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