Septuagenarian Tan Jin Hock aka “Ah Jin” has been running Ah Jin’s Porridge stall for over 6 decades, now with the help of his son, Tan Joo Hong. They serve an average of 20-over side-dishes each day, to accompany their plain rice porridge - and they do about 100 to 150 covers per day. The uniqueness of Ah Jin’s Porridge stall is their trishaw-puller’s seating style: small, wooden stools stacked atop long wooden benches lined up against the periphery of his serving counter.
Ah Jin’s side-dishes are cooked Teochew-style: braised minced pork cooked with chilis and preserved soy-bean paste (“taucheo”), batter-fried fish fillets, stir-fried beansprouts with tofu, clams cooked with ginger and preserved soy-beans, salted duck’s egg, pork steaks covered with dark soy-sauce, etc.
The seating style here used to be de rigeur amongst Penang and Singapore’s Chinese trishaw or rickshaw-pullers, who preferred a crouching stance when they were resting, even when they were eating their meals - a tradition carried over from Southern China where they or their forefathers emigrated from in the 19th- till mid-20th-century.
In such eateries, the diners would crouch on the wooden benches lining 3 sides of the serving counter, much like a traditional Japanese sushi counter arrangement. Over time, tiny wooden stools were stacked atop the wooden benches to “make the diners more comfortable”.
Perched on these seats, I can attest that it gives the diner an amazing elevated eye-view over the spread of side-dishes available to accompany one’s bowl of rice porridge!
I opted to sit at one of the more conventional tables and chairs available away from the serving counter. But, if one is adventurous enough, do try one of those seats - they have disappeared completely from Singapore, and this is the last of its kind here in Penang.
It’s just a challenge to catch this place open - the old man does not announce his off-days, and he sometimes simply take a couple of weeks off. But if one walks by this place and it’s open, don’t hesitate to go right in!
Bee Hong Coffeeshop (美鳳茶室)
93, Jalan Magazine
10300 George Town, Penang
Opening hours: 10.30am to 4.30pm Thu to Sun. Closed Mon to Wed. Additional days off are sometimes unannounced.