[Penang, Malaysia] Teochew snacks from Lai H'ng Cafe, Teochew Puppet & Opera House

Lai H’ng Cafe at the Teochew Puppet & Opera House on Armenian Street is the latest eatery to open in George Town when it started its operations on 21 Feb 2021. It was the brainchild of Ms Ling Goh, Penang’s leading Teochew opera performer. Ms Goh’s mother, Toh Ai Hwa, is recognized as one of Penang’s “Living Heritage Treasures” by the Penang Heritage Trust for her expertise and knowledge of the art of Teochew puppetry, also another art form Ms Goh was trained in.

However, the COVID pandemic caused theatres all over the world, including here in Penang, to lockdown since March 2020, and the Teochew Opera House has been sitting idle for the past 11 months.

Ms Ling Goh recently decided to turn part of her premises - at the back facing Carnarvon Street - into a cafe, serving tea and traditional Teochew snacks amidst a Teochew opera-themed environment.

What we had:

  1. Teochew-style oyster porridge - this is a traditional delicacy often sold at venues where Teochew operas were performed. It’s a soupy dish, with rice grains cooked in a light pork-dried oyster broth, garnished with shark-meat, scallions and other condiments, topped with crisp crullers (“youtiao”).

  2. Chai kway - these are traditional Teochew steam rice-flour dumplings, stuffed with shredded jicama, flavoured with dried shrimps. This is my favourite item for lunch today - a must-order as Ms Goh happened to produce the best-tasting ones I’d ever had in town!

  3. Kuchai kway - the same type of steamed dumplings, but stuffed with chives instead.

  4. Lor bak platter - a more-ish platter of fried meat-rolls scented with 5-spice, prawn fritters, tofu, century eggs with picked ginger, fish-balls and pandan-wrapped chicken. This was more a “Penang” dish than out-and-out Teochew.

  5. Longevity buns - steamed buns with crushed peanut filling. These were traditionally served at birthday parties of older folks, so we ordered these for a lark when we saw them listed on the menu here. Pretty god ones here.

  6. Desserts: Orh Nee (sweetened taro paste, studded with gingko nuts, red date and toasted sesame seeds) and Ming Teng (sesame-coated soft sugar candies made from glutinous rice flour) - the “Orh Nee” is one of my favourite Chinese desserts of all time, and the one here had the perfect texture and sweetness.

Strong, freshly-brewed Chinese “kung fu tea” to compliment the food.

So, now we know that Teochew opera expert, Ms Goh, can also cook up a storm! Her dishes were all very good renditions indeed - a homage to good Teochew home-cooking.

So, whilst we await the re-opening of the Teochew Opera House and Ms Ling Goh’s performances on stage (she’s second from right in picture below), we’ll just have to be content with her cooking instead for now. :grin:

Lai H’ng Cafe (梨園)
122 Lebuh Carnarvon, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60124853377
Opening hours: 12 noon to 8pm Tue, Thu, Sat & Sun. Closed on Mon, Wed & Fri.


Does Teochew opera also do rapid face-changing or only the Sichuanese?

In Chengdu we enjoyed the opera performance so much. You hardly see tourists on the street or in restaurants but they are all there at opera performances and guided tours to the panda enclosure.

The best things in Chengdu are first and foremost the food, also the visit to the panda enclosure, the opera and one short flight to a completely different world Lhasa, Tibet.

No, face-changing is unique to Sichuan opera.

Once, an aunt of mine (she & her husband were living as expats in Shanghai at the time, as my uncle was the CFO of a multinational there) when attending a Sichuan opera performance in Chengdu during their company dinner show, was asked to go on stage to “assist” the performer in one of his gags. I think she was supposed to hold her hand to his chin, when he “magically” changed masks. Up close, my aunt said she could actually “see” and “feel” the gossamer-thin layer of his mask, made from silk, being peeled off. She’d only realized there & then that the actor wore multi-layered masks on his face, skillfully employing a quick pulling technique to remove each of the layers. Of course, she played along, appearing suitably “surprised” as the actor went through a couple of face changes.

I’d always wanted to do that! Plus, the vast bamboo forest in Southern Sichuan.

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What a gorgeous place - I love all the colors!

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Cannot wait for international travel to resume, hopefully in 2022. Penang will be one of our top 5 places in the world to visit. Food and culture looks amazing. And I am a Teochew originally from Singapore and my ancestors from Shantou area.

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My maternal grandfather was from Shantou (Swatow), too - as a boy, he followed his father, who’s a merchant, to Bangkok, where he later met and married my maternal grandmother (who’s a Bangkok-born Teochew, spelt “Taechiu” in Thailand). They then moved to Singapore as a young newly-wed couple to start a new life.

Lai H’ng offers the rarer (for Penang) Teochew kway - sticky rice cakes, which are my favorite street snack in Singapore.

The Teochew kway here has to be ordered in advance, though, as it’s off-menu and may only appear as a daily special, otherwise. What I found quite amusing was that Lai H’ng makes its Teochew kway in various colors, unlike the ones in Singapore which only came in pink, or the all-white ones I found in Bangkok.

The filling here is the same as the ones in Singapore and Bangkok: glutinous rice, dried shrimps, and shitake mushrooms.

The ones here in Penang looked like works of art!

Most people liked these steamed. I personally preferred to pan-fry the Teochew kway, to obtain a golden-crust on the mochi-like skin.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold