Kim Tan Garden Cafe

Special thanks to Kim Tan Garden Cafe for extending this food review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

Kim Tan Garden Cafe (盛满园饮食坊) is an al fresco (open-air) hawker center at Auto-City. Formerly called Xuan Garden (轩庄), the place has been given a new lease of life with substantial landscaping and beautification. The ambience is particularly romantic after sunset, especially with lighted Chinese lanterns dotting the treetops.
The place is well-maintained and is reasonably clean despite its outdoor setting. Dining tables, made from solid wood, are arranged in well-ventilated gazebos and lean-to shacks. The latter is decorated with wine pots of various sizes, giving the impression of a classical Chinese tavern (客栈) that is commonly featured in martial art movies.
The drinks counter offers all sorts of drinks that one would expect at a hawker center. But instead of taking shortcuts, the proprietor opts to prepare drinks from scratch. For example, green tea is brewed from actual tea leaves as opposed to powdered tea. Rojak (RM4.00) also comes from the drinks counter. The rojak uses shrimp paste (虾膏) dressing with youtiao (油条), crushed peanuts and several types of fresh fruits.
One of the most popular stalls here is Kim Papa Curry Seafood (咖喱海鲜). Similar to the dining style at Paper Lobster, cooked seafood is spread over a large sheet of banana leaf on the tabletop. The seafood is cooked in savory gravy, resulting in mouthwatering aroma as soon as food reaches the table. Despite being spicy, the gravy tantalizes the palate with its sweet, pleasant flavor.
The basic package (RM60.00) comprises of one brown crab (肉蟹), 6 to 8 pieces of large shrimps, clams (蛤蜊), squid rings, corn on the cob, potatoes and okra (lady's fingers). These ingredients make excellent use of the gravy. The seafood is extremely fresh because it is sourced from the market every morning. In fact, crabs are kept alive until orders are placed.
The basic package is ideal for 2 persons. For larger parties, just add RM30.00 per person so that food portion will be increased proportionately. Each person is given 4 pieces of homemade mantou (馒头). Although gloves are provided, don't hesitate to use your bare hands. After all, the food is finger lickin' good.
If you are not craving for seafood today, check out Ah Hean Bak Kut Teh (阿贤肉骨茶, RM13.90). Served in a claypot, the stew consists of pork delicacies such as pork ribs (猪排骨), pork belly (五花肉), pork intestines (粉肠), pork stomach (猪肚) and pork meatballs (猪肉丸).
The herbal soup is infused with medicinal goodness of 32 different herbs including red dates (红枣), wolfberries (枸杞), American ginseng (洋参), poor man's ginseng (党参), dong quai (当归), Szechuan lovage (川芎), scented Solomon's seal (玉竹) and Chinese liquorice (甘草). As tempting as it is, go easy with the soup because your body may not be able to cope with such strong herbal essences.
Meanwhile, there is a Thai stall which specializes in Lemongrass Fish Head Steamboat (香茅鱼头火锅, RM35.00).
Heated by glowing charcoal inside a metal claypot, the milky soup is loaded with John's snapper (红皂), taro (芋头) and tofu skin (腐皮). I like the rich taste of the soup to the last drop.
Another special dish from the same stall is Pattaya-Style Vegetable Fern Salad (巴提亚巴菇菜, RM15.00). The vegetable is called "pucuk paku" in Malay and is commonly eaten in Southeast Asia. Pucuk paku is stir-fried with onions and garnished with crispy strips of squid. The tangy seasoning is somewhat similar to som tam (ส้มตำ) in Thai cuisine.
Crispy Fried Squid (脆炸苏东, RM15.00) is a scrumptious dish indeed; once you get started, there is no turning back. The crispy batter enhances the squid's freshness but does not attempt to steal the limelight.
Spicy & Creamy Clams (奶辣咖巴, RM15.00) is stir-fried with unique yogurt-like sauce. Flavored with curry leaves and bird's eye chili, this clam dish is worth trying especially if you love to spice things up.
I personally recommend the Fried Bitter Gourd With Salted Egg (咸蛋炒苦瓜, RM15.00). The salted egg coating provides scrumptious crisp, making this dish so appealing to my palate. Bitter gourd is cut into thin slices to prevent its bitterness from ruining the overall taste. In fact, I initially thought that the slices were made from eggplant.
As for desserts, another stall called "I Love Special Pancake" (我爱加料曼煎糕) sells various types of "ban chean kuih" (曼煎糕). The batter for this Nyonya-style crispy pancake is made from flour and eggs. A thin layer of batter is applied to the surface of a hot pan, causing it to solidify into a crispy shell.
The shell is typically filled with crushed peanuts, sweet corn and sugar, and then folded over like a taco. Other popular fillings are banana slices and chocolate sauce (RM3.00).
Kim Tan Garden Cafe has around 18 stalls in total, so these dishes are only the tip of the iceberg. This hawker center is certainly a hidden gem at Auto-City because it is still not well known outside the local neighborhood.
Name: Kim Tan Garden Cafe (盛满园饮食坊)
Address: FK, Jalan Perusahaan, Auto-City, 13600 Juru, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 012-470-0571
Business hours: 6:00pm-12:00am, closed on 1st Monday of the month
Coordinates: 5.33694 N, 100.42638 E
Directions: From the North-South Expressway, take the Bukit Mertajam exit and head west. Turn right at the end of the road, and then take the next left turn to arrive at Auto-City. Kim Tan Garden Cafe is located behind Shop-In D' Park. The closest parking lot to the hawker center can be reached by crossing the bridge behind Pizza Hut. Parking is free of charge.

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