Tai Thong in rustic Juru is one of those out-of-the-way places which only locals know about. It’s a very basic eatery - zinc-roofed, semi-al fresco, with cheap aluminium tables and chairs. And yet, its seafood dishes trump those sold in über-elite, touristy spots in Tanjung Bungah or Batu Ferringhi, and for a fraction of the cost.
We were here for dinner this evening as the flower crabs were in. We ordered the crabs done two ways:
Flower crabs and prawns in Chinese herbal stew - this was a light, soupy stew of flower crabs and large prawns cooked with red dates, wai san (wafer-thin slivers of dried Chinese yam), pak kei (astragalus root), yuk chuk (Solomon’s seal) and kam chou (licorice root). I also noticed fresh coriander root and generous slivers of garlic at the bottom of the claypot. The soup-stew was full of flavour - the rich, seafood broth resultant from the slow-simmering of crab-shells and prawns, given a rounder, more full-bodied taste by the herbs.
- Flower crabs in sweet-sour sauce - this is a non-spicy variation of the chili crab dish which is so popular in Singapore. In Malaysia, one generally can’t find Singapore-style chili crabs - the Malaysians prefer their crabs cooked kam heong, which is stir-fried with chilis, minced dried shrimps and curry leaves.
I miss Singapore-style chili crabs during the whole time I lived away from Singapore - during my 7-year sojourn in Kuala Lumpur (2011-2017), we had to order kam heong all the time when ordering crabs. It was simply Malaysia’s answer to Singapore chili crabs. But, I didn’t like the strong, pungent flavours from kam heong. In comparison, sweet-sour crabs has more in common with Singapore chili crab, based on tomatoes and streaked through with beaten egg, but sans the chili-spiciness. So, we ordered the sweet-sour version here. It was really good, and trumped the best ones I find on Penang island. And the flower crabs here had firm, sweet flesh, and ultra-fresh. I finished up every drop of the gravy on that platter.
House special mixed vegetables - this was an interesting dish which used quite a bit of yuba/tofu skin,gingko nuts, wood-ear, hon-shimeji mushrooms, carrots and bok choy greens. A really excellent vegetarian dish.
There were other dishes we noticed on other tables that looked interesting - the steamed fish with soy dressing, topped with golden, crisp-fried garlic crumbs looked real good. So, a return visit is on the cards.
Restoran Tai Thong (上湯花蟹)
Plot 22, Jalan Juru, Kampung Tersusun
14100 Bukit Mertajam, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6019-505 3315
Operating hours: 12pm-3pm, 5.30pm-11.pm Tue-Sun. Closed on Monday.