast iron plates (resemble fajita plates in the US) and are actually sizzling when they arrive.

Might gross out someone who has not seen it before, because it’s a pile-up of seasoned rice, grilled meat (steak or boneless chicken, paneer for vegetarians), vegetables (cauliflower, green beans, peas, carrots), and fresh fries, topped with a gravy depending on what specific dish was ordered. But - absolutely delicious!

Started as a steakhouse, I think. But probably influenced by Russia/Eastern Europe because the most popular dish is”Shashlik” - cooked on a skewer before being transferred to the sizzler plater.

(Btw - one of my favorite meals when I visit!)


I’ll be very keen to try it!

I was planning to visit Mumbai for a 9-day foodie trip back in 2020, but the COVID lockdown worldwide put paid to that. Our flights were already booked at the time, and the airlines are still holding the amount we’d already paid as credit for any future bookings. We’d had to cancel our hotel booking at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

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