Yik Keng steamed Cantonese buns (“pao”) stall was founded back in 1954 by Cantonese sojourner, Khok Keng Chiung, in Sia Boey, George Town’s old waterfront market.
Khok Keng Chiung had first came to Penang in 1946 to escape the post-WW II ravages of his Guangdong homeland, and a simmering Chinese Civil War between Mao Tse-Tung’s Communists and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang, to build a new life in British Malaya.
He started off working in a Cantonese teahouse on “Swatow Kay” (present-day Kimberley Street), a Teochew enclave but where Cantonese eateries also proliferate.
When the teahouse closed down, Cantonese-speaking Khok Keng Chiung opened his own steamed “pao” shop on Sia Boey, where he often had to tolerate abuse from the Hokkiens there, as he could not speak their dialect. In time, he picked up enough to get by, whilst his children, born here, had no problem fitting in.
Fast-forward to today, and old Mr Khok’s legacy lives on through his 3 children who now run perhaps the oldest “pao” stall in George Town: 76-year-old Madam Khok Wai Heng, and her younger brothers, 72-year-old Khok Khai Ming and 66-year-old Khok Khai Keong.
The three siblings still bantered with each other in Cantonese, but switched to Hokkien when conversing with us. Madam Khok started helping her father at the age of 8, so she’s been making “paos” for 68 years! It really showed, as their “paos” were perfectly-folded, with uniform little pleats effortlessly produced in each beautifully formed orb of deliciousness.
We bought their “tua pao” (large pork buns) and “char sio pao” (Cantonese caramelized BBQ pork/“char-siew” buns). They ooze meaty goodness, and old-time flavours which harked back to the old George Town of noisy streets and hawker stall-lined sidewalks.
The siblings, who are collectively 214 years in age, are no longer producing as many “paos” as they do in their younger days. Now, they only make enough for pre-orders: call Madam Khok at 016-4680727 to book at least a day ahead. Yik Keng pao (一景包) stall is located in the food centre of Kompleks Pulau Mutiara on Gat Lebuh Macallum, where the wholesale market shops are.
Char-seo pao (“char siew bao”) - filled with caramelised, BBQ pork.