Old Penang: Church Street


A glimpse from the past, this time a coffee shop along Church Street.

The Eng Loh Kopitiam along Church Street in 1998 - Photograph: David Chew

tunglang who submitted this photo describes the scene as “Tham Chiak Kuis from Scandinavia salivating without ‘Good Morning’ mini China towel at my favorite Eng Loh Kopitiam” in 1998.

Church Street is one of the earliest streets in George Town. It is close to where the first church on the island was built soon after 1786. This Catholic church was known as the “Portuguese Church” or “The Church of the Assumption”. The founders of this church also built a small Malay-medium school in the church premises – the roots of present-day St Xavier’s Institution.

The church was later relocated in 1857 to Farquhar Street, next to St Xavier’s, which was also relocated around the same time.

Church Street was also the site of the Ghee Hin secret society headquarters and later, its rival, the Hai San.

Gee Siewfoong adds on Facebook: “The British Council used to be opposite this. And USIS down the road. Now, no more.”

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  1. Bruce Lee’s big poster at Pragin Mall Main Atrium now !
    This poster is put up in conjunction with the coming book launch by Dr Hew on 16 Sep 2011 (this Friday) at 2.30pm.

    For those who cherish old times Bruce Lee, do not miss this event. Dr Hew claims to show how to use Bruce Lee’s techniques in bringing now the Barang Naik syndrome.

    tunglang, don’t miss this event.

    • Work a plenty, still up to my ears.
      Would have loved to attend in Pagoda T-shirt armed a pair of nunchaku.
      And to see if Dr. Hew has the 1-inch Punch to go with his book launch!
      See, Bruce Lee, the sifu of Jeet Kune Do of multiple martial arts is definitely a great role model in many ways!
      BTW, where’s operatic, sweaty Jacky Chan or one-type wushu Jet Li?

  2. I remember those good old days when I could sit on same table with my Chinese friends in kopitiam. My Chinese friend can eat his bak kut teh while I enjoy my nasi lemak bungkus At dinner time I can take my teh susu while he drank his Anchor beer, and we sembang til midnight. That is 1Malaysia to me.

    Today such scenario is no longer possible with those JAIS fellows watching on evey muslim’s gerak geri. These muslim agency is breaking up harmony among races by segregating them from meal/drinking time. How sad!

    • That’s why najib’s 1malaysia vision has failed as it does not cover aspect of real inter-racial interaction as mentioned above.

    • Your description of good old days kopitiams strikes me with a longing for old times camaraderie among friends of different races. We always had our rendezvous at kopitiams during lunch time for gang’s sake or for catch up on latest news (no mobile phones, so word of mouth was necessary).
      During the 80’s, we would walk 1 kilometre rain or shine to a particular Church Street kopitiam with zest and great anticipation of office girls at lunch time. My Malay friend was so fixated on a demure Malay lass he nicknamed her Cik Puteh. Mine was called Leopard Girl. My Eurasian friend, No Girl! And 3 of us, we called ourselves Udang (because my Malay friend would bend like an Udang when Cik Puteh appeared in that kopitiam).
      And hawker food were great, varied and cheap. We did share some food without being too conscious of cultures.
      So were lunch dates (no pretension) affordable at good old kopitiams, an atmosphere of heritage so much copied today in high-fi cafes.

      • On a recent episode of ‘Poh’s Kitchen in Penang’ on Asia Food Channel, Chef Ismail shared the same table with Poh who was eating the lard-laden char kuey teow. Chef Ismail even said char kuey teow is one Penang dish not to-be-missed. Thumbs up for Chef Ismail!

  3. Today, I am very busy. I will get into the helpless story of hawkers who are no financially strong position to dictate their vulnerable future.
    Let the shop house owners (of previously kopitiams) renovate to their fancies, thinking that interior design will draw the profitable TCKs. What fallible Moonlight Dracula dream of designer food business at super expensive sucker price to howl. Without the sifus and differential food concept, it is doomed to fail, no matter how designer it looks.
    Without the heavenly hawker cuisine, no discernible Penangites will visit the spanky new and designer outlet more than once. Please go to Upper Penang Road and see for yourself. Already many F&B outlet change brands and change hands thro’ the years.
    Teo Chew Chendol @ Lebuh Keng Kwee is one of the few exception of smart self marketing and control of their own destiny. And without spending thro’ the terra-cotta roof to attract diehards day in and day out.

    Well, without the Ori-Maestros (sifu hawkers), slippery cleanliness obsessed outlets of designer Draculas will draw that much ‘blood’ for survival (in the short run) in the highly competitive F & B business.

  4. refer to the latest posting about the “death” of traditional kopitiams in Kalng vally/Penang in the posting under Penang Street museum (today’s Biz Times articles), i truly feel sorry for the traditionalists.
    It’s time for the sons & daughters (or grandchilds) of traditional kopitiams to be innovative/creative or surely be forced into oblivion in less than 5 years. Sad but true.

  5. Already, I am seeing a lot of these kopitiam iconic chairs and marble top tables ‘gone’ or vanished David Copperfield Act in many inner city kopitiams. Some, I was told were sold off to rich collectors of antiquated heritage objects for their private in-home mini museums. Even old cigarette calendars and beer posters of the 60s and 70s are hot items.
    And of course the iconic authentic Kopi-O cups and extra wide saucers (for pour into and blow to cool) are rarely seen nowadays. Did the towkays or coffee boys break them constantly?
    I don’t mind new trendy coffee houses to cater to the yuppies, but I care for the existing heritage kopitiams that are in constant threats of extinction due to shop house owners’ decisions to raise rentals or disinterest of towkays’ next generation to take over these kopitiams. I am mulling a sort of Penang Kopitiam Clan or Woo Kun (liken to martial art houses) for these towkays to protect the continuity of their kopitiams. These towkays are also sifus of Penang’s famed butter-fried Kopi-O of their own brewing secrets.
    FYI, I just talked to one businesswoman who told me Penang’s coffee (White, Plain Black or 3-in-1) is now favorite export beverage to China. Imagine all the Penang kopitiams agreed to just contribute their unique brand of Kopi-O recipes (of varieties of flavor) to a conglomerate of manufacturing, packing and marketing, the wealth creation spill-over of Kopi-O brands will be great to the financial health of these kopitiams for many years to come.
    I am sensing an urgency to register my brand of One-Inch Punch Kopi-O before any enterprising towkay decides to make it his own!

  6. Let’s hope such old shop houses in Penang do no suffer the fate of ‘forced acquisition’ like those in KL’s Jln Sultan by the profit-minded Prasarana in the the name of transformasi while heritage diabaikan.

  7. This timeless photography was created for the Visit Penang Year ’99 Campaign.

    It was specifically art directed to capture the old world charm of Penang’s Eng Loh Kopitiam at Bishop Street where local street hawker cuisine were so heavenly irresistible that even adventurous tourists would want to try it hot, spicy, sour or all of them in one kopitiam sitting. It was painstakingly shot with minimal rearrangement and added with only 2 singing-bird cages to enhance the timeless impression – so it was authentic without being overtly slippery cleanliness obsessed. The kopitiam towkay is 70% quite close to Bruce Lee in his 40’s (by the look had Bruce stayed with us) with his One-Inch Punch Kopi-O kau kau ready for hot delivery.
    The man with the khaki green Vietnamese pith helmet dressed in all white period style too absorbed with the New Straits Times newspaper was non other than Penang’s famed Baba Nyonya specialist Michael Cheah. The morning diners were authentic customers too absorbed with their daily chattering out-doing the 2 lonely birds (of Lonely Planet’s Pulo Panang).

    I love kopitiams for their sensible, practical architectural design which allows breezy air to flow in and flow out thus acting like natural air recycling suitable for dining places where heavy aromas and frying smell need to be channelled out properly. Coupled with the iconic ceiling fans, anyone accustomed to kopitiams will love to siesta away the afternoon amidst the low volume lullaby of Canto folks song or Tan Tong Tong’s short stories from Rediffusion.

    As I directed the shoot, I couldn’t resist the hawker’s food so killing, I had to constantly stomach my over-flowing saliva without being noticed or being misconstrued as salivating after the beautiful Scandinavian Tham Chiak Kui with the Agnetha Fältskog’s smile of ABBA. If only I had adopted the “Good Morning” mini China towel as my emergency face & mouth kit that very fateful morning!

    Please go back in time to Visit Penang Year ’99 : Timeless Impressions
    One of which is affordable makan-makan, heavenly hawker cuisine and of course the timeless heritage ambience at Eng Loh Kopitiam. And don’t forget to order the One -Inch Punch Kopi-O kau kau! You will never regret for your entire life!

    BTW, many thanks to Madam Kee for making this campaign possible and an unforgettable success.

    • tunglang is best remembered as someone who talks about food in Penang and not being swayed by sentiments to go against every fresh developments which may not be 100% harmful to Penang’s progress in the new millenium.


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