Tunglang takes us on a journey half a century back in time to relive his childhood experience of savouring street food in George Town:
In my half slumber mode, if my memory is still intact, I can visually relive a moment in the early 1960s, standing at the junction at night in front of Craven A Cafe.
I am a small child in pyjamas looking up to a tall, passing rickshaw with a running puller. I guess this is the last of the rickshaw breed in Penang.
The ‘Goh Pha Teng’ of Macalister Road, Penang Road, Dato Kramat Road, Magazine Road and Brick Kiln Road is a hub of makan-makan and care-free night recreation, where life goes round and round around the biggest roundabout in Penang. Sandwiched between Gladstone Road (now under Komtar) and Magazine Road is a food triangle (food court?) (at the now Jalan Ria) where you get to savour the best of ori-maestro hawker cuisine in a dingy, steam- and aroma-filled night rendezvous spot.
Adjacent in an open-air ‘square’, I see a noisy Canto-Chinese sifu selling his medicine with a display of awe-inspiring stunts to the applause of old and young. Or this Malay pawang performing magic shows with pythons, kris and a Saloma look-alike to the delights of muscle-flexing P Ramlee look-alikes. What an apt venue for free entertainment called the Magazine Circus.
Across the Magazine Rd, I am drawn to the best street hawker stalls venue in a seemingly endless line of culinary delights. Char Koay Teow, Koay Toew Th’ng, Wantan Mee, Hokkien Mee and my favorite and cheap Yew Char Koay in sweet almond soup or soy milk which tastes and smells like the blood-sucker insects of rattan chairs!
Walking back, I smell the inviting, mouth-watering Indian Bubur Kacang and Gandum at the start of Brick Kiln Road (now Gama). Sitting at the edge of a monsoon drain in well lit surroundings from the lights of cinema billboards, I savour the heavenly cuisine notwithstanding the smell from the drain.
Even before Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963, the name-sake Singapore Beehoon can be savoured at Craven A Cafe, where it is in great demand. The original Indian ori-maestro is no match in cooking and temper anywhere in Penang! Kassim Nasi Kandar is just playing second fiddle or no fiddle. The sound of its wok and the drifting aroma is enough to remind me of an evening of gastronomic delight ala Singapore. Even in tah pau, the food is excellent to the last strand of Beehoon clung with egg and mutton so much so I can even eat the banana leaf.
A few doors along Macalister Rd is this Chinese Restaurant: Chuan Lok Hooi. With an iconic Standing-On-Tail Fish chef in moving neon lights, it invited Cham Chiak Kui towkays for the best of Cantonese and Teow Chew cuisine. Its best was the Turtle Soup and Beehoon Soup with fresh seafood. Steamboat was a daily affair not only during Chinese New Year.
Opposite (at the present car park next to the mosque) is a night-time waterhole/open air cafe catering to ‘Ang Mohs’ and local beer guzzlers. Under the dizzy influence of alcohol and Frank Sinatra’s crooning, drunkards wave at the Philip’s giant iconic robot in neon lights saluting everyone from the roof top of prewar shop houses opposite Gama.
Now back to slumber mode in my relived old shophouse, I listen to Tan Tong Tong’s ghost story on Rediffusion, while cleaning the last traces of Yew Char Koay on my lips with the long tongue of the typical Tham Chiak Kui on the night food prowl along Macalister Road!