Kek Seng Coffeeshop is one of those iconic coffeeshops in Penang which had stood the test of time. Established in 1906 on Penang Road (Old Georgetown's main thoroughfare), it still attracts a steady stream of Penang clientele, with a sprinkling of in-the-know outstation visitors. The coffeeshop looked as if it underwent its last renovation/cleaning in 1960! Tiny seating booths lined the wall on one side, whilst marble-topped tables filled the rest of the ever-crowded coffeeshop.
The hawker stalls were all doing brisk business. We ordered:
1. Koay teow thng - fine, flat rice noodles in a savoury broth, topped with pork-meat balls; pig's intestines & liver; chicken's heart, liver & skin, pig's blood cubes, beansprouts, slivers of fishcake, fishballs, and minced golden crisp-fried garlic. It was DELICIOUS! One of the best I'd ever had in Penang.
2. Lor bak - a selection of crispy deep-fried morsels (prawn fritters, pork-meat rolls, tofu, battered fish, Taiwanese sausages, etc.) plus century eggs with pickled ginger, served with 2 types of dips: spicy chilli sauce and a sticky, eggy 5-spice/soy-flavoured dip. It's similar to Singapore Ngoh Hiang, except that the Singaporean version don't have the 2nd type of dip. And Penang lor bak has that fresh, bespoke taste compared to the mass-production factory-made Ngoh Hiang we get in Singapore!
3. Fresh spring rolls filled with a tasty filling of stir-fried shredded turnips, prawns, crab, lettuce, flavoured with hoi-sin sauce and chilli paste. Unlike the Singapore version, there's no use of raw garlic here.
4. Kueh pie-tee (served by the same popiah stall), where the popiah filling is served in crispy golden pastry shells instead. These are served topped with fresh minced chilli-lime sauce.
5. Mee Jawa - which consisted of yellow Hokkien noodles, with a sour-sweet tomato-based sauce, with chicken slivers, shrimps, tofu, hard-boiled egg and shredded fresh lettuce, topped with lots of golden crisp-fried shallots.
We didn't order from the chicken rice & char-siew stall, which had the longest queue, and which seemed to be the most popular stall. The char-siew looked delicious - golden & caramelly. We also didn't order from the popular Penang assam laksa stall, as I'm more partial to Singapore-style curry laksa.
I understood from my Penang friends that Kek Seng was very famous for its Ice-Kachang - shaved ice with red beans, corn, palm seeds & other sweet treats, liberally flavoured with red syrup, brown Sarsi & evaporated milk, topped with ice-cream & jelly. Durian ice-cream was also available. We didn't order any desserts as we were just too full.
The local drinks served there - coffee & tea (both hot & iced versions), Milo, fresh lime & nutmeg juices, etc, did NOT measure up to the standards we experienced in other Penang eateries. I think Kek Seng be resting a bit too much on its 104-year-old laurels. Apparently, the current owners are not the Tung family who ran the coffeeshop from the 1920s-1990s anymore - sad! Still, Kek Seng is a must-visit if you're into Penang culinary history.
382-384 Penang Road
Opening hours: 7.30am-3.30pm daily (the assam laksa stall opens from 11.30am)