Penang - Dim Sum Face-off: Prosperous vs Bali Hai
Cantonese dim sum has never been a strong suit for mainly-Fujianese (Hokkien) Penang. But we thought we'd still try out two very popular dim sum restaurants at breakfast-time last weekend.
First stop: Prosperous Dimsum Restaurant at Aboo Siti Lane, off the ever-busy MacAlister Road. Seating is almost entirely al fresco. The serving system here is similar to that used by Ipoh's legendary Foh San - customers queue up with order cards at large food counters and point out to the dim sum items of their choice. The servers behind the counters will load your trays with the dim sum items which you'd chosen, then you hand over the card for them to mark down the number of items. You carry your dim sum-laden tray back to your own tables. Hot tea and drinks are served by waiters who come to take your order. Seating here is entirely al fresco - fine during early mornings in Penang, but can get hot and humid later on (past 10am). What we had:
- "Dai bao" large pork bun, which also contained turnip, egg, mushroom, onions. Tasty but slightly dry from having been left on the steamer for too long;
- "Lor mai kai" steamed flavoured glutinous rice topped with pork, "char-siu" caramelised BBQ pork & chicken. Okay, not particularly outstanding. The glutinous rice was slightly moister than should be.
- "Siu mai" pork-shrimp dumpling: didn't taste fresh and not well-seasoned.
- Chicken "bao": tasted quite odd, not very well-seasoned.
- "Char-siu bao": very dry and fairly tasteless.
- Fried turnip cake: very much over-fried and dry here.
- Minced pork and seaweed dumplings with woflberries: umm, strange flavours which somehow did *not* come together.
- Pork rice porridge: Nasty - bland, tasteless, lacking in any/every ingredient. Avoid.
- Penang "otak-otak": now *this* is the first time I encounter this local Nyonya morsel at a dim sum restaurant. It provided a good spice kick to the entire meal, but certainly is *not* the best otak-otak around.
Clientele are mostly MacAlister Road lower-middle class to working class types. Place has a truck-stop feel to it.
Second stop: Bali Hai fronting the sea at Gurney Drive, Penang's premier seafront promenade. Semi-al fresco seating. Bali Hai functions as a seafood restaurant in the evenings, but serves a popular dim sum spread in the mornings. Same self-service, order card-based system as Prosperous Dimsum Restaurant's. What we ordered:
- "Dai Bao" large pork bun - about the same standard as Prosperous'.
- "Lor mai kai" steamed glutinous rice - again, about the same standard.
- "Nam yue bao": pork belly marinated in fermented bean paste in a bun. Not good.
- "Siu mai" pork-shrimp dumplings - tastier than Prosperous'.
- "Har gow" shrimp dumplings - respectable version, but nowhere near the standards of those from Ipoh or KL.
- "Siu long bao" - the version here is totally unrecognizeable from the delicious soupy versions one gets from Din Tai Fung or Dragon-i, also available in Penang. Avoid the ones here in Bali Hai.
- Egg tarts - Fairly tasty: Bali Hai is actualy very well-known for the egg tarts here. Frankly, I'm not exactly sure why.
- Pork rice porridge - very much tastier than Prosperous'.
The clientele here are a mox of middle- to upper-middle class types and expatriates, as Gurney Drive is lined with luxury condominiums and hotels. More upmarket feel. Prices are 30% higher to match.
Conclusion? Avoid dim sum whilst in Penang. Stick to what they do best: Penang hawker/street foods!!
(1) Prosperous Dimsum Restaurant
202-G5, Aboo Siti Lane
Tel: +604-226 4367
(2) Bali Hai Restaurant
90A Gurney Drive
Tel: +604-228 8273