One-month-old Sambal is the latest eatery to open on what used to be the dodgy end of Beach Street, a narrow thoroughfare in George Town’s oldest quarter that dates back to 1786.
The gentrification of this part of the city has seen the emergence of several patisseries/cafes in the past year, most of which specializes in French and Japanese pastries (The Maker, Le Bread Days, Le Petit Four, etc.). So, it was a pleasant change to see a new eatery that does Modern-Penang, dishing out traditional dishes that were given a fresh makeover.
Fronted by the effervescent Jenelle Tan, last seen as a food consultant at the now-defunct Roast & Bake, this new spot is far and away more ambitious, with its wider menu, some echoing Roast & Bake’s predilection for lardons and pork lard, but others which incorporated traditional Teochew flavours, which Jenelle explained reflected her Teochew heritage.
"Nyonya Punya Salad", served with wild betel leaf wraps - a spicy-sour-sweet salad with crunchy wing-beans, torch-ginger, peanuts and herbs. The wild betel leaf wraps are reminiscent of Thai miang kham.
Steamed mantou buns with minced pork-salted fish patties - this is a moreish starter, as the 3 pork patties were pretty substantial. The patties were succulent, and each of the mantou “burger” came in a different sauce (though I couldn’t really tell).
"Bak eu pok" (pork-lardons) rice with char-siew - I liked the crisp lardons on the rice (and the sunny side up egg accompanying it), but the rice was not drizzled with pork-lard (as I’d expected), and the “char siew” (Cantonese-style caramelized BBQ pork) accompanying it did not taste like char-siew at all: no char-grilled aroma, and the sauce was too liquid and very sweet. They’ll need to tweak this dish.
*** Stir-fried Teochew mee teow, with sambal belacan***- this is a common home-cooked Teochew dish, and done very well here. Teochew “mee teow” noodle is pasta-like: it has to be par-boiled till it’s softened, before being drained then stir-fried. It has a toothsome texture, unlike other types of Chinese noodles, and a salt-ish taste as salt has been worked into the noodle dough. The version here was perfectly cooked, but I didn’t understand the addition of cooked squid rings in there. The Teochews would’ve preferred pork, shrimps, or even cockles, but not really squid.
Pumpkin porridge with salted pork - the rice porridge was hearty and subtly-flavoured. It’s topped with lardons, chopped green scallions, and shredded chicken-meat - a perfect accompaniment to the crisp-fried salted pork belly.
"Bak eu pok" (crisp lardons)-and-peanuts
Dessert: "Orh nee" (creamed taro pudding) - this was a dud: too liquid, and didn’t have the taro flavours I’d expected. Should’ve also included whole gingko nuts for additional texture/taste.
Its expansive menu - with quite a few queer-sounding dishes - calls for a repeat visit.
300, Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street), 10300 George Town, Penang
tel: +6017-567 4778
Opening hours: 12 noon to 10pm Tue to Sun. Closed on Mondays.