[Penang, Malaysia] Breakfast options at 𝗟𝗲𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗬𝗲𝘄 kopitiam, Kimberley Street

Kimberley Street is one of the liveliest streets in the heart of George Town’s Chinatown precinct. It was named after the Earl of Kimberley, John Wodehouse, who was the Secretary of State for the Colonies, India and Foreign Affairs in the 1860s. Among his descendants was writer, P.G. Wodehouse. The road is also known to locals by its Hokkien-Chinese moniker: “Swatow Kay”, as it was populated by the Teochews (Chaozhou people) from Swatow (Shantou district in Guangdong province) in the 19th-century. Kimberley Street (near the junction with Cintra Steet) becomes a gourmet street of sorts in the evenings, with dozens of hawker stalls (most dating back to the 1940s) plying their wares on the streets.

In the morning, the various traditional Chinese coffeeshops (called “kopitiams”) along the street do brisk business. We decided to have ours at Leong Yew, an 80-something year-old Chinese coffeeshop nearer the intersection with Kuala Kangsar Road, which has a busy morning outdoor market.

One of our breakfast options was “ban chang kueh” - a toothsome Hokkien/Fujianese pancake filled with sugar & crushed peanuts. The origin of this popular pancake dates back over 160 years to when it was invented by the 19th-century Manchu General Tso Tsung-t’ang. General Tso started his military career during the Taiping Rebellion in the 1850s. The Manchu troops advanced into Fujian province, where sugarcane & peanuts were found in abundance, to quell the rebellion. Facing a shortage of food supplies, General Tso had asked his army chefs to fill pancakes (which used to be savoury) with sugar & peanuts instead, in order to feed his troops.

P.S. - Interesting to note that, in the American-Chinese culinary universe, the dish, General Tso’s Chicken was named after this same general, although he did not invent that particular dish. :rofl:

The Chinese usually have noodle dishes for breakfast - and some of these are practically the same as those one has during lunch or dinner.We ordered a Yangzhou-style fried rice (very good) and a “sar hor fun” - a very tasty twice-cooked noodle dish which consisted of “sar hor” or “sha he fen”, a thick, wide rice noodles which are mixed with “bee hoon”, a thin rice noodles, and fried in lard & soysauce till wok-charred & fragrant, then covered with an eggy, braised pork & seafood sauce.

I actually preferred the Indian appams - ordered from the stall outside the coffeeshop, which also makes egg appams to order. The appam man drops an egg into each of the delicate, slightly sweet crepe and let it cook sunny side up. These were utterly delicious.

Leong Yew operates daily from 6.30am onwards - its peak period being breakfast-time, and it starts slowing down before noon. Come early.

Address
Leong Yew
219 Kimberley Street (junction with Kuala Kangsar Rd and Sungai Ujong Rd)
10200 George Town, Penang
Opening hours: 6.30am to 12 noon, daily.

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I would march to the sounds of the guns if General Tso was going to feed me pancakes like those.

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I’d never leave the table if foods like those were served all day!

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Have you ever tried General Tso’s chicken, John? Apparently, it was invented by a Taiwanese chef in New York in the 1970s. The chef specialised in Hunanese cuisine and, since General Tso was born in Hunan, the chef decided to name the dish after him.

One of the pleasures for visitors to Penang - the plethora of good eats all day and everywhere. We had to pull ourselves away from here to attend an arts exhibition nearby (Penang is also renowned as an artists’ haven) before we resumed our food-hunting.

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I haven’t. There’s always been something more interesting to eat when I’ve visited the States than American Chinese food. In fact, I only recall one Chinese meal there since we started visiting - and that only because the restaurant was something of a “pilgrimage”, as it regularly appeared in a series of crime novels I enjoyed reading.

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American-Chinese food is in a genre of its own, so it’s worth exploring if you ever have the chance to do so next time, John. I always drop by R&G Lounge for its mu shu pork whenever I’m in San Francisco. You can’t get mu shu pork outside the United States, and none of Singapore’s 40,000-odd restaurants/eateries do that dish!

Likewise, chop suey, chow mein and a plethora of “exotic” American-Chinese eats. Even the fortune cookie!

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It’s been a couple of years since I was back at Leong Yew - well, one whole year was wasted by the great COVID lockdown of 2020.

But it was the excited chatter by Penang foodies over the Web space about a new food find at Leong Yew which got me all curious again to go back. And that was the rare (for Penang) Teochew chwee kway. These steamed little rice flour pudding, topped with chopped & sauteed salted radish were common in Singapore, and also at Bangkok’s Teochew-dominated Chinatown in Samphaeng/Yaowarat.

So, off I went early this week back to Leong Yew and, lo & behold, the chwee kway stall was there, positioned prominently at the front of the kopitiam:

There has been a complete change of food vendors at Leong Yew: gone was the husband-and-wife couple who ran the anchor stall which offered Cantonese-style noodle stir-fries. In their place was another husband-and-wife couple, the Tans, who ran an impressive roast meats stall, and the said chwee kway stall.

For me, the chwee kway stall was a godsend. I’d missed these little salty-savoury puddings so much, since it’s virtually impossible for me to go back to Singapore for quite a while yet. Mrs Tan, the wife, did all the work for the chwee kway. Curiously, she herself was actually Cantonese (or Toishanese, to be exact), but she learnt everything she needed about this very Teochew snack from her Teochew mother-in-law.

The disc-shaped chwee kway here are thicker than those we get in Singapore and Bangkok, because Mrs Tan used deep metal bowls to steam her puddings, whereas chwee kway in Singapore & Thailand used shallow little porcelain saucers to make the puddings.

But taste-wise, these chwee kway were perfect - 100% the texture and the flavour of the best ones I get back in Singapore. Mrs Tan would unmould the little puddings on a plate, and spoon the deliciously savoury salted radish topping on top of each pudding. The topping had the perfect balance of flavours - so important, and which many places in Singapore failed to achieve.

Mr Tan, meanwhile, busied himself with the very popular Cantonese-style roast meats stall, and he certainly knew how to roast his meats - some of the best-tasting siew yoke (crisp/crackling-skinned roast pork-belly), char-siew (caramelised BBQ pork) and siew ngap (Cantonese-style roast duck).

One can opt to have the roast meats with steamed white rice, or with spinach-flavoured noodles:

The kopitiam, which used to be bustling during pre-COVID days, now has a languid feel as many Penangites still preferred to stay away from busy areas.

Definitely worth a trip here, not only for the chwee kway, but for the Cantonese roast meats which I must say are some of the best I’d found in George Town.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold