[Penang] Seafood lunch at Hai Ching, Pulau Betong - CLOSED

Hai Ching is the rustic seafood eatery featured by Anthony Bourdain in his “No Reservations” episode on Penang. Located in Pulau Betong, a tiny fishing village on the “other side of the island” of Penang, about an hour’s drive from George Town, Hai Ching is one of two popular eateries located near a pier lined with fishing boats.

Hai Ching, as it appeared in Anthony Bourdain’s episode on dining out in Penang in 2012:

Hai Ching last weekend - time seemed to have stood still in this little hamlet, for the last 50 years.

Dining at Pulau Betong is an interesting experience - both seafood eateries, Hai Ching and Jia Siang, do not stock their own seafood. Instead, customers will be directed to the fish market a few paces away to select some of the freshest seafood, brought in mere hours ago by the fishing boats.

I bought one large pomfret, 4 flower crabs and 4 large prawns for MYR61 (US$15). Bring your bag of seafood to the eatery, and they’ll cook those up for you. No menu, you simply tell them how you like your seafood done.

I find that the best way to have a wonderful meal is to leave it to the cook, omakase-style. Both eateries are run by Hakka ( 客家) families, so their cooking style, whilst largely Penang-Nyonya, does have Hakka influences here & there.

Our lunch today:

  1. Steamed pomfret, Nyonya-style. This was the freshest piece of fish I’d ever had - firm-fleshed and with no fishy smell. It’s cooked perfectly - topped with a light, spicy-sourish blend of spices and steamed till just cooked. It’s served topped with finely-julienned cucumbers ad raw onions.

  1. Tamarind prawns - another Nyonya-influenced dish, but the rendition here blew away any of the tepid versions I found in George Town. A combination of sour (from the tamarind) and sweet (from the palm sugar), complemented by dark soysauce-based “secret sauce” and some bashed-p lemongrass stalks and dried chilis, this dish was simply to-die for.

  1. Chili crabs. I miss Singapore-style chili crabs tremendously since moving to Kuala Lumpur in 2011. In the next 6 years, I was not able to find any “proper” chili crab in KL’s multitude of Cantonese “dai chow” (traditional Cantonese dai pai dong-style) eateries or seafood restaurants. The version in Malaysia uses a blend of spices which I found to be too pungent, bordering on the noxious, for my taste. Even in Penang, one gets poor imitations of Singapore chili crab at well-known restaurants like Ocean Green or Hollywood.
    But here at this ramshackle, tin-roofed eatery, they produced the most beautiful chili crab sauce I’d had in a long, long time: spicy, sour, sweet and aromatic. Perfect for my taste.

  1. Sweet-sour pork - Hai Ching, just like its rival eatery Jia Siang, offers a limited number of meat dishes, and we opted for the “gwoo lo yook”, which is as traditional as they come. Unfortunately, the version here was pretty tepid - more sour than sweet, and with the batter-fried pork pieces lacking any crispness at the edges, but more like soggy lumps of over-cooked meat. Avoid this dish.

  1. Stir-fried Green Dragon vegetables with shrimps - we ordered this as we wanted some greens on the side.

  1. Dessert was bee koh moi, which is Penang-speak for what we call “pulut hitam” in Singapore: black glutinous rice porridge, sweetened with sugar and topped with coconut milk. The version here is pretty decent.

  1. The restaurant serves a range of cold drinks and local beers. We opted for chilled fresh nutmeg juice.

Very satisfying meal - the eatery charges MYR10 (US$2.50) for each dish which they cook - an absolute bargain considering the skill with which they cook the seafood we brought in, and the wonderful in-house blend of spices and sauces which they used.

Kedai Kopi Hai Ching (海景茶室)
414, MK7, Pulau Betong,
11020 Balik Pulau, Penang.
Operating hours: 1.00pm-9.00pm Mon-Fri, 12noon - 9.00pm Sat-Sun.


Great looking spot! Do you know when the fishing boats typically offload their catch for the day?

Have you tried Fatty crab in PJ? Not SG style but excellent signature sauce.

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I think the fishermen usually come back for lunch from their morning trips out to sea. I was told the boats come in between 12.30pm to 1.30pm thereabouts.

So, going there for a late lunch is a good idea.

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Yes, I had. One of the best in KL. But KL’s chili crabs often come out tasting like their “kum heong”, which is like a totally different dish to me.

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We too have sometimes noted and followed-up on places shown on “No Reservations”: pintxos in San Sebastian, St. John in London for sure.

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Sadly, Hai Ching is no more. The rustic seafood eatery stood on a piece of land which its owners have sold to investors from China, who planned to build either holiday villas or a resort there.

The owner-chef of the defunct Hai Ching now runs a food kiosk inside Yeh Lai Xiang, a foodcourt in Balik Pulau town centre.