Monday, July 19, 2010

Ching Huat:: Seafood under the coconut trees

A long time ago...probably about 10 years or even more, I was introduced to this little eatery under the coconut trees in Prai. I remembered the seafood was fresh and delicious, and they had a peculiar drink - known locally as tuak, or is the fermented juice from the coconut palm.

So this time round, I went looking for this elixir and to see if the food was still as good. Tucked away somewhere in the little villages in Prai, te little place has grown to quite a large restaurant. Now they have a cemented floor where a dirt floor and a real roof in place of attap leaves for shade. Now they also seem to have real cooks...each one specializing in his/her own dish, so in rapidfire fashion, the eatery can serve a hundred diners at one go.

The tuak looked the same as it did...

But the sweetness and freshness seemed to have gone. The tuak of old had a slight efferverscence, indicating some kind of fermentation, not unlike the methode champegnoise used in the making of champagne. The sweetness of the palm juice, fresh-ness of the drink, well chilled made a refreshing drink. It still is a refreshing drink, but less delicious, methot. It was still mildly intoxicating...due to the 4% alcohol content...roughly that of beer, but sweet and fresh.

Anyway, we started the lunch. with octopus.

A speciality of the restaurant, it is small baby octopus (gotta be careful these days, just post the 2010 World Cup when talking about octopus as food...lest one might be accused of feasting on the famous Paul of Germany). The dish was simply cooked...the sliced up octopus was probably stir fried. The meat was tough-ish, but crunchy, and slightly chewy...and rather tasteless...until one dips it into the rather potent chilli. Kapow, it hits the palate. Rather nice.

We also had the kerabu:

Kerabu is a salad...typical in peranakan cuisine. I guess, in cuisine terms, in the same genre as Som Tam in Thailand. Made from juliened cucumber, papaya, mango, and tossed in a salty, sour, spicy sauce with lemongrass and deep fried shallots, this was an appetite opener. The burst of all the ingredients assualt the senses...sweet, spicy, salty, sour, fragrant, pungent.

Initially famous for its seafood, though situated nowhere near the sea...we tried some of hte seafood:

Fish steamed...just plain fresh fish, simply steamed can sometimes make a nice meal. This was no exception. The simplicity of the cooking method is one, but the control of the heat to ensure that the fish is done just right...10 seconds too long, and it is ruined - overcooked...the fish flesh will be rendered flaky, and tasteless. 10 seconds too little will result in an undercooked fish. The French, being a great gastronomic nation, has a term for this - mi cuit...half cooked, but intentionally so is the special term for fish and foie gras. This was done almost just right...mi cuit...nice, succulent flesh, just starting to flake, but still with sufficient integrity to hold together. Nice.

The flower crabs were next:

Normally sweeter than regular mud crabs, the flower crabs are a favourite of my mom. This particular tasting proved to be not as good as earlier samplings. Perhaps the crabs were not as fresh. But the meat was not as tasty or as sweet. Average at best.

The clams were also simply stir fried with the usual ingredients of ginger, garlic and some herbs and spices.

The clams were reasonably fresh, and had a nice bite....a bit chewy, but nice and succulent.

The deep fried spring chickens were next

In my opinion, a bit over cooked. The skin was rendered golden (?), um, no...perhaps dark brown in the scalding oil. And the meat was a bit overcooked, resulting a rather dry interior to the slightly burnt skin. Not the best.

Interestingly, the starch fared rather well.

The beehoon was well fried, with good wok hei, and had absorbed the taste and flavours of the ingredients...fresh seafood...prawns, squids, and some pork slices. Nice.

The mee was not to be outdone. Bathed in a nice, almost creamy but with a piquant bite, the sauce was the star. It allowed the simply cooked noodle to shine. Infused with the fresh seafood, it was very tasty. Shiok.

Overall a quaint place to dine. It had lost some of its amateur, rustic roots, and gained little from sophistication it apparently now wants to boast of. I judge it to have been better years ago, but still not a bad place to have a meal.

Address: 2004, Bagan Lallang, 13400 Butterworth, Penang.
Tel: +604-3314782
Business Hours: 11am – 5pm
Closed on Monday

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