Jelutong, Home to Hearty Food

There’s much to see (and eat) in Jelutong – and to contemplate.

Bukit Dambar.

Today, Jelutong is a multifaceted place that is rich in history and peopled by folks of all races and creeds. At the same time, it is transforming, growing, and shrugging off its rough past.

Mornings usually begin for its residents with a jog at Bukit Dumbar, a dam that also serves as a recreational park. With its shady trees, well-paved path and flat terrain, the circuit takes less than an hour to complete, making it the perfect spot for morning exercise.

Karpal Singh Drive, a seafront promenade named after the late Karpal Singh, a respected politician and five-term member of parliament for Jelutong, is another quaint place for a jog. And if you’re there early enough, you can catch the sunrise – a spectacular sight to kick-start the day.

At sunup, early risers flock to the Jelutong market which famously offers anything you could want and things you never knew you needed – from dry Chinese herbs to seafood and even live frogs. The vendors set up shop, arranging their goods on plastic mats on the ground. The wide Jalan Penaga is cramped with stalls, passing lorries and the usual bustle of bargaining.

Food, Any Time of the Day

Jelutong is an old town that was populated long before Merdeka. Some of the food stalls here are as old as the town too.

Jelutong morning market.

Life is good when the food is.

At Jalan Jelutong, there was a nasi kandar stall that until recently kept the “kandar tradition of carrying rice with a kandar pole on the shoulder, every morning from the premises where they prepared the food to their stall, which was previously located within Kedai Kopi Tai Min just opposite the Jelutong police station. They have since shifted to a new shop a little further down the same road. The stall is manned by Mohamad Amier; if you are a regular, he will remember your curry preference and mix it just the way you like it. Ali Amier is the third generation running the business; his grandfather first opened the stall in Kedai Kopi Tai Min.

Restoran Deen is on the list of every out-of-towner’s must-eats when they come to Penang, despite it being off the beaten path. Established in 1973, Deen commands long queues at any time of day – the restaurant is open 24/7. A flavourful mix of curries (do try their signature dark sauce beef curry) with a few pieces of okra and a hard-boiled egg added makes for a perfect plate for lunch – and with a packet of papadom on the side, just in case.

Apom telur.

Roti canai Mohd Rafi.

Hussein's mee goreng.

In front of the market, right next to the traffic lights on the main road, is an apom telur stall – a local favourite, and mine, too. It has been run by the same Indian lady for the past 25 years. The apom is traditionally prepared using a clay pot and cooked with charcoal. It might seem simple, but it requires a skilful person to control the fire and make sure the thin apom is not overcooked. Eggs and sugar are stirred into the batter before it is cooked within the clay pots. Waiting time can get lengthy. And while it is a testament to the deliciousness of the snack, that customers often order at least 10 pieces at one time doesn’t help!

Across the road on Jalan Madrasah, there is often a long queue for some roti canai and murtabak, with thick dhal and chicken curry. As the stall has no dining space, patrons either eat inside the kopitiam opposite, or tapau (takeaway). For the past 45 years, the business has been run by Mohd Rafi, with the help of his wife and children. (He used to operate near Universiti Sains Malaysia, but relocated to the spot on Jalan Madrasah 20 years ago.) The dough is prepared by him and his son, the curries by his wife, and the pickled onions by his daughters.

The long queue at Restoran Deen.

Once the chaos of the market has settled, Hussein gets to work and sets up his cart next to a kopitiam, where he fries his well-known mee goreng and mee rebus on a traditional charcoal stove. For almost 30 years now, he has been frying noodles with a mixture of spices, bean sprouts, squid and bean curd, topped with fried onions and a slice of lime on the side – the perfect teatime snack.

Chinese hawkers in Jelutong market.

Jelutong is famous for its Chinese street food too, waxed lyrical by my Chinese and Indian friends. There is a stall that serves piping hot seafood bihun and bak moy (pork porridge) on Perak Lane; it has been around for almost 45 years now, and is currently run by the second generation. You can pick your favourite ingredients to go with your bowl of noodles or porridge, from fish fillet and minced pork to pork slices, pig’s innards, kidney, intestines and liver, topped withgarlic oil and spring onions.

As evening falls on a Friday, the Jalan Van Praagh night market is packed with food vendors tempting passers-by with delicious offerings such as yong tau foo, char koay kak, prawn crackers, fried chicken, snacks from Thailand… the list goes on until the end of the street. This night market is not only loaded with food, but clothes and household appliances as well.

Even after the clock strikes midnight, there are people still lining up for the best burger in town, which is right next to the Jelutong post office – hence the catchy name, “Pos Burger”. Pos Burger is a small burger hut that offers a variety of patties that will fulfil your midnight cravings. Who can say no to a juicy patty wrapped in a thin layer of egg and topped with a slice of melted cheese, even past midnight?

Home to Generations

If you live long enough in Jelutong, you will know of Jelutong Motor, a motorcycle repair workshop that used to be located next to the Jelutong mosque. The owner used to fix my parent’s motorcycles, but the building was demolished, and the owner passed away. The shop has moved to Lorong Perak and is now run by his son, Ah Beng. These days, he fixes my motorcycles.

Many villages have been redeveloped into modern high-rise housing estates. A number of older buildings have also been demolished; you can no longer see Kedai Kopi Tai Min that used to house Ali Ameir’s nasi kandar stall.

At the same time, it is a relief to see that some of the old trades are still up and running: there’s Sunstar, a stationery shop – my go-to shop that sells a range of school supplies and sports equipment.

And there is the soy sauce factory run by a Chinese family along Jalan Jelutong, where my mother bought tauchu, a paste made from preserved fermented yellow soybeans.

Changes have come to Jelutong, and while nothing remains static for long, Jelutong folks still have a beautiful dam and waterfront, which keep us healthy, and the township’s bustling market and food are among the best in Penang. If we really care to look, this suburb is far unique in its selfhood.

Pos burger.

Perak Road night market.


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