[Penang, Malaysia] Hawker food options at Genting Cafe, Island Glades

Genting Cafe in Island Glades has been a permanent fixture of sorts for Penangites looking for good hawker food for nearly 4 decades. Through the years, many stalls have come & gone, but a few have built up a solid following among locals for their offerings which are rated as among the very best in Penang: the legendary chee cheong fun stall which pioneered the addition of peanut butter/peanut paste into the usual hoi-sin sauce/prawn paste mixture (now copied by almost every other street hawker in Penang), the pasembor (Chinese rojak) man with his unkempt pushcart parked upfront of Genting Cafe, but offering the best-tasting pasembor one can ever find on the island, plus a branch of the famous Kuantan Road curry mee stall.

What we had the other weekend:

  1. Hokkien mee - this is the Penang take on the Fujianese spring noodles, except that the Penang version incorporates chili paste to get the noodle borth’s trademark reddish hue, whereas the original Fujianese version was reddish because of prawn roe and the use of prawn shells in the preparation of the soup stock.
    The version here, a mix of yellow Hokkien wheat noodles, thin rice noodles (“bee hoon”), beansprouts and water spinach (“kangkong”) were steeped in the broth, then garnished with boiled shrimps, pork slivers and soy-braised hardboiled egg, topped with crisp-fried shallots.

  1. Wantan mee - the Penang version is pretty similar to the ones in Kuala Lumpur or elsewhere in Malaysia, except that Penang versions often incorporated crisp-fried wantans, instead of par-boiled ones. Penang wantan noodles also have a chewier texture than KL versions - local taste preferences.

  1. Penang asam laksa, with deep-fried popiah (spring rolls) - a local favourite: thick rice noodles in an extraordinarily sour-spicy soup, garnished with shredded torch ginger flower (Malay: “bunga kantan”) and Chinese lettuce leaves. An assertive, strong-smelling “hae koh” (fermented shrimp sauce) was served on a spoon atop the bowel of noodles - one adds as much as one prefers into the broth, and discard the rest. Warning: “hae koh” smelt stronger than even Cambodian “prahok” or Malaysian “belacan” (fermented shrimp paste), so be quite sure to have a small taste or smell of it beforehand.
    Serving crisp-fried spring rolls with asam laksa (some people liked to dunk the spring rolls into the laksa broth) was a fairly “recent” innovation. 20 years ago, it was virtually unheard of to consume the two items together.

  1. Nasi lemak - virtually Malaysia’s national dish: coconut milk-flavoured rice, served with a plethora of side-dishes. There are variations as to Malay nasi lemak, Chinese, Indian or Nyonya ones, which can determine what kind of side-dishes are served with it. The stall here serves the Penang-Nyonya version, so its side dishes included sambal (chili paste), asam prawns, fried chicken, fried egg, fried tamarind-marinated fish, and raw slices of cucumber.

  1. Penang-style chee cheong fun - the Penang version of this steamed rice rolls dish are dressed in bean-sauce and topped with toasted sesame seeds, like elsewhere in Malaysia and Singapore. But this particular stall is famous for adding peanut paste into its dressing, giving it a peanut butter-like thickness and nutty richness.

  2. Char koay teow - the one dish which every foodie visitor comes to Penang for: star-fried flat rice noodles, flavoured with a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce and other “secret” condiments. Cockles, shrimps, Chinese waxed sausages, egg, beansprout and chives will be added during the frying process. Pork lard is usually used for frying, so the dish is inordinately greasy and rich-tasting.

  1. Penang white curry mee My personal favourite dish here: a mix of yellow Hokkien noodles and thin “bee hoon” rice noodles in a fairly liquid, spicy broth, enriched with coconut milk. Penang curry mee is different from the thicker curried versions in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Malacca and Singapore.

Penang ones also have pig’s blood pudding, cut into cubes - I adore these. Blood cockles, tofu puffs and cuttlefish strips are also added. Perfection in a bowl. The stall here is related to the famous stall on the corner of Kuantan Road and Dato’ Keramat Road, often regarded as one of the best in Penang.

  1. Pasembor (Chinese rojak) - the Chinese “pasembor” tend to be lighter in taste, sweeter and not as spicy compared to Indian “pasembor” (called Indian “rojak” in Singapore, KL and elsewhere in Malaysia): crisp-fried tofu, rice crisps, jellyfish and finely-julienned jicama (Asian turnip) and cucumber, dressed in a thick spicy, sweet tomato-ey sauce thickened with mashed sweet potatoes.

The usual breakfast crowd at Genting Cafe - you really need to fight for a table: there is simply no queuing system - you stand near a table where you think the occupants are finishing their breakfast and glare at any other would-be trespassers.

Address
Genting Cafe
Lorong Delima 3, Island Glades
11700 Penang, Malaysia
Opening hours: 7am-4pm daily, except Wed (closed).

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Genting Cafe is one of several traditional Chinese coffeeshops at the Island Glades morning market, which gets really busy in the morning with vendors hawking meats, vegetables, fruits and other food stuff.

Sometimes, the Buddhist monks from the nearby temple would turn up to receive food alms very early in the morning, around 7am-7.30am. A hush would fall over the market as people cease their trading activities out of respect for the monks. The local shoppers and market vendors would also kneel to show respect, and give packets of food and drinks as alms, putting them directly into the monks’ alms bowls. No words are exchanged, but the monks will silently chant prayers to bless all those present before they leave.

No money would be offered, as the monks will not touch any money. Buddhist monks will only have one meal per day, before noon, eating whatever they’d received from the devotees.

As soon as the monks left, the usual market activities and hustle-bustle would immediately resume, the din puncturing the temporary bubble of calm & serenity.

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The current COVID lockdown entered its 27th day today. No dining-in allowed in Penang, so we did some take-outs from Genting Cafe for lunch today:

  1. Mee Jawa - a surprisingly tasty version from this stall which somehow slipped under our radar previously. This local Chinese adaptation of a noodle dish first popularized by itinerant Javanese noodle vendors to Singapore and British Malaya in the early part of the 20th-century has evolved to become a popular local Chinese-Malaysian dish: less chili-spicy than its original Javanese counterpart, less pungent condiments or herbs, and a mild, slightly sweet-sour flavor to appeal to the Chinese palate. The yellow Hokkien wheat noodles were garnished with fried tofu and crisp fritters, hard-boiled egg and shredded Chinese lettuce. The gravy has its mellow flavor from tomatoes, and thickened with mashed sweet potatoes.

  1. Curry mee - the hawker-chef here is the younger brother of the famous Tan Teong Ban of Ah Ban Curry Mee on Kuantan Road, and its standards are among the highest in Penang: we acknowledge that with one sip of its piquant, perfectly-balanced gravy. We ordered their standard serving of a mixture of Hokkien noodles and thin rice vermicelli, in a coconut-infused curried soup, garnished with pig’s blood pudding, tofu puffs, shrimps, cuttlefish strips and cockles.

  2. Singapore fried noodles - of course, there is no such dish as “Singapore fried noodles” in Singapore: it is a Hong Kong invention which has taken on a life of its own outside Singapore. The version here is simple but tasty: fried rice vermicelli with shrimps, egg, “char siu” (Chinese BBQ pork) strips, chopped carrots and cabbage. It’s served with pickled green chilis, and a calamansi lime, to be squeezed over the noodles.

  3. Lor bak - a platter of prawn fritters, century eggs with pickled ginger, fried fish fillet, tofu, 5-spiced “ngoh hiang” meat rolls and stewed pig’s ears.
    DSC02987

The Penang version of this dish differed from those in Singapore or Taiwan in that it comes with two dips: a “lor” dip, which is unctuous, flavoured with oyster sauce, soysauce and scented with 5-spice, then streaked through with egg-white ribbons, and the usual spicy red chili dip.

All the hawker stalls at Genting Cafe seemed to be doing brisk business despite the no-dining-in ruling, with queues of customers doing take-outs.

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Day One of Malaysia’s latest COVID lockdown, where dining-in at restaurants are banned again. The lockdown is expected to last till June 7.

Lunch today were take-outs from Genting Cafe: curried noodles, Penang “char koay teow” (fried rice noodles) and curry puffs. Not being able to eat out is a real bummer, but I’m thanking my lucky stars that one of the best coffeeshops in Penang is located 5 minutes from my apartment.

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Sorry to hear of the new lockdown, mate. A real pisser.

I’m just about to sit down in front of the TV to hear that our next relaxation will go ahead from 17/5 which will see restaurants reopen indoors. First time since the autumn. We’ve a reservation for a favourite place on 19/5.

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Yup, everyone’s so tired of these rolling open-again-close-again lockdowns as the COVID numbers yo-yo’ed.

I think the latest measures are to stem the mass holiday crowd movement during the upcoming Eid al-Fitr on 13-14 May. It’s the largest Muslim festival here, where 70% of the population are Muslims. Traditionally, the ethnic Malays, who are the majority race here and are all Muslims, would return to their hometowns & villages for the celebrations. In Malaysia, this mass exodus from the big cities (like Kuala Lumpur) where they work, to go “back home” is called “balik kampung” (literally, “returning to one’s village”). In neighbouring Indonesia (which has an 87% Muslim population), it’s called “mudik”, which carries the same meaning. The mass movement of millions from packed, congested cities like Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, where the COVID pandemic is rife, to the villages risk the spread of the virus all over the countryside. So, the lockdown is perhaps a desperate attempt by the Malaysian government to prevent an India-like crisis from happening here.

So happy for all of you! It’s really been too long.
I’m looking forward to reading your dining out reviews. Do keep safe, John!

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And yourself, Peter

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Take-out lunch from Genting Cafe today - “koay teow” (flat rice noodles) tossed in a dark soy sauce-lard-shallot oil dressing. The noodles are garnished with fish-balls, sliced fish-cake, slivers of pork, beansprouts and Chinese “gai lan” greens.

We also bought some savoury pan-fried radish cakes - the texture is akin to pan-fried polenta: crisp on the outside, soft inside.

Dessert was “pulut tai tai”: sticky rice cakes topped with “kaya” (egg-coconut milk jam).

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Day 60 of the interminable Movement Control Order (MCO) 3.0 Lockdown in Malaysia. 479 days since the commencement of the first MCO on 18 Mar 2020.

Breakfast take-outs from Genting Cafe at Island Glades this morning:

Kopitiam-style dim sum - these are the more rustic renditions of HK-style dim sum we normally get from Cantonese yum cha tea houses. The kopitiam dim sum versions usually are much cheaper, but has cheaper ingredients - in place of shrimps, you may get crab stick, or chopped carrot in place of shrimp roe. Also, more “fillers” like tapioca starch to bolster the lack of meat.
But, from Penang down to Singapore, “kopitiam dim sum” seemed a genre all of their own.

Economy beehoon mee - a favourite breakfast item in Penang, as well as Singapore: a combination of rice vermicelli (beehoon) and wheat noodles (Hokkien mee) - the two types of noodles are fried separately, then combined upon order.
In Singapore, the economy beehoon mee usually have optional sides of fried egg, Spam, chicken nuggets, etc. In Penang, it’s usually only topped with crisp-fried sweet beancurd strips. Two types of chilis are added to the noodles: pickled green chilis and a spicy red chili paste.

Penang-style Hokkien mee - the Penang-style Hokkien mee consisted of yellow wheat noodles and rice vermicelli in an intensely-flavored pork-prawn soup.

It differs vastly from Singapore-style Hokkien mee, which is stir-fried yellow wheat noodles and rice vermicelli in a pork-prawn broth, cooked till the noodles have absorbed all the broth.

KL-style Hokkien mee is also a stir-fry but consists only of the yellow wheat noodles, and has a signature dark, glossy appearance from the use of copious amounts of dark soy sauce. The dish also has pork and shrimp stock added gradually during the frying process, and cooked till the noodles have absorbed the stock.

Koay teow th’ng - this is the quintessential Teochew noodle soup dish: flat rice noodles in a chicken broth here (other places in Penang has either duck, chicken or pork version of this dish). Fishcakes and fish-balls, besides shredded chicken meat and crisp lardons are added as garnishes:

Roti bak kwa
These are small sandwiches consisting of soft baked buns sandwiching “bak kwa” - Hokkien caramelised, BBQ pork jerky.
These little filled pork buns were traditionally sold outside cinema halls in Penang since back in the 1960s, but seemed to have completely disappeared from the cineplexes/multiplexes these days, replaced by the ubiquitous popcorn, nacho ‘n’ cheese, and hotdog options - a “sad” result of globalization of cinema junk food.

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The global assimilation of American food in general is very sad to me.

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Well, yes, but…

This is a two sided coin for me. On one side, that means there’s greater variety than when I was a youngster (when cinema edibles were pretty much restricted to ice cream and sweets/chocolate. On the other side of the coin, I cannot abide the smell of popcorn.

By the by, the cinema in our village opened in 1937 and, according to its history, had a restaurant. That could not have been all that long lived as we came to the area in the early 1960s and there was no sign of it. As with many local cinemas, it couldnt compete with the big multiplex cinemas and closed some 20 years back. After standing empty for many years, it has recently been converted to apartments, still retaining its original Art Deco frontage.

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I liked those graceful, old cinema halls which harked back to the Golden Age of the talkies. Sadly, we also had quite a few in Penang, KL and Singapore which had been torn down to make way for new commercial buildings.

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The one I referred to:

tatton

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I love Art Deco, and that building looked nice.

The Cathay cinema in Singapore was likewise re-developed into a mall, with a multiplex and residential apartments.
former-cathay-building-01

Day 66 of the Malaysian Movement Control Order (MCO) 3.0 Lockdown. 485 days since MCO began on 18 Mar 2020.

Breakfast buys from Genting Cafe, Island Glades, this morning:

Nyonya nasi lemak with otak-otak, chicken curry and kacang botol in sambal belacan - rich, coconut-flavored rice with a selection of sides which we can choose from the serving counter. I opted for the otak-otak: steamed Penang-Nyonya spiced, seafood souffle, wrapped in banana leaf and then steamed - akin to Cambodian amok or Thai hor mok. All three dishes share the same common origin, typical to this particular sub-region.
The other sides were a spicy chicken curry, and wing beans stir-fried with sambal belacan (chilis with fermented shrimp paste).

Mee Jawa - blanched wheat noodles, rice vermicelli and beansprouts, blanketed in a tomato-flavored sweet-spicy gravy, garnished with slivers of boiled potato, pan-fried tofu, crisp-fried fritters, and shredded Chinese lettuce leaves. A sprinkling of crushed peanuts, and some calamansi lime finished off the dish.

Koay teow th’ng - the Teochew/Chaozhou/Chiuchow flat rice noodle soup dish, in a clear chicken broth garnished with fish-balls, sliced fish-cakes, mushrooms, chicken meat and gai lan greens, then topped off with crisp-fried shallots & garlic.

Char bee tai bak - this stir-fry utilizes the bee tai bak (silver needle noodles. The term in Penang is influenced by the Zhangzhou variant of the Fujianese dialect spoken here. In Singapore, the noodles are called mee tai mak, a Quanzhou-Fujianese term, whereas Cantonese-speaking Chinese in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh (as in Hong Kong or Guangzhou) will call the same noodles as loh shu fun.
The dish here consisted of bee tai bak stir-fried in pork lard, with shrimps, Chinese sausages, egg, beansprouts and chives, flavored with fish sauce, soy sauce, chili paste and garlic.

Char koay teow - same method as above, but using koay teow (flat rice noodles) instead.

A good selection of noodle dishes to start the day with. I think I’m going to skip lunch! :grin:

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It’s now Day 500 since Malaysia started its Movement Control Order (MCO) back in 18 March 2020. And it’s also been 80 days since MCO 3.0 made it impossible for us to eat out.

At the same time, I also miss travelling to Thailand for its wonderful food. But we just have to make do with whatever we have here.

Breakfast this morning were Thai take-aways from my neighborhood’s morning market vendors, situated right outside Genting Cafe. I got 𝐤𝐡𝐚𝐨 𝐤𝐥𝐮𝐤 𝐤𝐚𝐩𝐢 (ข้าวคลุกกะปิ) and 𝐩𝐚𝐝 𝐤𝐫𝐚 𝐩𝐚𝐨 𝐠𝐚𝐢 (ผัดกระเพราไก่) from a lady vendor from Bangkok:


Khao kluk kapi (ข้าวคลุกกะปิ) - the rice was stir-fried with shrimp paste (‘kapi’), then garnished with shredded green mango, omelette, sliced red onions, dried shrimp, shredded carrots & stir-fried sweet pork.


Pad kra pao gai (ผัดกระเพราไก่) - tongue-searingly spicy stir-fried chicken with basil, long beans, and fried egg.

We also had a delicious 𝐩𝐚𝐝 𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐢 (ผัดไทย) from a lady vendor from Chiang Mai:

Very authentic flavors here, as the vendors did not scrimp on their use of the explosively hot birds’ eye chilis, nor the pungent nam pla fermented shrimp sauce.

We’ve gotten used somewhat to buying take-outs, then racing back home to have the food “whilst they are freshly-cooked and still warm”. Really do miss eating out, though.

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Food in the first photo looks particularly fab, Peter.

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That was like a rice salad, tasted very much better than I expected.

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

― Jonathan Gold