Mutton curry cost 27 cents in Penang stalls

PENANG - The decades between 1950 and 1970 saw the existence of several fine eateries in Penang, which, although not to the scale and extent of today's restaurants, still live on in the memory of their ardent customers.

The much-revered restaurants include Dawood, Hameediah, Wing Look, Kuan Lok and Loke Thye Kee in Jalan Burma and Meerah, Tip Top, Selamat Restaurant and Malay cuisine specialist Minah in Gelugor.

Of these, the only restaurants still open are Hameediah in Lebuh Campbell; Dawood, which made a comeback in Lebuh Queen recently; and Minah, which is still going strong at its original Gelugor location.

Dawood used to top the list of Muslim restaurants on the island, which included Hameediah, Minah, Meerah (just two doors away from Hameediah), Ghani Briani in Jalan Penang and Cravan Restaurant in Simpang Enam.

The popular Selamat Restaurant, located at 85, Lebuh Bishop, was an all-time favourite, which opened its doors in 1959.

Back in 1973, it charged 70 sen (S$0.27) for a plate of mutton curry and 80 sen for a large prawn.

Another big draw was the restaurant's famous tomato rice.

Penang Island Municipal Council retiree Terry Khoo Kay Hock, 73, from Tanjung Bunga, said he used to frequent many of these old restaurants in the "good old days".

"The restaurants that are still around have had to change with the times.

"Things are not the same; the dishes served today are different in taste compared with those served in the 1960s."

Khoo fondly recalled Restaurant Tip Top in Jalan Burma, Wing Look in Jalan Penang, Kuan Lok at the junction of Jalan Burma and Jalan Transfer, as well as Dawood, Hameediah and Minah.

"Tip Top and Wing Look offered Hainanese dishes. I loved Tip Top's chicken pies and curry puffs.

"Wing Look's inchee kabin and spring rolls were my favourites, too.

"At Kuan Lok, the satay was special because of its delicious gravy. Dawood's chicken kurma was simply great.

"For the restaurants that survived, such as Hameediah, there is a big gulf in the taste of today compared with the past.

"You can certainly say I miss the taste of yesteryear."

Retired antique dealer Mohamad Mustakim Mastan, 67, of Jalan Khaw Sim Bee, who still patrons Dawood, is glad it has made a comeback after closing down for a few years.

"However, things can never be the same. There is now more competition in the area from new outlets such as Hussain Tajuddin, Kaptan and Sultana.

"Dawood used to be the best Indian Muslim restaurant in town. The briyani, mutton kurma and fried chicken served by Dawood were delicious.

"It was also popular with businessmen as it had private rooms to hold meetings."

Mustakim also recalls another old favourite: Poshni at No. 3 & 5, Lebuh Light. It served Pakistani, Moghul and Kashmiri dishes such as seekh kebab, naan and tandoori.

The restaurant was operated by a former carpet dealer from Pakistan.

"Its prices were a bit on the high side, thus only the elite in Penang society could eat there. Even the rice for its briyani was imported from Pakistan."

But, looking back, was it really that expensive?

In 1973, Poshni charged RM2.50 for mutton briani, RM1.60 for chicken curry, 40 sen for a piece of naan, and RM1 for a glass of orange juice.

I remember the mouth-watering aroma from its delicious soup wafting from the kitchen as you walked past the restaurant around lunch time.

Things were never the same when the restaurant changed hands.

Khatijah Bee Abdul Rahman, 81, of Jalan Brani, remembers Wing Look's beef steak, chicken and lamb chops as well as its cupcakes.

It was said that the nation's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, used to patronise Wing Look.

"There would always be Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce to go with the meat dishes.

"It would also display an array of freshly-baked cupcakes with decorative icing in its window sill as an attraction," she said.

Khatijah also loved Tip Top's curry puffs and cream puffs as well as its laksa.

Retired civil servant Othman Badin, 71, of Taman Brown, is another patron of Dawood.

"The others could not match Dawood when it came to briyani, curries and kurma.

"However, for murtabak, you have got to hand it to the old Hameediah," he said.

Othman also enjoyed high tea at the old Tip Top, with its delicious cakes, curry puffs and cream puffs, along with its laid-back ambience.

Penang Malay Association honorary secretary Datuk Shaik Mohamed Shaik Abdul Kadir, 73, said nasi kandar started to grow in popularity in the 1960s.

"The big restaurants were promoting their briyani and did not want to have anything to do with nasi kandar.

"But I remember nasi kandar vendors were setting up everywhere on the island, including between Lebuh Farquhar up to Lebuh Downing near the waterfront."

Retired Customs officer Sudin Saad, 66, of Bakar Kapur in Kepala Batas, used to be a regular client of Minah Restaurant, not just because he lived in Gelugor in his younger days but also because of its range of appealing dishes.

"I could never resist its nasi briyani or nasi minyak with its dalca, ayam masak merah, daging kurma, fried or curried prawns, ulam and pasembor.

"I also relished meals at Ghani Briani, Hameediah and Meerah.

"But the taste of these dishes from those days are now just fleeting memories.

"The culinary skills of those oldtimers have died with them, and we are the poorer for such a loss."