With international borders still closed because of the COVID pandemic , we are currently limited to travelling within Malaysia. However, with the lifting of restrictions on inter-state travels, at least we in Penang are now able to drive to neighbouring Kedah state’s towns nearby for lunch.
One of these is Tanjung Dawai, a rustic seaside fishing village, just over an hour’s drive from George Town, Penang. One of the cottage industries at Tanjung Dawai is preserving fish by salting them. The salted fish are sun-dried, before being packed and shipped off to the main cities like Alor Star (Kedah’s state capital), Sungai Petani, and Kulim, and across the state border to Penang’s Bukit Mertajam, Butterworth, etc.
We took a drive to Tanjung Dawai (my first time here, actually) and were buying some of the processed seafood stuff when the shopkeeper pointed us to the only good restaurant in the village: Chooi Peng, recommending us to give it a try. Never one to turn down a local rec (even though we were stuffed from a meal at Sungai Petani barely an hour go), we decided to give Chooi Peng a go.
Oh my, I thought we may have stumbled upon a hidden dining gem which the city masses have not discovered yet! What we had:
Steamed flower crabs - these were simply steamed with ginger, scallions and fresh coriander leaves, then drizzled with good quality light soy sauce and a few drops of fragrant sesame oil. The sweet-fleshed, succulent flower crabs were fresh off the fishing boats across the street!
Steamed prawns in egg custard - the fresh prawns were embedded in egg custard, drizzled with the same soy sauce-sesame oil combination as for the crabs, then topped with ginger, chopped scallions and fresh coriander leaves. All done with the lightest touch, so the natural flavours of the seafood are not overwhelmed by the sauces and dressing used.
- Stir-fried Teochew “mee teow” noodles - the “mee teow” is a toothsome wheat noodle from the Chaozhou region of Southern China. Since majority of the Chinese in Kedah and the mainland part of Penang are Teochews, the cooking at Chooi Peng (whose owner-chef, Eng Chooi Peng, is Cantonese) has been adjusted to cater to the Teochew palate, which favours lighter, more subtly-flavoured dishes, as compared to Cantonese or Fujianese/Hokkien cooking styles.
The “mee teow” noodles here, lightly stir-fried with shrimps, choy sum greens and beansprouts, lightly flavoured with fish sauce and soy sauce, was the best rendition of the dish I’d ever had! It’s served with sambal belacan and bird’s eye chilis in light soy sauce, for some extra heat.
Steamed clams with minced garlic and bird’s eye chilis
This has got to be the best seafood meal I’d had this year. Who knew? Away from the big cities, in an inconspicuous corner of largely rural Kedah state, one finds perhaps one of the most talented seafood chefs around, quietly plying his trade, serving mainly gruff fisherfolk and the rice paddy farmers nearby.
Kedah state is known as the “Rice Bowl of Malaysia” due to its rice paddy fields.
187 Tanjung Dawai
08110 Bedong, Kedah, Malaysia
Tel: +6016 4977170
Opening hours: 1.30pm to 9.30pm daily, except Tuesday.