Taste of rustic charm

In a State long associated with nonya food and other uncommon hawker fare, there are still some places in Penang that have escaped the attention of the uninitiated. In Jalan D.S. Ramanathan (formerly Scott Road) is an old double-storey bungalow that probably once belonged to a family of substantial means.

Now it houses the Senior Citizens Association Of Penang. What sets it apart from other bodies is its cafeteria, presently located at the back of the building which could do with a fresh coat of paint. The cafeteria, with its limited number of tables and chairs, was located in Jalan Kelawei in 1983. Years later, it moved to its present location. While it is not exactly a closely guarded secret, those who dine regularly at the cafeteria during lunchtime and in the evenings, seem quite reluctant to promote it.

Its facade is quite unimpressive. It peeks shyly from behind a cluster of trees and a hedge that badly needs pruning and trimming. Upon entering the grounds, the front compound suddenly looks very spacious and the bungalow shows signs of neglect coupled with a sense of loneliness. However, the flora in the rear flourishes magnificently and with great abandon. The long hanging vines add a touch of wildness to the place. Seen from a distance, the tall trees towering over the bungalow provide a benevolent cover for the old building.

Charming Old Place This particular cafeteria has been mentioned in some low-profile publications and locals know it well enough to come in fairly large numbers during lunchtime. There is ample parking space all round the bungalow. There are few eating places in Penang where chickens run wild in the backyard and tweens (pre-teens) laugh heartily on a swing near the dining tables. The main cafeteria is along a covered walkway that has four tables. It leads to the kitchen and an adjacent room that has a handful of tables.

Apart from looking very much like a 1950s estate bungalow with a large back compound, the cafeteria seems a very unlikely venue for diners. But therein lies its charm. There’s an air of being in someone’s home — amid greenery, bicycles, a tired dog, potted plants and laundry hung out to dry. The surprise of this elegant, yet simple abode is in the home-cooked dishes that get increasingly pleasant with each bite. Served straight from the wok by efficient waitresses, this eatery is in a league of its own. One male customer remarked that he had been coming to the cafeteria for years because his mother is a lifetime member of the Senior Citizens Association.

Diners who arrive late wait patiently for others to finish before they take their place. Evidently, the food is worth their while to stand around on their feet. Some of the favourite dishes are mee sua tau (soft wheat noodles in a thick gravy with mushrooms, meat and prawns), fried mee jawa, roti ayam and inchi kabin.

Most lunchtime customers are young office workers. Out-of-towners seldom find their way here unless they have been told about it by relatives or friends. Easy On The Pocket Some of the merits of the Senior Citizens Association cafeteria is its affordability. One need not spend more than RM10 unless he’s a glutton. The cafeteria does not serve pork. Drinks are prepared in the back portion of the bungalow, away from the kitchen.

Ho Hoay Chin is the cafeteria boss. He welcomes advance orders for certain dishes because these require time to prepare. Regular customers who want to surprise and please their guests usually pick up the phone and place their orders before their arrival. So if you want a fairly quiet place with excellent food and an aura and mood that only your own grandmother’s kitchen can provide, this could very well be the place.

How To Get There It is located next to a field with Jalan Brown on one side and Jalan Park on the other. In this residential area, the traffic flow is slow and low, so a trip here is rather relaxing and involves absolutely no stress. If you are looking for the place, drive slowly along Jalan D.S. Ramanathan because you may just miss it.