Da Shu Xia Seafood House – sumptuous and fresh seafood in Penang
Penangites just want it all – fresh seafood, delicious flavours, beautiful presentations, a cosy ambiance, great service and above all, cheap prices!
At this age and time and with the escalating food cost, this would seem quite impossible. Having said that, one only has to view the street-rod sculpture along Jalan Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (junction of Lebuh Bishop) that illustrates a bullock cart with square, half-cent wheels. With tongue in cheek, local-born artist Reggie Lee has depicted the deep-rooted, close-fisted side of Penangites, always thinking that their money is as huge as the wheel of the bullock cart. This holds water chiefly for the older generation even until today.
So coming back to fresh seafood, where can we get all of the above? Well, nowhere would be exact! However, in today's reality, Da Shu Xia Seafood House would be a close second. The restaurant has a long history, starting its operations next to the overhead bridge at Weld Quay, across from the ferry terminal. Inside the restaurant stood an old huge tree. "Chu chang ka" was the name of the popular eatery which in Hokkien literary means, "foot of the tree". Ah See, the owner of the restaurant, remembers its humble beginning in 1974.
On 31 December 2014, the restaurant relocated to 177C, Lebuh Victoria (at the junction of Lebuh Victorian and Gat Lebuh Armenian). It is brighter, airy and more spacious plus an air-conditioned dining area is available. Right at the back of the restaurant anchors a huge boat with dining tables. Kids would find dining on the boat rather exciting.
Being an island, Penang is enveloped by the ocean and dotted by fishing villages. Some of the fresh catches of the day make their way here. Some come from Sabah and neighbouring states.
You start off by choosing the seafood you would like to eat from an impressive array on ice trays that keep them fresh. Other sea creatures are alive in aquariums. The restaurant staff would weigh the fish or crabs that you have chosen and let you know the cost. It is common practice that if you find the price steep, you should opt for something cheaper that would suit your budget. Once you have selected your different types of seafood, you let the staff know how you want them to be cooked – steamed, stir-fried or baked with your choice of sauces. Looking at the photos on the wall can aid your decisions.
At your table, a complimentary appetiser – rectangle bite-size poppadoms with a bowl of curry should be waiting for you. Expect lightning fast service even at peak hours. Your food should reach your table in no time, along with a pot of steamed plain white rice.
The live ketam batu (mud crabs) sold here are usually meat crabs. There is a variety of ways you can cook the crabs, from simple baking to stir-frying in a variety of sauces – sweet and sour and accompanied by extras such as salted eggs, kam hiong, black pepper, chilli and butter. While I love all of them, the sweet and sour style holds a special place in my heart. The rich creamy sauce is divine and adds a great contrast to the sweet and succulent white flesh of the crab. Eating crab is a messy affair. Use your fingers for a finger-licking satisfying experience.
When it come to fish, freshness is everything. If you are drowning the fish in sauces and curry, I would recommend the cheap option of using a red snapper. One amazingly delicious way is to steam the fish in a rich, turmeric-base Nyonya sauce that is tangy, spicy and sweet all at the same time. However, if you are going for an expensive fish, the best way to enjoy the delicate sweetness of the flash is simply to steam it in a light soy sauce. If the size of the fish is big, you could request that the fish be halved and cooked in two different styles. Another signature dish is the black pomfret topped with a thick, dark non-spicy gravy with crunchy pork rinds. Simply delicious!
If you are ordering prawns, try the spicy coconut prawns or the Nestum prawns. Ask your waiter to run down the list of existing options before you decide.
A dish not to missed is the ultra spicy, sweet and sour steamed clams. The powerful chillies draw out the sweetness of the clams. It is tongue-numbing, sour with a hint of sweetness, aromatic and simply addictive.
For another deep-fried favourite, order the crispy soft-shell crabs coated in a salted egg batter. Consuming it is pretty effortless and the dish will be “polished off” in no time.
If you like aubergines, you will enjoy this dish. Stir-fried with a fermented soy bean paste and spring onions, it is simple but tastes delicious! The soft, creamy texture of the aubergines absorbs the flavours and goes very well with plain white rice.
If you have plenty of complicated flavours on the table, it is always good to keep the garden greens simple. Stir-frying with garlic and oyster sauce should suffice.
Claypot tofu is a treasure trove of goodies. When you have children at the table who fear spicy food, this dish would be a winner. The strips of roasted pork add more dimension to the dish.
Besides seafood, the restaurant also has other delectable offerings including egg, pork and chicken dishes. Include crispy deep-fried belacan chicken wings, aromatic chicken steamed with herbal goodness and braised pork knuckle into your list of dishes to relish.
As for the beverages, try the apple-lemon juice, ice-blended series or herbal drinks. Drinks and food are under two different bosses, so do pay separately.
Having stood the test of time (for over three decades), Da Shu Xia Seafood House must have a winning formula that appeals to the locals. Give it a try and you will see why. Being popular among Penangites, making prior reservations is a wise move, especially if you are planning to dine there with a big group during weekends and public holidays. Eating seafood can be relatively expensive in general, but not if you are wise in your selection of the types of seafood. Offering more than just seafood, a meal here does not have to cost an arm and a leg (but it can should you decide to splurge).
Da Shu Xia Seafood House (Weld Quay)
177C, Lebuh Victoria, George Town, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
T: +6012 429 2579 / +6012 474 5566
Opens: 11:30 am – 10:00 pm daily except Wednesdays
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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Updated: 28 November 2021