[Penang] Hawker/street food options at Keat Seng, Ayer Itam

Keat Seng Coffeeshop provides me with my earliest memory of having a dim sum breakfast. The year was 1972, and my maternal grandfather from Singapore made it a point to have Sunday yum cha (which was what one called this activity of imbibing Chinese tea whilst picking on a variety of dim sum dumplings) at Keat Seng each time he’s in Penang. Back in the 70s, locals (both in Malaysia and Singapore) used the term “gow chee, siu mai” as a collective term to refer to dim sum. Somehow, the term dropped out of use over time, and I only encountered the term “gow chee” again when I was in San Francisco Chinatown 4 decades later.

These days, Keat Seng’s dim sum stall was long gone, but the coffeeshop still offered plenty of traditional Penang hawker food options from morning till night. A different set of hawkers operate from breakfast-time till lunch, and these ones close by around 3pm. Then, in the evening, the streets around Keat Seng come alive with dozens of hawker stalls. This is one of the places which local Penangites go for their hawker food, not touristy places like New Lane, Chulia Street or even Kimberley Street these days, where the clientele are mainly foreigners (including Singaporeans) and Malaysians from other states, whilst Penangites would shun these places which they’d see as serving inauthentic renditions of Penang hawker fare dumbed down to suit outsiders, and priced much higher.

I was back at Keat Seng this evening, where it’s as lively as ever - a place where Penang hawkers cook real hawker fare for Penangites:

Unfortunately, one of the best hawkers - the “oh chien” (oyster omelette) man was not operating this evening, but we ordered a selection of other hawker fare to share:

  1. Siamese Laksa - this is a unique Penang (rather than Thai) dish where coconut milk was added to the more common asam laksa, giving it a richer, milkier flavour:

  2. Char koay kak - this is Penang’s rendition of fried rice cakes, cooked with salted radish, eggs, beansprouts, a soy-based combination of sauces and chilis. It’s a dish of Teochew/Chiuchow/Chaozhou origins, and can be found in most countries around South-east Asia where the Teochew diaspora resides.

In Thailand, it’s called “khanom pak kard”.

In Vietnam, it’s called “bột chiên”.

In Singapore, we called it “chye tow kway”:

  1. Economy Beehoon Mee - this is a popular breakfast food, but served during supper-times nowadays, so-called as it’s plain noodles fried with dark & light soysauces and nothing else. It’s served with tim juk (crisp-fried sweet beancurd sticks), pickled green chilis and a spicy red chili sauce:

  1. Malay Nasi Lemak - the only Malay food stall in this largely Chinese dining spot. It sells coconut-scented rice with a choice of curries and other Malay-style dishes like turmeric-fried fish:

  2. Char koay teow - the classic Penang fried flat rice noodle dish.

  3. Kueh Dadar - a popular Malay dessert of moist pandan-flavoured crepes with shredded coconut-palm sugar filling:

  1. Kopi (local coffee)

Just highlighting some of the other more popular stalls to try there, but which we didn’t this evening as there’s only that much that our stomachs could take in. :joy:

  1. Apom - crisp, sweet Indian egg crepes:

  1. Belacan fried chicken

  2. Indian curry rice

  3. BBQ chicken drumsticks and wings

  4. Yew char kway (Chinese crullers)

  1. Wantan noodles

  1. Hokkien mee

The above constituted roughly half of the hawker stalls there, and one needs to go back there a few times, in order to cover all the dining options available.


Wow, this is good stuff! On 11, are those wings roasted over the fire? It is hard to tell. It almost appears the wings and drums sticks are photoshopped into the pic, or you’re am amazing photog lol. My eyes are pretty bad so I’m just wondering. Very nice pics. What kind of wood, if you know? Great job as always :slight_smile:

Thanks, I just point and shoot! My digicam did the rest - I used a nifty little Sony RX100.

The chicken drumsticks and wings are roasted over an open fire using charcoal.

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