This fantastic Thai food stall inside a little food court along Jalan Pasar, Ayer Itam Market, is run by a 70-year-old Thai lady, Chiang Mai-born and long-time Penang resident, Khun On (her full name is Thong Pleaw Ithamma).
Khun On has lived in Penang for over four decades, as her eldest son, who’s Penang-born, is already 42. Her husband’s Hakka, like the majority of Thai-Chinese in Chiangmai are (former Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who’s also from Chiang Mai, is of Hakka descent himself).
Khun On’s daily offerings are her tasty 𝗸𝗵𝗮𝗼 𝗸𝗵𝗹𝘂𝗸 𝗸𝗮𝗽𝗶 (Thai: ข้าวคลุกกะปิ), rice fried with ‘𝘬𝘢𝘱𝘪’ (fermented shrimp paste, akin to belacan) and a moist, flavoursome 𝗸𝗲𝗿𝗮𝗯𝘂 𝗯𝗲𝗲 𝗵𝗼𝗼𝗻 (rice noodle salad), one of the best I’d ever had. It came with a scattering of Sakura ebi, a less-salty version of “hae bee” (dried shrimps).
Khao khluk kapi - steamed rice fried in kapi/Thai fermented shrimp paste), garnished with crisp-fried anchovies, soy-braised minced pork, strips of egg omelette, finely-sliced purple onions, and julienned raw mango. It’s very tasty.
Kerabu bee hoon - this is a Penang-Nyonya dish which has strong Siamese influences: rice vermicelli, tossed in a blended chili-lemongrass-lime juice dressing, with beansprouts, finely-sliced shallots & kaffir lime leaves, topped with a scattering of crisp Sakura ebi. I was never a fan of this dish, as I often found it to be too dry, but this version was both moist and very flavoursome indeed.
Khun On’s cooking has assimilated Penang flavours and adjusted to suit the local palate.
On Fridays, Khun On offers 𝗸𝗵𝗮𝗼 𝗸𝗮 𝗺𝗼𝗼 (Thai: ข้าวขาหมู) – slow-braised pig’s trotters, served on rice. I was told to come early – she opens her stall at 4.30am each day, as she caters to the market vendors who come for breakfast before opening their market stalls.
“You come at this time, and it’ll be all sold out”, she said. I looked at my watch: it was only 8.30am! “You come early next Friday-na, I keep some for you”, she quipped her reminder.
On Saturdays, like today, Khun On’s daily special is her 𝗸𝗵𝗮𝗼 𝗺𝘂𝗻 𝗴𝗮𝗶 (Thai: ข้าวมันไก่สูตรง่าย), where she served carefully poached chicken atop moist, very flavoursome chicken rice. I asked for chicken livers - for me, a must-have where chicken rice is concerned. She then topped the dish with a handful of green scallions.
Her green chili dip on the side was marvelous - a blend of green chilis, minced garlic & ginger, and lime juice. It’s one of the best chicken rice you’d ever find anywhere.
On Sunday, Khun On offers 𝗼𝗿𝗵 𝗽𝘂𝗶 (steamed yam rice). I might drop by one of these Sundays to check it out.
I rarely find a simple, little stall which offers different dishes which are all so big on flavours. Pretty sure the Ayer Itam market vendors, which made up the bulk of her clientele, are all in on this secret.
Khun On’s 𝗧𝗵𝗮𝗶 𝗙𝗼𝗼𝗱 stall opens daily from 4.30am, and normally closes as soon as she finished all her food, usually around 10.30am.