[Butterworth, Malaysia] Hainanese-Western fare from Butterworth Cafe (Est. 1958)

Butterworth Cafe was started by Hainanese chef Cheng Sin Kuan to cater to the RAAF Station Butterworth airforce personnel back then. The airbase was formerly the British RAF (Royal Airforce) Butterworth from 1941 to 1957, before it was transferred over to the Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF) which ran it from 1957 to 1988. The bar at the Butterworth Cafe was a favourite meeting point for RAAF personnel and their family & friends during this period.

Mr Cheng Sin Kuan and his son, Cheng Yeuk Yik, did most of the cooking for nearly 30 years, but they both retired after RAAF closed down in 1988. Today, the cafe is partly-owned by one of Mr Cheng Sin Kuan’s daughters, together with a business partner. It’s still a popular spot among locals nowadays, though much quieter than during its hey-day.

  1. Cream of mushroom soup, with garlic bread - I was given to understand that the cafe serves one of the better versions of this soup, but I get a distinct feeling that the base was out-of-the-tin, courtesy of Campbell’s, but pepped up with additional stock/add-ons.

  2. Shepherd’s pie - this is the second Hainanese place in a row I’d been to which mislabelled a soup served en croute as a “pie”. The first was at Yaw’s Roast & Grill a few days ago where its “chicken pie” was actually cream of chicken soup en croute. Go figure.
    I’d thought the waiter served me the wrong dish when it came. Butterworth Cafe’s “shepherd’s pie” is actually a cream of chicken/vegetable soup en croute. An old mistake that was never fixed, and became a Hainanese-Western dish of sorts.

  3. Chicken Maryland - the version here bore no relation to the one found in Maryland, i.e. pan-fried chicken in creamy sauce. Rather, the version here closely resembled the ones commonly found in Australia, i.e. breaded, deep-fried chicken and bananas. The renditon here also included pan-fried ham, French fries and a coleslaw.

  4. Chicken Cordon Bleu - another old retro favourite at Hainanese-owned “Western” eateries here in Singapore or Malaysia.

  5. Spaghetti Bolognese - an Italian favourite, but the Hainanese version will see the pasta boiled till soft, as Asians traditionally liked their noodles soft and may regard “al dente” as being undercooked.

  6. Banana split - this was an old childhood favourite of mine, but almost extinct these days, so I simply couldn’t resist ordering it when I saw it listed on the menu. A halved banana, served with Neapolitain ice-cream (one scoop each of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavours), topped with out-of-can whipped cream, “hundreds and thousands” (the Aussie term for colourful sugar sprinkles) and glacé cherries.

The food offerings at this little cafe were pretty simple and basic. The whole place seemed tired, like a place which had seen its better days. Every now and then, retired old servicemen from the British or Australan air force might drop in, just to look-see and relive their memories. But most of the time, local Butterworth folks form the main clientele.

Butterworth Cafe
2, Lorong Zamrud, Taman Zamrud
Butterworth 13000
Province Wellesley, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6012-481 8812
Operating hours: 6pm-11pm Tue-Sun. Closed on Mondays.


Chicken and fried banana, interesting combo!

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Not that I’ve seen it for many years, but the British version of Chicken Maryland also includes banana as an accompaniment. It’s always struck me as odd. It was popular back in the 70s and I remember us cooking it for “special meals”. That was in the time when there was starting to be the fascination here with all things American.

By the by, we also call those American sprinkles “hundreds and thousands”

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I’m guessing that the Aussies might have gotten this idea from the British.

And this, too. :joy::+1:

They probably came with the big influx of Brit immigrants arriving on the £10 voyage deal in the 1960s.

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In the old days, Aussies were often ashamed of their ancestors’ convict past. But at one point, perhaps some time around the Australian Bicentenary celebrations in 1988, people started to take pride that their ancestors arrived on the convict ships - perhaps mirroring how some Americans in New England used to boast that their forefathers came over on the pilgrim ships.

I have Irish-Australian friends who proudly declared that their great-great-grandfathers were Fenian rebels.

My old mate and ex-colleague, Pete, had Aussie nationality and I always used to pull his leg about a convict past - particularly as we were working for the Probation Service.

I wasnt too far from the mark, in fact. He’d been born in the UK but his family emigrated to Oz when he was a child. However, come the Vietnam War, he “escaped” back to the UK to avoid the draft. Never went back as, presumably, he was “wanted”.


One of my favourite meals during my teens, growing up in Australia in the 1980s, had been the Hawaiian chicken meals from either Red Rooster or Chicken Treat fast food outlets, which had barbecued chicken with crumbed, deep-fried bananas and pineapple ring fritters.

I love your posts @klyeoh