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:
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”).
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!
Kuchai kway - the same type of steamed dumplings, but stuffed with chives instead.
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.
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.
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.
Lai H’ng Cafe (梨園)
122 Lebuh Carnarvon, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
Opening hours: 12 noon to 8pm Tue, Thu, Sat & Sun. Closed on Mon, Wed & Fri.