Chuan Bee's Hainan Delights

Chuan Bee is a narrow, nondescript coffeeshop in downtown Penang (China Street, off Pitt Street’s Kuan Im Teng or Goddess of Mercy Temple) which at first glance seems to be rather ‘biasa’.
“I think this is it.” Aunt Jo peered into the shop. Aunt Jo had only been in Chuan Bee once but she believed she remembered the shop based on the old man she saw.
We were craving for roti babi. My aunts, my sis and I took this opportunity to get some good chow. And the mere mention of Hainanese food can make me drive miles and miles to get some.
Because the Hainanese know how to really whip up great dishes such as chicken chop, roti babi and the perennial favourite, roti kahwin (basically toasted white bread with lots of melted butter and homemade kaya). Oh, and who can ever forget the Hainanese brewed coffee which goes well with roti kahwin?
During uni, I had this coursemate whose father was a cook at the RMAF base in Butterworth. He was indelibly Hainanese and his chicken cordon bleu was so tender and oozed with so much melted cheese that we still have orgasmic memories of it, more than 10 years down the road!
The only other place I know of which sells roti babi is a hawker within the Song River kopi tiam fronting Gurney Drive. This kopi tiam is a good place to come for supper because they have lovely mini pau and fingerlicking good roasted chicken wings! Very bad for the heart of course, all that fat but hey, once in a while, it should be OK. A couple of minutes’ walk down the road and you will find a quaint old bungalow where crepes are sold.
Anyway back to Chuan Bee. Chuan Bee’s roti babi is absolutely yummy but the service is a little slow and can be aggravating if you are hungry. The people here are old (in their 60s and 70s) and it seems a bit cruel to be snide about their tardiness.
The white-haired old guy is likely to forget what you ordered so patience is definitely a virtue here. Otherwise, the food’s good. The roti babi for those not in the know is deepfried bread containing minced pork, carrot and crab meat and should be eaten piping hot with Worchestershire sauce. Here at Chuan Bee, roti babi is at RM2.50 per order. Reasonable considering the heavenly taste!
The chicken chop is of the very bare-bones sort – deepfried tender chicken with a sweetish tomato sauce, a few slices of tomato and cucumber. But the chicken chop is large enough to satisfy the carnivorous of all eaters.
Chuan Bee caters to the nearby office folk and the crowd isn’t too claustrophobic considering that the narrow coffeeshop only has 8 tables. Besides western dishes, they serve rice with dishes (tai chow style) and all types of fried noodles and vermicelli. But again, these people are slow so your order might take a while to appear. The consolation is, the food is worth waiting for.
(I tried their sar hor fun when I went back the second time but it’s not to my taste. I much prefer the guy over at Kampung Malabar – now that guy who is a personal friend of my uncle’s and whom we all call Tai Seck a.k.a Big Rock – who makes damn good sar hor fun, belacan fried rice, pineapple fried rice, fried noodles and any tai chow dish you want. And Mr Tai Seck doesn’t look like a cook at all. That’s the irony.)
So give Chuan Bee a try when you are in the China Street area. And when you do, let me know how you find it. They open from 11am onwards.

12 thoughts on “Chuan Bee's Hainan Delights”

  1. remember, for the 125th time, to bring me there! i’l get the nasi kandar myself, u take care of this one k?
    they hv chick chop tooo?? i love hainanese chickchop.

  2. Hi Keat: Anytime you are here, we can go for a foodie tour.
    Hi hoyoyi: Ya I know. But a bit lazy to crop and re-size photos. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I will try for the next food post.
    Hi Lydia: Then you must try the Penang version (is your MIL a Penangite?). As for the book title, sure. Heard that folks? Make a beeline for Lydia’s blog to help her with her book title. And get a copy absolutely free if you’re the winner.

  3. I recently discovered a HCRice place that served chicken chop also, and I must say it reminded me of the ones mom used to make when I was young. It is a dish that can perk up a dinner, even with just plain rice.
    http://roseskitchen.wordpress.com/2007/01/22/hainanese-chicken-chop/
    Over here, HCR is often served with a stir-fry salted fish bean sprout dish. Reminds me of Nga Choy Gai in Ipoh. Anybody got a recipe for this? HCR is common in Singapore (both the good and bad) and I often wonder why NCGai has not made a splash here. I’ll be the first in line! I absolutely like the dish and have once driven to Ipoh to eat it (a trip originally intended for dim sum there. Sadly, the dim sum has gone the mechanical way. I think the “jou cha” (morning tea)atmosphere also died with that.)

  4. suprising still had people mentioned these old place (more than 50 yrs !!)
    everytime I and my son went back to Penang holiday I never missed Chuan Bee .I still remember they not only have chicken chop ,and their curry fish and chicken not bad too .this place leave a lot of memories to me

    • TC: You are right. I was once in Foh San Ipoh and it didn’t seem so spectacular to me. I think Penang has better dim sum places. I have not tried Ngar Choi Kai in Ipoh – can you believe that? I did try Singapore Chicken Rice (it’s a franchise) in Kuching and I really didn’t like it all.
      George: Yes, Chuan Bee was recommended by my aunt and uncles. They remember such places when it was in its heydays. But good food always attract Penangites – the dirtier, the older, the more snobbish the hawker, the better! I heard the Lorong Selamat char kueh teow is now RM6.50 per plate and YET KL people still come to Penang, still patiently wait for their small plate of CKT and still rave about it despite paying RM6.50 for it.

  5. I remember chuan Bee when I was young. There was a short man and another man called Peh Mor (white hair)They passed away for long time ago and their sons took over. One of their sons (cook ) was killed in an accident three years ago. Hope they’ll carry on till another generation. My father, myself ,and my son been to this old place, hopefully one day my grandchildren will visit too.

  6. yea, if anybody knows anything regarding the Song River mini pau, please do tell. I would very much appreciate it. I grew up eating it with my sister and we can’t find it anywhere now. i hope i can find it in time for my sister’s return to penang.

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