Eating out in Penang has become more expensive in Penang on this trip. Prices have gone up, especially meat and fish. Since I arrived home in Penang on 19th November 2011 for a two weeks visit, I have been eating out everyday. This was normal for most people living in Penang. There are many choices of food and places. I have tried some new places on this trip, and revisited a few of my favourites.
The newest place I have tried on this trip, strangely enough, is called 747. This restaurant has been operating for 2 generations and coming to the third generation. It started off as a small, humble family business located at YMCA in Macalister Road. Not by choice, they had to move due to disagreement with the YMCA management which leased the old premise to the family. I was told they were forced out because the management attempted to increase their lease by several hundreds fold. They had to move, and was fortunate to have a friend that owned an open air corner “kopitiam” (Penang’s style coffee shop). The new premise is a bigger place located in the heart of George Town, at 25-27 Transfer Road. The family renovated the premise into an enclosed airconditioned restaurant with mostly large tables. The inside is bright like most local Chinese restaurant. The traditional Chinese restaurant prefers a bright place for better Feng-Shui. When we were there on a Sunday lunch, it was very busy, noisy and buzzing with customers. It was packed with customers.
Like most streets in the heart of George Town, parking is hard to find. But, we were lucky to find a spot directly across an alley street, Jalan A.S. Mansoor, from the restaurant. At the end of this street, there is a row of prewar double storery terrace houses being restored. I am wondering if it is going to be another boutique accommodation. I parked the car and we walked towards 747. As we were about to reach the street turnoff, I could smell food. I instantly recognised it was spices and curries. That is when I saw the corner kopitiam, “Kedai Kopi International Hotel”, which means coffee shop in Malay. I assumed the upstairs must be a cheap backpackers accommodation. I peeped into the coffee shop and saw the place was packed full with customers, eating “Nasi Padang”, which is Indonesian’s style economy rice. They looked so good and tasty. I will explore this place on my next trip.
Back to 747. My dad used to take our family to this restaurant when we were young, at the old premise on Macalister Road. We have been there many times. The restaurant is a Hailam style restaurant. There is only a handful of very good Hailam restaurants left in Penang. The other one, being Seng Keang Aun Restaurant, off Chulia Street in George Town, which I have been on my last few trips, but not this trip.
I have decided to take my mum, sister and “Sar Yee” (third aunty, from mum’s side) family to the restaurant, after tossing around on a few other places. I ended up choosing 747 after I have heard from a good friend of mine, who happened to return to Penang to visit his parents at the same time. His parents took him and his partner there for lunch. It was through him that I first heard 747 had moved to a new and bigger premise. So, it was a good reason to revisit this Hailam style restaurant after more than two decades.
747 has been operating for 35 years. It reopened at Transfer Road in late April 2011. Not many of their customers knew about the new premise. Penang people love to pop up at anytime to eat. So, most of them were unaware of the shutdown and the new premise until a local food critic wrote and featured an article in the gourmet section of a newspaper.
There was eight of us. We were not disappointed, and remembered the food well. 747 has many specialties, including their “Inchi Kabin” (nyonya style spiced fried chicken), “Ark Orh” (a traditional Hailam stewed duck and yam dish), “Kari Hu Tau” (curry fish head), “Choon Piah” (nyonya style fried spring roll). I have ordered all the three specialties and a steamed garoupa teow chew style, bean curd in crab meat sauce, and a broccoli and mushroom vegetarian dish. The total bill came to MYR$261 (about AUD$87), including steamed rice, nuts (at all Chinese restaurants, they usually provide a small plate of toasted crunchy peanuts), wet paper towels (for you to wipe your sticky fingers after the meal) and hot water (my aunty’s husband brought his special green tea leafs to share).
I have to say all the dishes were very good, but my favourite was the curry fish head. The curry was like a “perfume” filled with aromatic thinly sliced banana flowers and mint leaves. It was not overly spicy, but enough spiced to tingle my appetite and want more. It has been a very long time since I had curry fish head. I can easily eat this alone with the sauce and plain rice. The other favourite of mine was the Inchi Kabin, which was crispy and crunchy, yet the meat was tender and moist and not overcooked or dried. The Ark Orh was an acquired taste. It is hard to find a restaurant selling this dish. It requires skills to cook this dish, which was passed down the generations. Only 747 knows how to cook this dish very well. The dish was preordered one day in advance. The yam was cooked until most of them were melted to form a thick soup like dish. There was no strong duck smell in the dish. The duck meat was tender and melted in the mouth a single bite.
The most expensive dish was the steamed garoupa at MYR$72. The duck and yam dish was reasonable priced for a specialty at MYR$50 – a must for anyone interested to try an traditional Hailam dish. The curry fish head was MYR$35, and Inchi Kabin was MYR$30 which were very cheap for such a great dish.