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Jun 29, 2011 08:04 AM

Kuala Lumpur - Little Penang Cafe

It's probably a bit of a misnomer: looking for Penang food in Kuala Lumpur. Why not fly 1 hour north & have the real thing in its place of origin? Which was probably why I hardly step into Little Penang Cafe in all the time I've been here in KL.

Firstly, Penang food don't travel well - case in point, those wildly popular Penang food promotions held in Singapore's York Hotel where famous Penang hawkers were plucked right out of their stalls & transplanted onto Singapore to do what they do best - cook their specialities. But somehow, NOTHING tasted as good as those one will get in Penang. Ingredients played a big part - Penang garlic, Penang oysters, Penang beansprouts - all have their own unique tastes which cannot be the same as similar ingredients we get in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

Secondly, Little Penang Cafe is a halal restaurant - and Penang fried koay teow, Hokkien prawn mee, etc simply do NOT taste the same without pork lard, pork sausages or slivers of boiled pork.

Anyway, I decided to pop into Little Penang Cafe on a whim this evening - ordered a Mee Jawa, and a side of Nyonya kueh pie-tee. The latter were absolutely delicious - thin, crispy pie-tee cups filled with shredded jicama, carrots, mushrooms, topped with sweet-vinegary chilli sauce.

The Mee Jawa was also tasty, though I'm not one for those chillied cuttlefish of which a generous amount was plonked by the side of the noodles. The Mee Jawa sauce was light & tasty, and I liked the yellow Hokkien noodles, plus the taukwa (beancurd) which blended beautifully with the sauce. Crunchy, slightly-blanched beansprouts provided a nice contrast in textures, and the shredded lettuce leaves complemented the dish beautifully. The whole thing was garnished with lots of crisp-brown shallots, hard-boiled potatoes, half a hard-boiled egg, and a wedge of kalamansi to squeeze over the dish. Yummy!

And my beverage was a tall glass of iced Sirap Bandung - a pink, milky rose-syrup flavored thirst quencher.

Address details
Little Penang Cafe
Mid-Valley Megamall
F001 Lingkaran Syed Putra
59200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2282-0215

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  1. So it wasn't so bad after all? I would imagine one would have to order selectively, however?

    About those Penang ingredients being irreplaceable - why do you think that is so? Water? Soil? Mineral/micronutrient content of soil? Method of cultivation/fertilization? Microclimate?

    Would Langkawi oysters be comparable to Penang oysters?

    5 Replies
    1. re: huiray

      Hi huiray, yes - I'd think much would depend on the soil, etc. for the plants. Penang's small farms also have a more organic approach towards cultivation, whereas in Singapore, we tend to import in bulk from overseas & S'porean consumers sometime are not aware, or even care that the products are genetically modified, etc.

      Langkawi - I'd never been there! My impression is that the cuisine scene there would be dominated by kampung/rustic-style Malay food, which I think I can already get in abundance in KL :-D

      Yes, Little Penang Cafe is not too bad - I'll be going back there to check out the other items on the menu.

      1. re: huiray

        @huiray: Price-list
        Mee Rebus RM10.50
        Penang fried koay teow RM10.50
        Kueh pie tee RM8
        Penang lor bak RM8.50
        Lime juice RM4.50

        Exchange rate currently USD1 = RM3.

        1. re: klyeoh

          :-) :-) Now how did you know I would be interested...

          1. re: huiray

            You did ask that I include the prices in the past :-)

            1. re: klyeoh

              Indeed I did. Thanks for remembering! ;-)

      2. I decided to try Little Penang Cafe's busiest outlet - the one at Suria KLCC mall this evening. That place was bustling & a long queue for dinner formed by 7pm thereabouts.

        Tried the Penang "lor bak" meat rolls for starters. It's made with chicken filling instead of pork, but the 5-spice marinade was authentic, the beancurd-skin roll was crisp & light, and was perfectly deep-fried. Of course, "lor bak" in its state of origin, Penang, is not merely meat rolls, but rather consisted of an array of deep-fried/boiled morsels like crisp prawn fritters, grilled Taiwanese sausages, century eggs with pickled ginger, boiled stingray, deep-fried tofu, etc. But I guess the dish is too complicated to be replicated outside Penang. Some dishes takes skill ;-)

        My entree was the ever-popular Penang "char koay teow" - the only item on the menu with a "20-minute wait" forewarning. They sure weren't kidding - it was a long wait for me, exceeding the 20 minutes by a couple of glasses of lime juice (no alcohol served in this Muslim-friendly halal eatery). The noodles, when it came, was delicious: competently fried, resulting in fragrant koay teow (flat rice noodles) of the right texture & flavors. The soft yielding noodles retained the slightest bite to it, juxtaposed with crunchy beansprouts, bits of soft scrambled eggs, chewy strands of chives, small cockles, a few small lumps of crabmeat, and 2 large de-shelled prawns.

        What's missing from the "Char Koay Teow" dish? The requisite pork-lard smell & taste, which would have imparted the irresistible deliciousness to the dish, but impossible here in a halal-certified restaurant. The prawns, though nice & crunchy, were not as fresh as those you'd find in Penang's "char koay teow" restaurants, where none of their ultra-fresh ingredients are more than a few hours old, and would never have gone near a freezer. The crabmeat used at Little Penang Cafe also tasted like they'd been refrigerated before - more minus points here. And those thin slices of sweet, waxed Chinese pork sausages were also missing. All in all, quite nice Penang "char koay teow" - perhaps one of the best I'd tasted outside Penang, and probably the best halal version I'd ever had. But I won't be going back there for that dish again - it's NOT worth the 20-minutes' wait, and a non-pork Penang "char koay teow" is like a non-beef burger. Somehow, the "real" taste is missing.

        Address details
        Little Penang Cafe
        Lot 409-4-11, Suria KLCC
        50088 Kuala Lumpur
        Tel: 03-2163-0215

        3 Replies
        1. re: klyeoh

          Pity how religious zeal tends to wreck things...

          1. re: klyeoh

            i also had a pretty decent har mee at LP KLCC. We were feeling unadventurous and ready for bad mall food but were pleasantly surprised!

            1. re: e_ting

              You're certainly right about the "bad mall food" part - other than Little Penang Cafe and, to a certain extent, Madam Kwan's, the other eateries there were sorely disappointing. The 2 large food courts were the worst!!!

          2. Back at the Mid-Valley Megamall outlet this evening and tried another two Penang specialities - both were the best dishes I'd had at Little Penang Cafe thus far!

            - Penang Nyonya-style otak-otak. RM8 gets you two packets of spicy fish souffle, wrapped tamale-like in banana-leaf parcels & steamed. Unwrap each of them, and aromatic wafts of galangal, turmeric & other spices fill your nose & awaken your tastebuds. They were absolutely delicious - so full of flavor, and as good as ANY otak-otak you'll find in Georgetown, Penang, itself! Must-not-miss!

            - Penang Hokkien prawn mee. Despite using chicken bones instead of pork bones for the soup stock (besides prawns, rock sugar & chillis), the soup was full-bodied and had a 100% authentic Penang taste! The mixture of of thick yellow Hokkien noodles and bee hoon (thin rice noodles) were garnished with shredded chicken, 3 small shrimps (not very fresh), blanched kangkong and half a boiled egg (why not a whole egg, I wonder,since they charge RM10.50 - double what you'll pay at a hawker stall). Another must-not-miss!

            6 Replies
            1. re: klyeoh

              Interesting, klyeoh. But I don't think this place will ever make it in Penang, ho-ho! I read somewhere that it's a brainwave of one of my fellow Penangites, who decided to set up this restaurant (which grew into a chain) in order to sell Penang food to hungry KL people who're probably too busy to make a trip up north.

              Halal Penang-Chinese hawker food for a largely Muslim KL populace. Brilliant idea.

              1. re: penang_rojak

                Yes, Penang Rojak. Nothing compares to what you can find in Penang. They do very well here and there is often a queue.

                Have met the owners and they are indeed a Penang family - they also used to have a Thai eatery in Bangsar - don't know if its still there.

                1. re: mikey8811

                  Do they plan on opening a non-halal shop or stall with more authentic versions of their dishes somewhere in KL?

                  1. re: huiray

                    I don't think they are going to tweak anything that's worked so well and raking in huge profits for them. It's very hard for someone in KL to offer Penang food to picky Penang eaters who live in KL. So what Little Penang Cafe's owners did were to simply cater to a large untapped market: Malay/Muslim customers who wanted to taste halal Penang food that's NOT nasi kandar, for a change. It worked!

                2. re: penang_rojak

                  penang_rojak, you may be interested in reading this article on owners of Penang eateries in KL:

                  May be visiting Penang again next weekend - you're up for another hawker food trawl? Will be staying at Penang Royal Hotel again :-)

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    I remembered this article when it was published in the Sunday Star but I didn't really read the whole thing then.

                    Interesting that Cecelia Chan mentioned that she and her sisters/co-owners of Little Penang Cafe liked their mother's Devil's Curry, which is not a Penang dish but a Malaccan-Eurasian one!

                    You may have just missed the on-going Georgetown Festival by the time you come. I'll catch up with you next weekend.