[Butterworth, Malaysia] Hainanese-Nyonya lunch at Salad Bowl Coffee House

Salad Bowl in Butterworth, across the Straits of Penang from George Town, has been operating since 1976. We rarely dined here, even though we really liked the food, as it usually entailed a long drive over the Penang Bridge, and traffic can be heavy during peak hours.

Salad Bowl’s dimly-lit retro interior looked as if it was last renovated during the Vietnam War era. The fare offered also looked like it harked back to that era, caught in a time-warp. The septuagenarian Hainanese owner-chef, Lee Chiang Huat, still runs the kitchen himself, whilst his son, Lee Keng Kiat, manages the front of house.

  1. Oxtail soup - one of the eatery’s original offerings and certainly the best-tasting I’d had in quite a while. Fall-off-the-bone tender oxtail in a thick, unctuous soup.

  2. Inche Kabin - this is Salad Bowl’s claim-to-fame and certainly very well executed: chicken pieces marinated in spices and coconut crème, deep-fried till crisp on the outside and moist & flavoursome inside. Flanked with wafer-like crisp prawn crackers, you won’t find any better-tasting chicken on either side of the Penang Straits.

  3. Chun phneah - this is quite a disappointment as Chef Lee used the more common spring roll wrapper which is smoother and thinner. In Penang, one can have the smaller, crisp-fried spring rolls called “popiah chee” where the filling is grated jicama cooked with shallots, carrots and, sometimes, chopped tofu.

“Chun phneah”, on the other is a larger type of spring roll filled with minced meats (chopped pork, chicken) besides finely-chopped vegetables. A “chun phneah” wrapper is usually thicker, with a mottled appearance, unlike the smooth “popiah chee” skin. However, “chun phneah” skin usually has to be prepared on-the-spot, like a crepe, whereas “popiah” skins are often-times store-bought - which was what Salad Bowl did. Taste-wise, its “chunb phneah” was also drier than I’d expected, and the “ang moh tau yew” (Worcestershire sauce) dip did not taste authentic.

  1. Chicken Curry Kapitan - this dish is one of the most popular there: the typical Penang-Nyonya dry chicken curry. But I found the version here to be too bland for my taste, missing the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf flavour I associate with Curry Kapitan.

  2. Hainanese-style Fried Beehoon Mee - this braised noodle dish was very tasty, especially with the house special chili paste.

  3. Foo Yong Hai - the classic Cantonese egg omelette dish with grated vegetables and shrimps (we wanted the crabmeat version, but they were out). Tasty.

  4. Hainanese Chicken Chop - this was a one-dish meal which one wouldn’t normally order as part of a shared spread of dishes, but we wanted to taste what their rendition was like. It was excellent: perfect textures, and with a delicious sauce.

8) Banana Split - we simply had to order this. It’s like something I’d have had as a 5-year-old back in the 1960s. :joy:

Salad Bowl Coffee House
4623, Jalan Chain Ferry
12100 Butterworth, Malaysia
Tel: +604-323 2948
Operating hours: 11am-11pm, Mon-Sat. Closed on Sunday.


Gosh, that is a very retro look. Those booths look very 1970s - the sort that once upon a time I could fit into but now have to ask for a “proper” table. I usually cite my arthritic back needing a proper chair - nothing at all to do with my greatly expanded girth.

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Speaking of girths, no one fascinated me more than legendary gourmand (glutton?), Diamond Jim Brady, who’d ‘‘sit four inches from the table, and when his stomach touched it, he’d stop eating.’’ (https://www.nytimes.com/1982/03/26/arts/a-diamond-jim-brady-eating-place-tour.html)

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