Home-cooked flavours from See Kong Ooi (Est. 1936) on Transfer Road. Currently run by 45-year-old architect-turned-chef, Peter Tan, the grandson of the restaurant’s founder, Tan Kong Chye, an immigrant from Fuzhou, China, who came to Penang in the early 1930s.
From its Fuzhou beginnings, the menu offered at the 82-year-old restaurant has changed over the past decades to encompass a polyglot of Penang-Chinese flavours: Hokkien, Cantonese, even Nyonya.
Our lunch today:
Black pomfret “gulai tumis” - this is my first time here, and I was given to understand that this is one of its signature dishes. Something missing from their rendition - the indispensable “bunga kantan” (torch-ginger flower) was not used here. Flavours were also pretty bland compared to the one from Tek Sen (Carnarvon St).
"Asam heh" (prawns cooked with tamarind) - the prawns tasted pre-frozen and lacked the bouncy, sweetness of fresh-from-the-market prawns which Penang’s street hawkers usually used. The flavours were also not as sharp or pronounced as I’d expected.
"Tau-hu cha sua-nah" (Tofu cooked with leeks & shrimps) - I quite enjoyed this dish, which has pretty light flavours but, here again, the rendition here seemed bland compared to what I’d expected this dish to taste like.
Steamed minced pork patty with salted fish - one of See Kong Ooi’s most popular dishes. It was leaner than I’d expected, i.e. more pork fat to lend the richness and flavour would be nice.
"Kangkung sambal belacan" (water spinach cooked with chilis and fermented shrimp paste) - by far, my favourite dish at lunch today. The water spinach was tender and well-cooked through, and the “sambal belacan” spice mix was perfectly balanced.
It’s a popular lunch and dinner spot for Penangites, most of whom are regulars and probably grew up on the brand name. For a first-timer like me, I don’t think the bland flavours at See Kong Ooi really suits my taste.
See Kong Ooi (西公園飯店)
7&9 Jalan Transfer (Transfer Road)
10050 George Town, Penang
Tel: +604 262 7845
Opening hours: 11am-3pm, 6pm-10pm daily except Thursdays (closed)