[Penang, Malaysia] Hainanese Delights on King Street

Hainanese Delights has just re-opened for business on Labour Day at its new premises on No. 42, King Street.

It’s the return of the Wong brothers who ran Hainanese Delights at 1926 Heritage Hotel on Burmah Road for 15 years, before it shuttered last year.

The 3 Wong brothers who started Hainanese Delights - George, 73, JP, 70, and Charles, 66 - were offsprings of Hainanese émigré, Wong Seng Hye, the long-time chief cook of Edgecliff, one of the many grand manors dotting Penang Hill, just after World War II.

They had started Hainanese Delights 15 years ago to reprise the Colonial-British-era dishes they remembered being cooked by their father. Their new restaurant is located on King Street, one of the earliest streets in George Town, and named in honour of King George III, who reigned from 1760 to 1801. It was under his reign when Penang was founded by Captain Francis Light in 1786. There is also a Queen Street nearby, named in honour of his consort, Queen Charlotte.
King George III was, of course, infamous for being the one who lost the American colonies.

Our dinner this evening:

  1. Hainanese spring roll (left) and lor bak (right) - these were both pretty good.
    The Hainanese spring rolls or choon phneah have jicama, carrot and pork or chicken filling, and are generally twice larger and much heftier compared to the Chinese deep-fried spring rolls. My fave places for these type of choon phneah rolls in Penang are Beach Corner and Happy Garden.
    The lor bak meat rolls tasted okay, but were sliced too thinly, instead of into chunks.

  1. Chicken curry Kapitan - the rendition here is very mildly-spiced, originally conceptualize to cater to the more sensitive British palate in the old days, but reprised here nowadays as a faithful tribute to Edgecliff’s original rendition.
    The spice mix here had miniscule chili content, but with a strong fenugreek taste and scent.

  1. Hainanese chicken chop - the standard rendition here: batter-fried chicken smothered with a light brown sauce. French fries instead of the “traditional” potato wedges were the accompaniment.

  2. Hainanese-style mushroom and tung hoon soup, flavoured with taucheo (fermented soy beans) - one of my fave Hainanese soups, besides the herbed mutton soup, so we’re pretty happy to find it served here.

  3. Macaroni pie, with egg-white meringue topping - the Hainanese macaroni pie is somewhat of a Penang-Hainanese British-inflected dish, as the Hainanese from elsewhere in Malaysia and Singapore do not have this dish in their repertoire.

  1. Wong Jong Peng, aka, JP Wong, 70, is one of the 3 Hainanese Wong brothers running Hainanese Delights.

Their parents, Wong Seng Hye and Tan Heng Mooi, emigrated from Hainan island to Singapore shortly before World War II broke out, and lived in the Seah Street/Purvis Street/Middle Road Hainanese enclave there. It was there that Mr Wong Seng Hye polished up his culinary skills under the tutelage of his brother-in-law, who was already a member of the well-established Hainanese chefs’ fraternity in Singapore.

After the war ended, Wong Seng Hye emigrated to Penang and started work at Edgecliff manor on Penang Hill as the chief cook. His wife, Tan Heng Mooi, became the housekeeper. Their 3 sons were all born at Edgecliff. Second son, Wong Jong Peng aka JP, was running the restaurant during our visit, but his brothers would also come to the restaurant in turns.

Hainanese Delights
42, Lebuh King (King Street), 10020 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6012-428 8995
Operating hours: 11am-3pm, 6pm-10pm, daily except Tuesday


We were back at Hainanese Delights last night for a traditional Hainanese dinner - there were 6 of us hardcore foodies - a good number as we could order more dishes to share, and we also booked a couple of dishes that required advance notice to prepare: the Hainanese mutton stew and the Hainanese chicken pie.

Our dinner yesterday evening:
1 Hainanese “choon phneah”, served with Worcestershire sauce & cut red chilis dip. These are deep-fried spring rolls, but it differs from the smaller, more common “popiah chee” in three ways: firstly, the “choon phneah” is much larger, maybe double the size of a “popiah chee”, and hence is usually cut into 4 before serving.

Second, “choon phneah” skin is a large, heavy moist crepe which is freshly-prepared before being used for wrapping. “Popiah chee” is made from thin, rice paper wrappers usually available in frozen packs at the supermarkets and, when fried, has a smoother exterior, compared to the “choon phneah”'s mottled skin.

Thirdly, “choon phneah”'s filling would consist of cabbage, pork, shrimp, onions, msuhrooms, and sometimes crab-meat. The “popiah chee” usually has a simpler filling: shredded jicama, with bits of shallots and tofu.

*“Choon phneah” is always served with a dipping sauce of Worcestershire sauce with cut red chilis. “Popiah chee” would either be served plain, or with a sweet chili sauce dip.

Hainanese Delights’ head chef was also kind enough to make an extra portion of “choon phneah” using a special 5-spice powder that one of my dining companions brought along.
Personally, I rather preferred this pepped up version:

2 Hainanese mushroom-tunghoon soup, with chicken livers & gizzards - a classic Hainanese soup. Made of chicken broth, it would have finely-diced chicken meat, button mushrooms, chicken livers & gizzards, and glass noodles. The broth would be flavored with “taucheo” (Chinese fermented soybean-paste).

3 Asam prawns - these are shell-on prawns marinated in tamarind, sugar and salt, before being pan-fried. The version here is lighter and blander than the Nyonya versions, which have a more pronounced flavor.

4 Chicken satay - very good rendition of the satay. It’s served with a lightly-spiced peanut sauce, which is a departure from the traditional Hainanese version where the accompanying dip is made from mashed sweet potatoes, chilis, tomatoes and light spices,

5 Hainanese “ark orh” (duck-and-yam) stew - the rendition here was a bit too heavy on star-anise, giving the stew an overwhelming liquorice-like aroma.

6 Hainanese chicken rice - very aromatic chicken rice, although slightly mushier than should be. But the flavors were spot-on. Best-tasting chicken rice around. The poached chicken was done perfectly.

7 Hainanese mutton stew, with daikon, wood-ear fungus and fu chuk (dried beancurd sticks) (Required advance reservation) - I was expecting a herbal version, such as the ones I get back in Singapore. This Penang one did not include any traditional Chinese herb at all.

8 Chicken pie - lovely pie with puff-pastry topping and bottom (I’d have preferred short-crust for the bottom bit). Love the mild flavors, and the hard-boiled egg wedges in the stewed chicken filling.

9 Dessert: Sago Gula Melaka - lovely sago pudding, served with thick coconut crème and a rich, smoky palm sugar.

Charles Wong (left) and JP Wong (right), two of the three brothers who own and manage the restaurant these days.