Savouring street food in 1960s Penang

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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!

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sheila

Hi,

I was searching for Singpore beehoon style which Craven A use to serve in the net for the receipe . I still remember that my dad (1976)use to buy for me singapore meehoon after work. This Singpaore beehon has mutton , green chilies and vingear aroma. I tried searching for the same receipe which I really miss .

Craven A do not serve these dish anymore and of course the taste will not be the same as the cooks in 60’s has long gone back home.

tunglang

Sheila, you can try this one roadside stall in front of a mamak coffee shop (in fact 2) next to Esso petrol station at Dato Kramat Road. It is situated just after the traffic light (Perak Road/ Dato Kramat Road junction) if you are coming from town towards Air Itam. This authentic one is better than the one at Penang Road opposite Hotel Malaysia. The mutton is plentiful and egg generously fried in the beehoon. Get a packet of hot chicken curry as add-ons. (I am salivating!) This is one heavenly Singapore Beehoon of true Ori-Maestro you will never regret… Read more »

Hush Puppy

New Straits Times last week carried a feature article on two sisters selling Curry Mee at Ait Itam. can someone reproduce or show the link ?

Macalister Native

As a native of Macalister Road area, I was horrified to learn that the 2 Fried Kway Teow stalls along Lorong Selamat (The lady with goggles and another a man) has raised the prices with no regards to the locals. The price per plate starts from RM7.50 and RM7 respectively !

OMG – I shall boycott and see how they can sustain their business solely depending on tourists.

tunglang, are you concerned with recent price hike ?

tunglang

They think the mainly foreign Singaporeans are stupid or Tua Khai. Surely no locals will Kau Kuan with them. Their inflated egos of over-advertised fame and misplaced pride will lead them to their doom one fine dining day. Just advertise other Char Koay Teow ori-maestros in George Town and we will see the show. Advertise a lot in Singapore. This is my suggestion: Here at anil’s blog, get contributors to chip in on the latest heavenly hawker food in town and their affordable/unbelievable fair prices and location. Anil can open a new content called Penang’s Tham Chiak Kuis’ Best Hawker… Read more »

Hush Puppy

Keep cool tunglang. it’s supply vs demand economics. and local consumers must be smart not to hype up Lorong Selamat’s Fried Kway Teow – the aroma of which has travelled south to Singapore !

If this goes on, i think frustrated local fans may one day (shun) the carts of (certain) arrogant … Kway Teow sellers !

Sammy

That expensive kway teow is over-rated.

Beng Hee

I think that kway teow stall recommended by Axian at Jalan Siam is still selling at affordable price?

tunglang

Drink from the saucer? In those simple no-hurry days, we used to drink teh tarik from the saucer. Just pour the hot drink onto the saucer and blow cool until it is just-nice warm for slow sipping. Discounting the slippery cleanliness obsessed madness (ask the mamak to dettolized every saucer, cup & spoon?), it was a common sense practice to cool the super hot drink on saucers. Besides blowing in one-long breathes Tai Chi style, we Tham Chiak Kuis get to breathe in the heavenly aroma of teh tarik of the 60’s. (Remember hungry ghosts take in their food by… Read more »

Bowen Liu

Nowadays I only see dog/cat owner pour their drink onto the saucer for their pet to lick, even in coffee shop.

sukumaran

ANIL,
Reading all the comments really made my day. Down Memory Lane indeed!!. Macalister Maestro’s and Rilakumar’s comments should be given due consideration and be supported by all of us. Thank you once again Anil.

William Yong

Yes, we need a heritage/history museum in Penang!!!

Someone should approach our tycoon Vincent Tan for donation now to build such a museum now that he is giving up half of his asset for charity. Hopefully he is not biased towards Pakatan.

S Muniandy

Vincent Tan and his son Robin Tan has made the dination pledge. Well done and we are awaiting the outcomes.

There are many rich Penang Tycoons- pls pledge as well even if you are not the chronies of the politically connected elites.

Anantha Krisnan, r u listening ?

Hamim

What about Bukhary?

Bowen Liu

Bukhary is focused on selling Tun M’s dongeng at MPH. RM100 a book.

tunglang

The Great World Park or ‘Tua Seh Kai.’ This was definitely a happy world of nightly entertainment for Penangites of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It was once located at the present Prangin Mall, a dimension of amusement arcade, cinema, food and the merry go round. Just pay 10 cents and you entered a great world of great entertainments. (Mind you, 10 cents then was like a bullock cart’s wheel). If you were addicted to Shaw Brothers movies, you would never miss a show every week. In fact it was the half -open-wall concept of community cinema that drew the… Read more »

Macalister Maestro

tunglang
how on earth you missed mentioning the famous Rose Chan of Great World Park era ?
I still keep her autographed picture which I think can fetch S$1K at least in Singapore.

Macalister Maestro

tunglang
anyway good write-up. Keep it up with Kopi Gulam of Pakistan House brew if Lorong Susu fails.

tunglang

Must try that one day! Is it at the side of mosque opposite Chin Kang Huey Kuan (Red Bata Shop)?

Macalister Native

Kek Chuan Road – a few units of shophouses being nicely renovated but not for food business. meant for boutiques-like business.
You won’t miss it if you see the side of buiding freshly pink painted.

tunglang

It was naturally fated that I missed Rosie Chan while at New World Park. The crowd that night was huge and heated for a diminutive kid to squeezed thro’ to get a front row view. Also, some adults frowned at kids there as no go territory. All I could hear was her sexy crooning in the heat of the multi-colored night.

Sunflower11

My dad (69 year old) hardly eat any hawker foods nowadays as he feels they taste awful and not comparable to the street foods in the olden days……when chicken tasted like chicken – real kampung chicken, pork were not hormone injected and fish balls made from real ‘saito’ fish…. Guess I was born in the wrong age then….but was it true that hawker foods was better in taste back then I just wonder? P/S: For Singaporeans seeking nostalgia, old Singapore feel in Penang, I have actually read in the Hong Kong newspaper where Penang was advertised as a place for… Read more »

nkkhoo

Tunglang, there is old photos exhibition in Melaka right now to bring back old memories on old Melaka.

When Penang can have a same exhibition?

I suggest LGE or MPPP buy the land from that errant developer and build a heritage museum to exhibit old objects from old Penang. Penang is lacking quality museums unlike Melaka with over 20 museums.

tunglang

nkkhoo: I suggest LGE or MPPP buy the land from that errant developer and build a heritage museum to exhibit old objects from old Penang. That is an excellent idea for a start of public heritage museum by state Gomen. What I gathered so far is that Melaka has lost most of its authentic private collections to Singaporeans on the buying spree since the 70’s and 80’s. So, to have 20 museums with authentic (or recreated) artifacts is an achievement. The culture of heritage preservation in Penang is still very much an alien concept looking at the way many Penangites… Read more »

nkkhoo

That was true, many Melaka folks threw away old furnitures and antiques before heritage awareness kicked in around 90s.

My friend in kampung collected thousands of black disc old songs unwanted by others. His collection is gem by now.

I saw 70s cinema show leaflet sold at S$10 per piece in Singapore flea market. My mum forced me to burn a thousand pieces of my 70s cinema leaflet collection around 80s. That was a big mistake.

Macalister Maestro

dear nkkhoo my son who now makes a living in Singapore told me that his landlord used to have a van loaded with vintage furniture (eg baba nyonya types) back to Spore after he made good cheap bargains in Melaka. That was in the 80’s & 90’s period. We definitely lost many of our teasures to the little but brilliant red dot. Also, I learnt that most migrating Peranakan folks from those old Straits Malacca/Penang era prefer to donate their vintage collection to Singapore Peranakan Museum as Spore government has pledged to take good & tender care of them. This… Read more »

tunglang

My mom left behind my all iron child tricycle made in England when we shifted home. Weighting almost 10 pounds cycling on hardy tubeless tyres and 3mm thick iron spokes, it could smash away most timid, plastic toy cars of today’s fashion. Even a playful adult could stand on its back rider stand and do a Jackie Stewart cornering lap on 2 wheels!
Not saving the timeless British tricycle heritage was my big unforgivable childhood mistake.

Yong Peng

I rather donate my old momento to Singapore Museum (or Asia Civilization Museum) knowing that they will treasure it.

In Malaysia anything that is outside the scope of their defined “you-know-what” (in order for them to preserve their ‘hikayat’ away from other culture) are discarded.

kee

Tunglang, thanks so much, i was like i am back into the 1970’s… But can i say squatting to savour a bowl of laksa with the foul smell from the longkang is no joy la… I had that experience in Ayer Itam and since then, i dont take laksa in Ayer Itam anymore… I remember my friend in KL came to visit Penang in the 1980s and her remark was, “How come Penang is so ” lau ya “?” I guess only the local can appreciate the “lau ya” once Penang was. I like it anyway. By the way, Rilakumar,… Read more »

nkkhoo

Many old kopitams in Muar already transformed to coffee houses with better cleanliness and hygienic standards. A bit expensive than old kopitam and is a hit for younger generations.

Macalister Maestro

Even Mamak in Penang are willing to invest by making their shoplots clean (whether food preparation is likewise is still debatable). Look at theit return of investment (ROI) and profit margins. The Ah Peks of old coffee shops sadly failed to do so as most of their offsprings prefer not to carry on with the trade. So we have many dilapidated coffee shops in heritage zones awaiting incentives, inspiration and motivation to “rebranding” otherwise we shall see them facing the same fate as tua sei kai (big world). I am afraid there is no smooth transitions of these old coffee… Read more »

tunglang

Talking about kopitiams. Many in the inner city George Town are not ‘revamped’ or renovated to keep up with the Joneses of modern taste for fadish-styled cafes. Some of these kopitiams are generations old papa and mom businesses that support their daily financial needs, not in the aspiration of franchise expansion and brand competitiveness. The core pull factors at these kopitiams are the authentic old town blended coffee and affordable ori-maestro hawker food for the locals. The architecture and heritage ambience also play a role in the attraction of foreign tourists looking for authentic experiences. And if there is a… Read more »

Hush Puppy

go to China Street and you will notice one revamped kopitiam called “Kaffe” – very Western interior settting.
i think more old kopitiams will be converted into such fashion.
tunglang seems not aware of such trend ?
Time for him to do a walkabout in heritage zone. May be Madras Lane will be the next target ?

tunglang

Who are we attracting: westerners or locals or both?
The essence of heritage Penang is more crucial than to adopt something foreign that has no cultural values to tourists looking for authenticity in old world charm Penang (otherwise who’s coming to visit the UNESCO site). Just keep our kopitiams, the normal ones and the upmarket ones as close to the originals and I bet you will see more business for these kopitiams. Why prostitute the image of Penang’s kopitiams?
Anyway, I am not into fadish trends that never last.
Read Jack Trout’s ‘Differentiate Or Die”.

nkkhoo

A big part of Old Penang is still remain intact unlike Singapore. LKY openly said torn down Kereta Ayer Chinatown is a blunder for the republic.

Penang lost the free port status in 70s is a blessing in disguise to keep away old Penang from the bulldozers.

Besides tasting Penang food, many Singaporeans flocked to Penang is to have a nostalgic feel of lost Singapore.

tunglang

You’re right, nkkhoo.

Just visit Singapore and you will come across many street names and places just the same as Penang’s. One example is Penang’s gone Great World Park. The Singapore version is called Great World Amusement Park.
The one big difference between us and them is authenticity and affordability.
That’s our attraction not only to Singaporeans but also tourists going for authentic experiences.

Time for morning coffee at my favourite kopitiam, not the already half-jammed, traffic dangerous lane somewhere off Macalister Road.

nkkhoo

I did purposely visit Singapore Geylang world park in 90s before it was dismantled for road widening project.

World park was available in KL and my hometown Muar too, but all of them disappear by now.

Many old shophouses in Singapore like Bugis street famous for transvestite flesh trade was gone and replaced with air-cond version Bugis street. That is a new junk for me.

Rilakumar

There is an opportunity to set up a ‘nostalgic tour’ in Penang for those Singaporeans craving for the past that is lost in Singapore concrete jungle. Package it with good street food with passionate and knowledgable tour-guides (tunglang are you listening?) there is a good market to tap.

Air Asia + Tune Hotel + Nostalgic Tour + Great Street Food + Friendly Penangit = affordable trip you must try before you die.

nkkhoo

LGE promised to erect shielded and green walkway in the heritage zone to link up heritage assets. The problem is the project takes at least 3 years to complete which is too slow in today’s pace.

Macalister Maestro

at least Carnavon Street would be shady with trees planted in middle of 2-way roads now. The place would be less more fun to explore very soon as we would be shaded from intense heat.
More trees need to be planted elsewhere. Agree ?

david

……………yup,not forgetting the famous park ‘tai se kai’….bumper car,eating cuttle fish…..free movie(standing)…….those were the days….

Lucia Lai

craven a cafe is now (actually quite a long time ago) being occupied by a malay lady selling rice with lots of good dishes in the afternoon. and at night there are nasi lemak and char koay teow stalls. it’s been put to good use.

Macalister Maestro

Lucia, I am aware of delicious Malay food now n offer a Craven Cafe. My point is that since Craven A Cafe is in such a strategic location, the state government should think of upgrading (and not bringing subsequent higher cost because of economy of scale operation ROI offset potential higher overhead) the vicinity and turn the area into perhaps Penang Square (akin Kuta Square in Bali or Trafalgar Square in London). Now we soon have People’s Park at present PISA; it’s time to have a Penang Rakyat Square. I just make a suggestion here. Anson Road junction has also… Read more »

tan lang

Penangites in th little red dot can now go to the 4-month old ‘Penang Road Cafe’ located at Novena Ville (275 Thomson Road, #01-08) i.e. near Novena Church in Singapore. It is opened by an ex-Penang maestro auntie. Be warned: Lor Bak (S$6), Laksa (S$6), Hokkien Mee (S$8.90), Char Kuey Teow (S$9.90), Cendol (S$3). Multiply the price by 2.35 and you will know how expensive it is in Ringgit. Better take budget air back to Penang for authentic food and pay in Ringgit. Like tunglang say, can squat next to longkang when you savour your street food, no need for… Read more »

Macalister Maestro

i have observed many old heritage buidings have been renovated. Pleasant looking indeed !

i think new positive qi has been flowing to Penang heritage zone since 308.

i hope momentum can persist so that old folk like me can relive past memories of glorious Penang (60’s & 70s free tax era) with heritage values appreciated by younger entrepreneurs to venture out with zest & passions and in the process revive everything on sight !!!

Andrew I

You should write a book, tunglang. Very well written. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Macalister Maestro

Craven A Cafe is in a very sorry state now. Kind of abandoned look from outside.

I think State Government can look into this since Craven Cafe is strategically located with its tip pointing ‘sharply’ directly at the imposing Komtar building ! From Feng Sui standpoint, with proper attention to this structure very likely it can bring good luck !

State Government can revive Craven Cafe as many government civilians from Komtar can gather there as state government canteen during break hours !