The 85-year-old coffeeshop on the corner of Anson Road and Siam Road, previously known as Hock Ban Hin, has been renamed Jin Cafe, and is now run by Toong Teik Jin, the earnest 30-something year-old grandson of the founder. Like many traditional Chinese coffeeshop owners today, they are of Foochow (Hockchiew) descent, and have been slowly replacing the Hainanese as the main owners of traditional coffeeshops/kopitiams in Penang. A similar trend has also happened in Kuala Lumpur, where many older coffeeshops previously run by the Hainanese have been sold to Foochow/Hockchiew owners.
- Siam Road has always been synonymous with “char koay teow”, and the “char koay teow” stall here, run by 66-year-old Lee Seng Seng, actually served a great version which I now prefer over the famous version by the legendary Tan Chooi Hong, down the same street.
Char koay teow - fried rice noodles with beansprouts, chives, cockles, shrimps and Chinese sausages, flavoured with a complex sauce consisting of light soysauce, dark soysauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce and other “secret” ingredients.
- The “lam mee” here by 65-year-old Raymond Teh is one of the best on the island, and a personal favourite of mine at the moment.
Lam mee - a mixture of yellow Hokkien noodles and thin rice noodles (“bee hoon”), drenched in a light pork-chicken broth, garnished with shrimp, pork-strips and shredded egg omelette, garnished with coriander leaves and scallions.
A small dish of “sambal belacan” - spicy chili paste, pepped up by toasted, fermented shrimp paste, is perfect for adding another taste dimension when stirred into the broth of the noodle dish.
- Wantan mee - this classic Cantonese wantan noodle dish is by Madam Toong, the septuagenarian paternal auntie of the cafe owner. It’s old-school, with its old-fashioned “char siew” tinted red instead of charred at the edges like present-day ones. Her wantan minced pork/shrimp-filled dumplings were large and juicy, though a bit too salty for my taste. Penang-style wantan mee is usually served tossed in a soy sauce-based dressing, with sesame oil and drippings from the “char siew” BBQ pork.
Pickled green chilis is served on the side, similar to that in Kuala Lumpur, and unlike Singapore or Malaccan versions with their spicy chili paste.
Cantonese “dai bao” (steamed, large pork bun) and “lor mai kai” (steamed glutinous rice topped with marinated chicken) - these were utterly delicious here. Externally, the two offerings looked no different from those offered in other cafes or traditional kopitiams around town, but they hit you with a flavour punch from the first bite. Amazing - do not miss these.
Hainanese kaya-butter toast - no self-respecting traditional kopitiam in Malaysia/Singapore will fail to produce a good kaya-butter toast, preferably grilled over charcoal flames. And the one here at Jin Cafe ticked all the boxes.
This place is a keeper.
110 Siam Road (corner with Anson Road), 10400 Penang, Malaysia
Operating hours: 7am to 4pm, Mon to Sat. Closed on Sundays.