Amidst the row of pre-war houses along Kimberley Street in George Town, Penang, there lay many hidden treasures waiting to be uncovered by the young and restless. House in these old buildings are people and businesses who have seen Penang’s development through their century old windows. In this busy street, many famous delicacies that are significant to Penang’s food heritage and culture that are key to it’s food tourism were born, koay teow th’ng stall that once used abalone as a condiment, a dessert stall that have grind through three (3) generations, Hainanese kopitiams who have brewed coffee for and fed generations of patrons, Char Koay Teow’s that have filled the tummies of movies goers who frequent the once bustling independent cinemas around town, etc.
One of the many businesses who have set a foot hold on Kimberley Street is Nam Kie 南佳, an 83 years old Hainanese Kopitiam that was once a bustling meeting point for many Hainanese migrants that came to Penang in search of a better life. Then, Nam Kie 南佳would normally operate in the day time with a non-pretentious menu of good old Hainanese Kopi, homemade Kaya, charcoal flame toasted bread and soft boil eggs. Now, after handing the reins to its 3rd generation, they have added Hianan Char to their staple. Apart from Nam Kie 南佳, Khee Cheang Leong 喜昌隆, which is still operating, was also available to provide for the night dwellers with a similar offerings and may be more.
Though coffee was brought into the then Malaya, it has gained much popularity and demand by the migrants be it Chinese, Indian and even the Malays who have made the once colonial trading hub their center of business, life and home. What sets the Hainanese kopi or coffee apart from the Western world coffees is the method of processing and the technique of brewing the bitter kopi beans. The beans are roasted in a wok with sugar, butter and wheat, thus the malty rich and buttery creamy taste that is produced after brewing with the optimum water temperature, right size of cloth filter and most importantly the experience and skill of the master brewer. We were told that if all the combinations are right, the brewed kopi ‘O” or black coffee would induce a drunk or “high” sensation that is still an myth to me.
It depend what is the preference of the drinker, the generic Hainan kopi can be served Kopi “O” (black coffee with sugar or without), Kopi (coffee with sweeten condensed milk), Kopi-C (coffee with sugar and evaporated milk) or anything that fancies you. Nam Kie 南佳 has given me the opportunity to taste a Kopi “O” that delivers sweetness with a slight bitter after taste without the acidic end, and Kopi that is creamy, sweet that ends with a bitter sensation to the tongue.
Kaya is the Peranakan version of a Western jam, made from eggs, freshly pressed coconut cream, pandan (screw pine leafs), sugar and lots of patience. Nam Kie 南佳 double boils their Kaya concoction for at least half a day until it naturally turns brownish in colour and develops a distinctive rich creamy coconut flavour over distributed charcoal flames. If the Kaya is cooked thoroughly, then the longer it will last in room temperature. Quality ingredients also determine the live span of the Kaya, we were told that they used to make Kaya that can stay fresh for at least 2 weeks without refrigerating. As time changes, the quality of sugar and coconut has decline and thus reducing the live span to around 1 week.
With the rising competition from organized food courts and fast food franchises, Nam Kie 南佳 has begun to dish out the family style Hainan Char or Hainanese Stir-Fried Noodles to recapture their dwindling customer base who have either moved out from bustling city or have moved on. Their Hainan Char is similar with the Penang style Hokkien Char minus the prawn base stock and the dark soya sauce used to give colour and taste to the carefully choreographed stir-fried yellow noodles and vermicelli. In it’s original form, their Hainan Char consist of lean pork slices and fresh prawns stir-fried with fragrant garlic and lard, which then serves as a base to a handful of yellow noodles and rice vermicelli and mustard leaves that are braised in a sweet soup stock for extra flavour.
If you are not rushing from place to place and fighting with the clock, try stepping back into time and savour the atmosphere it reflects and taste the flavours and feel the passion that have aged and polished with time. Give thoughts to the hard-work and discipline to those who still strive to give you the best on the table.
Nam Kie 南佳
Address: 116 Lebuh Kimberley, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia