Last night was one of those nights. Had a bunch of ideas to write about.
Well, good news…I have recovered from being a total sick zombie. It took me a while but I am back in one piece. Still have a scratchy throat and a bit of a cough but hey, as long as my appetite is back – the world looks a heck of a lot better. While some friends said I wrote better while half-dead, I think I shouldn’t be too dead sometimes. LOL.
Food Tales In De Tai Tong
I was having dinner with my folks and Godmother last night at Tai Tong (these days it has renamed itself into De Tai Tong Cafe). It’s impossible not to know of this dim sum and Chinese eatery along Cintra Street. It’s an institution. Even the old ladies who serve you – see I couldn’t even bear to call them waitresses – seem to have aged with this Chinese eatery.
(Have I mentioned they are grumpy and pushy as hell? If it were not for my Godma suggesting this place, I’d hot-trotted to some other Chinese zhu-zhar place on Campbell Street but she hadn’t been to Tai Tong for a while and I thought, what the heck. The auntie servers are STILL as awful as ever.)
I knew it was a heck of an old place – I just didn’t know HOW old. I thought maybe the place is 30 years old. It looks that way.
Until over dinner last night my Dad remarked that Tai Tong is more than 50 years old! My mum chipped in and said that my maternal grandpa used to “yum cha” in the cafe back in those good old days. She used to eat at this place as a child! (My mum is in her early 60s so that says a lot about this place.)
OK, now that is some history. My Godma then said that in those days, Foo Heong (that’s another famous eatery across the road diagonally from Tai Tong) and Tai Tong were the bee’s knees. Both these eateries were super happening and get this – they served wedding banquet dinners.
I almost choked on my “siew mai” when I heard this.
When You Got Married Back Then…
Tai Tong Cafe isn’t very spacious. But back in those days, people getting married didn’t have the entire village invited. Plus they didn’t need a stage or karaoke either. Best of all, my parents told me that a typical wedding banquet would be about RM45 per table of 10 diners. (OK, second choking of siew mai now.)
“That’s cheap!” I blurted.
Mum said that when she got married in 1972, most guests would give you gifts instead of ang pows. Dad remembered lots of transistor radios plus the odd glassware set or two. And then the really generous relatives or friends would give you a RM10 shopping voucher so you could go to Tong Aik Departmental Store (that was THE airconditioned supermarket of its day in Penang) and pick your own wedding gift.
My Godma remarked that in those days, RM45 was equivalent to our RM400 today. If someone gave you a RM10 shopping voucher, you must have meant a lot to them because in those days, “char hor fun” was a mere 30 cents per plate!
So much inflation since then! So much have changed since then.
Sometimes having dinner at an old eating establishment brings back rather a lot of poking down memory lane.
What I Truly Detest About De Tai Tong Cafe
Anyway, I still don’t like the argumentative auntie servers at Tai Tong; they make ordering such a chore because they keep bugging you about ordering their specialty dishes when all I want is just my regular stuff. According to my parents and Godma, Tai Tong Cafe’s food isn’t as spectacular now. It used to be so much better.
As for me, this place can be a hit-and-miss affair.
Sometimes the food is really good – I quite like their braised duck noodles in ginger gravy, their fried rice and “ang thor” noodles (a poor man equivalent of sharks’ fin soup) with lashings of black vinegar.
I also enjoy their “char hor fun” is it is served piping hot and the gravy has not soaked into the hor fun entirely, making it a mess to eat. Their “sang meen” is another winner but again, it must be eaten piping hot or gets very cloying after it gets cold.
From time to time, the auntie servers will recommend all sorts of things to you – deepfried spring rolls, steamed fish, fried chicken wings etc. Pay no heed to them.
If you arrive at noon when they are packing up their dim sum for the day, they will bully you into buying their leftover dim sum or pau. Do not be taken in. Pity for their incessant bugging means you will be too stuffed to the gills later on.
The aunties just want to make their lives easier by offloading the remaining pau or dim sum to you. Politely but firmly decline. They may be aunties but it is my stomach yeah?
Weekends are crazy times to eat in Tai Tong as the entire weekend crowd of hungry Penangites and outstation visitors descend on Tai Tong like ants. Even the odd Mat Salleh or two will wander into this cafe and be hoodwinked into eating whatever the auntie servers recommend.
Parking along Cintra Street is much easier on week day evenings and less maddening. And god knows that THAT by itself can be such a relief in Penang.
One Secret Place You Must Not Miss
If you come earlier say before 6pm, you can make a quick de-tour into People’s Court behind Tai Tong and look for the long-time and supremely famous biscuit maker, Leong Chee Kei at the flats. Again, this tiny shop is an institution. My mum remembers buying his “gai dann kou” – egg sponge cakes – as a kid.
I’m not a big fan of “gai dann kou” – it’s too dry and sticks in my throat but he has a plethora of traditional style biscuits to make your trip down memory lane worthwhile. He sells pepper biscuits, pong pneah, tau sar pneah, gai dann kou – all these freshly made daily.
And Yet Another One Serving Up Smiles
Of course, you should not miss the other famous pushcart opposite Tai Tong either – there are two pushcarts really. One sells Chinese herbal teas but the other pushcart sells “harm chim peang” and “pak tong kou”, again firm favourites of mine if I happen to pass by in the evenings. I always used to buy white sugar cake (“pak tong kou”) for my grandma as it seemed to be her favourite snack.
Then again, there is Foo Heong – super duper famous for its “yin yeong” or “char hor fun”. They have a Reputation you know. Nowadays the sheen and glam is gone but the last time I heard, you had to pay for extra chili or sambal if you wanted more for your “yin yeong”.
Oh I could go on and on about the old style eateries but that is enough for today.
Kimberly Street and Campbell Street and even Kampung Malabar each hold their own eateries worthy of blog posts on their own. Makes you salivate right? Right!
(Chan Kou Loh Dim Sum comes to mind and he’s gone. Also the famous Big Rock zhu-zhar who is still there whipping up dishes like a pro each time – errr, yes, who else is not famous in Penang? And dozens more.)
Such is living in Penang!
Do you have any Penang eatery secrets to share, since we’re on this topic?