Boey Chong Kee Restaurant – serving no-frills Cantonese-style cooking
Although the signboard on the right of the restaurant reads "Beoy...", it was a typo error Mr Boey Chong, owner of the restaurant must have missed when he commissioned it in the 1960s. “Kee” stands for 记 which means shop in Chinese. Serving classic no-frills Cantonese-style cooking, this quaint restaurant is located at one of the shop lots on the ground floor at People's Court off Lebuh Cintra/Campbell. Till today, it is still very much a family business and is run by Mr Boey’s granddaughters, the Chan sisters.
Although the dishes served here are uncomplicated, the flavours and aroma are distinct and delectable. To some, the taste evokes memories of a home-cook fair of authentic Cantonese-style dishes. I cannot vouch for that since I grew up in a Peranakan household. However, I do enjoy the dishes very much and time and again would frequent the restaurant.
Before we detail the offerings, we must address the crucial topic of time. If you are in a hurry, have to catch a flight or rush your wife to the delivery room, do choose a quicker alternative for dinner. However, if you have all the time in the world, then Boey Chong Kee Restaurant is ideal for you. Locals know better than to throw temper tantrums or hurry their orders. Penangites would come prepared!
Armed with piping hot ham chim peng (savoury fried Chinese dough) from the nearby roadside stall at Cintra Street, they will while away time, sipping tea and enjoying the famous ham chim peng. This is exactly what I will do when I have overseas guests as it is the best situation to catch up on life. Be prepared to wait about an hour or more for your food to arrive. Having said that, let us now look at some of the dishes on the menu.
First is the stir-fried eggs with glass noodles, carrots, bamboo shoots and crab meat, served on the side with crispy fresh lettuce. Although the dish is called "shark's fin egg", rest assured that there are no real shark's fins in the fluffy, scrambled eggs. The smoky aroma from the breath of the wok (wok hei in Cantonese) in the dish is something quite difficult to duplicate at home. To enjoy, top a spoonful of egg on a sheet of lettuce, wrap it into a parcel and pop it into the mouth. Munch slowly and allow the flavours to dance on your palate.
Stir-fried bean sprouts with salted fish, spring onions and sliced red chillies, although simple in appearance, are packed with flavours and aroma. The combination of these common ingredients is brilliantly fused to offer a truly delicious dish.
The mouth-watering stir-fried beef with ginger and spring onions is coated with a rich runny egg gravy. This is my favourite dish at Boey Chong Kee. The thin beef slices are silky smooth and tender. They go so well with a bowl of steamed white rice.
Two other beef options are braised beef with bitter gourd and stir-fried beef with kailan. Both dishes are tasty as well.
I believe that the spread of dishes should have a good variety of textures. For the crispy element, I would often opt for some heh kean (Hokkien for Chinese prawn fritters). Succulent prawns encased within golden crispy parcels are best savoured with some chilli sauce.
If one is skipping the prawn fritters, a serving of crispy belacan chicken could be considered.
Do not let the appearance of the braised mutton deceive you. The tender cuts coated with the rich dark caramelised sauce are scrumptious.
If you select items either braised or stir-fried with a fermented black bean sauce, the dishes would have the similar appearance as the braised mutton. Take for example, braised pork ribs with fermented black bean sauce or stir-fried mushrooms with century eggs. Both these black-looking dishes are actually packed with great flavours.
The savoury braised fish fillet, with a touch of fermented black bean paste, ginger and spring onions is among a few fish dishes offered on the menu. If you are adventurous, try the braised fish head instead of the fillet. The gravy is definitely a win for this one – a perfect pairing with steamed white rice. The steamed fish with sour plums is also satisfying.
The above dishes are unpretentious and have a straight-to-the-point approach. Forget about eye-candy plating or a fanciful presentation. The focus is on the flavours, obtained from fresh ingredients, sans any MSG. The quality and taste of the food here have remained top notch for the past 60 years or so.
The humble restaurant sits only about seven tables, and if weather permits, additional tables will be arranged in the courtyard for al fresco dining. Go early and be prepared to wait as each dish is carefully prepared and never mass produced. Here, everything is on a first-come-first-served basis. The restaurant does not have a fixed off day and the sisters may sometimes decide to close it and take a break or go for a short holiday.
Boey Chong Kee Restaurant (non-halal)
C 6 People's Court, off Lebuh Cintra/Campbell, 10100 George Town, Penang
GPS Coordinates: N05.41726 E100.33379
Open daily: 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm
T: +6011-2847 5988
Photographed and written by Adrian Cheah
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5 December 2022