Asian Squat Penang Teochew Porridge Tradition Lives On
For more than 50 years, this Asian Squat Penang Teochew Porridge Tradition is kept alive at Magazine Road opposite 1st Avenue Mall has fed generations of workers living around the city center.
Where is this restaurant?
Sixty-year-old Kedai Kopi Bee Hong is one of Penang’s last bastion of Coffee Shops.
It stands ramshackle but charming. The entire kopitiam is opened without any wall or doors.
As it is the same level as the road when one could ride a motorcycle in when the table and chairs stacked aside.
Kedai Kopi Bee Hong is located on Magazine Road, opposite 1st Avenue Mall.
Why sit when you can squat?
I know this sound unusual. When I take my friends around George Town, this is one of the traditional places I love to bring them.
One of the ways to enjoy a bowl of simple wholesome traditional Teochew porridge is to eat with the locals.
The “chill” atmosphere at this older generation Teochew porridge stall attracts a strong lunch crowd of old folks who crave for a treat.
What is Teochew Porridge?
A living heritage, the Teochew style porridge stall has fed generations of workers and families living around the city center for more than half a century.
The porridge is still cooked in a tiny makeshift kitchen behind the stall. There is a great variety of cheap eats which is popular with the Penang working class.
The simple food is cooked in huge cauldrons and is plentiful.
All the dishes are served out in the open and uncovered. The dishes are unpretentious and simple. Just basic food. There is no need for grading for stars.
The dishes are a little on the salty side. When you order, the food is served in small plates with a piping bowl of porridge or rice.
The main difference between Taiwan Porridge and Teochew Porridge is that the dishes are cooked to order for the former.
How to seat yourself by squatting on the bench to eat?
Up close you will see the sea of motorcycles or “iron horses” parked by the patrons outside the Bee Hong Kopitiam and pedestrians weaving their way through the chaos.
Patrons are often seen seated in the “Asian Squat” while slurping down bowls of hot porridge with small plates of “salty” dishes.
What is the Asian Squat?
One of the most peculiar sitting positions is on a low, small stool (sometimes double stools, one placed on top of another) perched on top of a long bench.
You sit on the stool and draw your legs in until you appear to be squatting.
The position looks a lot like what the western world calls the “Asian Squat”.
Most long-legged Caucasians are not able to achieve this squat. They just tumble over!
Laborers and trishaw riders of yesteryear seem to prefer this position when they eat.
The man standing up on the bench had just climbed up and is hiking up and adjusting his trousers to squat on the little stool placed on the bench.
He is ordering his food as he stands and points to what he wants to eat.
The dishes he ordered is passed over the trays of food sold and he gets to chow down whilst squatting on the small stool.
There are two stalls selling the traditional Teochew Porridge here.
Why sit when you can squat?
What if you can’t do the Asian Squat?
Don’t worry if you’re Caucasian and have problem squatting like me.
You could order the dishes and sit at the tables nearby to eat. Same food, different style. Just another way of eating.
I seriously don’t think I could ever balance myself squatting to eat, so I opted to dine at the tables and chairs for those who prefer the modern way.
How to train for the Asian Squat?
The physiology of the deep squat is unique to Asians.
Most Asians learn to squat from a young age. They learn to balance themselves when they use squat toilets.
The complexity of the Asian Squat is that you got bending at the hips, knees, and ankle. There’s a lot going on as you learn to balance yourself so that you don’t tip over.
The key element seems to be ankle flexibility.
Hence children will have no problem squatting. Most adults lose this flexibility when they stop trying.
Does your body type influence your ability to do the Asian Squat?
Body shape also seems to play an important role. Short limbs, big heads, and long torsos make it easier to balance.
Those with long legs have the worst squat as it is hard to balance.
What I love to order
Whenever I’m back in George Town and the vicinity I would drop by for a light lunch. The second stall has big cauldrons of hot boiling soups.
- Radish Soup with Dried Cuttle Fish
- Bak Kut Teh Soup
- Black Bean Soup
- Chinese Watercress Soup with Pork Ribs
- Peanut & Chicken Feet Soup
- Dehydrated Vegetable Soup (Choy Kon Tong)
- Black Vinegar Pig’s Trotter (Tkee Ka Chor)
I love to order a big bowl of hot Radish Soup with Dried Cuttle Fish. I will take the soup with 2 side dishes, a Preserved Radish Omelet (Chai Poh Nooi) and Chinese Shredded Cabbage Stir-Fry.
One of the things I love about Penang is the few traditional places left intact. Most of my friends enjoy my recommendations and are surprised that the food is tasty and nutritious.
I make it a point to visit whenever I can. Old places like these are fast disappearing and are part of the rich living heritage that makes George Town so unique.
Kedai Kopi Bee Hong
161, 111, Jalan Magazine, George Town, Penang
Business Hours: 10.30 am to 5 pm from Thursday to Sunday.