Island Park is one of those leafy middle-class residential suburbs along Green Lane (now called Jalan Masjid Negeri). Since the suburbs were first developed in the late-60s/early-70s, the demographics of Island Park, and neighboring Island Glades, have traditionally been dominated by academics (due to its proximity to USM, the Malaysian Science University), professionals and middle-class families. The kopitiams serving these suburbs, like Genting Cafe and Mandarin Cafe, are reputed to have “higher standards” to meet the more exacting demands of their local residents.
Genting Cafe and Mandarin Cafe are both located in Island Glades, together with other main kopitiams there like Mutiara Selera, Delima Mas and Lou Che Fong.
Over in Island Park, the main kopitiam is the eponymously-named Island Park Kopitiam. It has been here for quite a while, since my earliest memory of eating here dates back to 1974.
- Back then, I was here for its Penang-style wantan mee. Penang-style wantan noodles have thin, al dente wheat noodles dressed in a dark soy sauce, with sesame oil, shallot oil and white pepper mixed in. It differs from HK-style wantan noodles which is usually served in a complex soup/broth.
The wantan mee seller today, Mr Tan Teong Cheng, started working here as a kid, helping his father back in 1979. 42 years later, his wantan mee stall is one of the most popular in the area, and even Canadian TV host-celebrity chef David Rocco featured this place in Episode 1 of his new Dolce Southeast Asia series.
- The other long-standing stall here offers Penang char koay teow. The second-generation hawker has been helping her parents run this stall since back in the late-70s as well.
The rendition here is gluggier than versions I tried elsewhere. It also incorporates Teochew fish-balls , besides the usual shrimps & Chinese waxed sausages - a rarity among char koay teow vendors.
- These days, people from other parts of Penang come all the way here for the pan mee, which is reputed to be one of the best in town. Pan mee is usually hand-kneaded and cooked on the spot upon order.
One can opt to have the freshly-made noodles served in a pork-anchovy broth (the most common way of serving it) or tossed in a dark soy sauce dressing, with the broth (cooked with sweet-leaf) served on the side (my preferred way of having it).
Nyonya lam mee - noodles with a light pork-prawn broth: very tasty rendition here.
Duck-meat koay chiap - a very Teochew/Chaozhou dish of thick curls of steamed rice noodles in a dark duck-meat broth. It’s garnished with pig’s intestines and pork, besides duck-meat, and topped with fresh coriander leaves. Also a pretty good rendition offered here.
Lor mai kai and siew mai - the lor mai kai/Cantonese-style glutinous rice with chicken and siew mai/steamed pork-and-shrimp dumplings are the standard kopitiam-style dim sum items which tend to be larger and less-refined than those one gets from HK-style dim sum joints. The ones here are pretty average-tasting.
Nasi lemak - the little packets of nasi lemak are actually sourced from the nearby Dato’ Acheh temple: the temple-keepers make some terrific Chinese-style rendition of the dish: rich, flavorsome coconut milk-infused rice slathered with a tasty chili-tamarind-lemongrass gravy, topped with a wedge of hard-boiled egg, a tiny shrimp or two, and some anchovies. Big flavors in a small package - for me, it’s a must-try!
Penang-style chee cheong fun and “orh kuah”/taro cake - Penang-style chee cheong fun is a variant on the ones that one find in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur: the Penang version incorporates strong-smelling fermented shrimp paste (“hae koh”) besides the fermented bean paste in its dressing. The chee cheong fun here is pretty good, above average, but diners will make a beeline for sland Glades’ Genting Cafe or Mandarin Cafe nearby - both of which has among the best renditions of the dish in Penang.
Economy beehoon mee
The economy beehoon mee is perhaps the most common breakfast dish in Penang, as in Singapore.
Penang Hokkien mee - Penang’s Hokkien mee is known as prawn mee in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere. It’s a combination of yellow wheat noodles and rice vermicelli in a pork-prawn broth, given a spike of heat with chili paste. Quite a respectable rendition here, though people won’t come all the way to Island Park for this dish.
Char koay kak - pan-fried rice cakes with “chye por”/salted radish, eggs, beansprouts, soy sauce and fish sauce. This is one of the newest offerings at Island Park Kopitiam, and quite a tasty one as well.
Ban chien kueh - the peanut-filled Hokkien pancake. Quite a good one here, too.
Island Park Kopitiam offers a good selection of Penang-style hawker fare. It’s also a quieter alternative to the more popular and raucous Genting Cafe and Mandarin Cafe in Island Glades, both less than 10 minutes’ drive away.
Island Park Kopitiam
38, Tingkat Tembaga, Taman Guan Joo Seng, 11600 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 17-401 8422
Opening hours: 8.30am-3.30pm Mon, Wed to Sun. Closed on Tuesdays.