Secret Society Food

The title intrigued, didn’t it?
We took our staff out for lunch 2 days ago to this place we were raving about since we got to know about it. A client took us there and it was so secretive, so weird that we had to bring our staff there, if only to marvel at what good marketing is about!
Now of course I am sworn to secrecy – I cannot tell you where the place is – BUT, before you shoot me down and call me names (which of course you wouldn’t right? You’re a sweet friend!) if you come to Penang, want to have a bit of a culinary adventure that’s probably the highlight of your Penang trip and want some kickass homestyle Teochew cooking, then give me a ring. I will escort you there.
So act-sy one.
Actually it’s not that I’m selfish or greedy about this place, so much so that I cannot reveal the exact location. Even if I told you the address, you’d think I was joking and pulling your leg.
Also, the other reason is, this place is always fully booked and packed (due to the space constraints of this makan place, ok, ok it is a restaurant right in the heart of Georgetown, if you REALLY want to know) and walking in WITHOUT a reservation gets you the evil eye. You can be shooed off the premises if you didn’t call to book in advance. And this isn’t even E&O we’re talking about.
If you are late, the restaurant CALLS you to ask if you are arriving or not (now which 5-star restaurant does that? Most times, you make a reservation and if you don’t arrive on time, who cares? The maitre d’ doesn’t give a rat’s ass). At this place, the rules are kind of skewed, good skewed by the way because you don’t dictate what time you want to eat there; the staff tells you that the ‘boss/chef’ finishes cooking at 1pm…so it means, get your butt here by 1pm or else there’s no food for you. Reminds me of those days when I used to dine at my grandma’s. She’ll get my aunt to call me if I didn’t turn up for dinner.
This place has no menu and each time we’ve been there, you can’t choose your food. You bloody eat what is cooked for the day. I am SO NOT KIDDING. The strange thing is, everyone (meekly) complies! The drink of the day is also fixed so you can either choose a hot drink or a cold one. No teh si peng ais or whatever have you.
This brings me back to the ‘choice’ paradigm in marketing. People always believe they want choices. The more choices, the better, right? I suppose if one were a supermarket, that holds true. In this restaurant, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have a choice. You get 3 dishes and 1 soup. Everyone eats this. You can’t choose. You look at the other customers at the other tables and you see the same dishes too!
It’s like a canteen but even canteens have choices. The menu of the day is decided by the owner-chef whose motto is aptly described as ‘simple ingredients, passionate cooking’.
Whatever he buys from the market is whatever he’s cooking for the day (he also sits down with his family to eat the same dishes). There’s a limited supply (hence reservations highly needed).
On Tuesday, we had one of the best, most tenderly braised Teochew duck, in addition to stirfried yam leaves with bean paste, sharkfin melon soup with scallops and pork bones, and stirfried shark meat in a beautiful gravy. For drinks, we had homebrewed chrysanthemum tea. For the 4 of us, with 2 extra helpings of rice and 4 drinks plus the dishes came up to RM48.80. Which is not bad considering the portion and authenticity of the dishes.
It seems that everyone is happy NOT divulging about this place because the more people know about it, the more difficult it would be getting a seat here. When you walk into the restaurant, the patrons do stare at you, if only to wonder, “How the hell did these people know about this place?” It’s like walking into a triad meeting room where you know you all share the same dirty secret! In this case, one gets a bit of superiority complex coz “I know this place too, hah!” when one looks around the small restaurant.
But that’s classic marketing you know. Plus you have no choice, just eat whatever is cooked for the day and you still get droves of people! Of course, the dishes must taste equally good.
Its other attraction is nostalgia and no frills food. I suppose many people hanker for some old style Teochew cooking, the kind one’s grandma used to concoct in the kitchen. It is a trip of supreme nostalgia for many Teochew cuisine fans. Sometimes, no matter how many times we’ve dined at 5-star restaurants, it’s about culture and tradition and simplicity at the end of the day. One prefers simple no-frill cooking, the kind we grew up with, over Wagyu beef and Alaskan king cod.
It is about relishing a secret too… the kind Penangites are damn proud of.
We hold food secrets and food hideaways like nuggets of gold to our hearts, only to be revealed to those we consider cuisine appreciators!

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