I often yearned for a good old sandwich during our early years in Penang. You know, the ones with two thick slices of bread that have substance. Bread that feels like you are actually eating something worthwhile, that will hold together most of its filling and above all has a flavour that is unmistakably bread.
I gave up the search. Nothing came close. What was called bread was a thin, white soggy sponge loaded with sugar and goodness knows what else, wrapped in a plastic bag and piled onto supermarket or seven/eleven shelves. So months would go by without and I would curb my sandwich desire until we were back in Melbourne. But it wasn’t a big deal as there were so many other things to eat to take my mind somewhere else. Also, regardless of the soggy bread, one of my favourite sights and sounds then and still now, is the old bread cart going around the streets of Georgetown.
Since 2008 when Penang gained it’s Unesco Heritage status the city has been changing rapidly. Whilst some might lament Penang’s need for development, and certainly in many aspects I am one of those, I am not apposed to Penangs’ food becoming a little more sophisticated.
Artisan bakeries have sprung up around the state and great breads, often sourdough, are suddenly available.
Several years ago we found some good bread at Gusto Cafe. This is a popular eating place at Hillside in Tanjung Bunga. Jason, the owner and his wife were once missionaries and teachers and their caring attitude towards people is quite evident. They set up a system whereby, if you feel inclined, you can pay a little extra for your meal and those few ringitt will go towards buying a free meal for a homeless person. They also have a collection box for a local stray dog shelter, helping to buy food and medicine for those animals rescued from the street.
Not only do Jason and his staff make you feel incredibly welcome they also cook up some tasty food. The menu is extensive providing mostly western options to accommodate the many expats living in the area.
There is no shortage of sandwiches now. Gusto make some delicious combinations and there are also Paninis, burgers and salads. I would also recommend the lassis, especially the chocolate, coffee and raspberry ones. You certainly won’t be short of choices here and if you struggle with cigarette smoke as we do, just go down a couple of steps to the back of the cafe and you will find a small smoke free garden area.
A family member of Jason was supplying Gusto with fresh bread and we often went home with several loaves at a time just to make sure we wouldn’t run out.
These days the same bread is available at The Baking Garage just a few streets from Gusto Cafe.
There is a good range of bread, much of it sourdough and the Croissants are to die for, but I would suggest phoning them with your order because, not surprisingly, they sell out very fast.
Their phone number is +60124075088. Hours are 7am-11am & 5pm-9pm every day except Friday when they are closed. There does seem to be more bread available during the afternoon/evening hours.
Not long after discovering that Penang suddenly had some real bread we happened to find Yin and her Sourdough Bakery only a stones throw from where we stay. This is what tends to happen when living in two countries. We are kept on our toes because so much changes in the months we are away and there’s always more to discover when we return.
Finding YIns Sourdough Bakery was like finding the holy grail. Here was a baker who believed as I do in creating a loaf from a pure culture rather than including any bakers yeast or additives.
This is not always easy. It takes time, skill and a whole heap of patience to produce enough to sell.
There are so many variables in sourdough baking and I admire Yin for believing in what she is doing and sticking with it.
As well as a huge variety of loaves the bakery also makes delicious scones, buns, cakes, muffins and granola bars (the Patient Partner is addicted to these) Yin’s homemade kefir is a great addition to smoothies or as topping for your porridge or muesli. A selection of homemade jams made by Farina & Mathijs, the head chef at Suffolk House are simply superb on Yin’s sourdough. Their Pineapple, Cinnamon and Spice conserve on toast is simply luscious. I have never had a jam before that has a whole cinnamon stick sitting in the jar. The latest addition to their range is a mouthwatering combination of Orange, Mango & Pickled Lime. This is a sugar free marmalade that, happily for me, boasts a fructose content of just 5%.
The cafe in the bakery serves up some delicious sandwiches and focaccias, all sourdough of course, very yummy french toast with a topping of banana, nuts, and, if you like, a drizzle of honey or jam. There are breakfast dishes with eggs and sausage if you prefer something a little heavier, and if it happens to be in season, and you love Cempedak as much as the P.P. and I, then this awesome fruit paired with cheese in a sandwich is a must have. Coffee, chocolate and a selection of teas are available, and great lassis made with lots of fresh fruit and kefir.
But what really stands out at Yins Bakery is the incredible customer service.
Here every customer is special. No sooner have you walked through the door than a glass of cool filtered water lands in your hand and this will be re-filled throughout your stay.
Yin is ably helped by her father in law and a staff who, judging by the great smiles they give to customers, obviously enjoy their work.
Despite the many hours of work running a bakery, a cafe and three small children Yin’s bubbly personality creates an environment that has her customers returning many times. She appears to have time for everyone and nothing is too much trouble. We feel that the Bakery is a lovely oasis in an otherwise hot and crazy environment.
And, if that’s not enough Yin and her husband Seng opened another venue this year in the historical Yeap Chor Ee building in China St, Georgetown. An awesome Italian wood fired oven has taken pride of place in this latest cafe and they are now serving the best sourdough pizzas in Asia.
Whilst Yin spends most of her time at the bakery, husband Seng and staff take care of the Pizza restaurant, and whilst we have never been big pizza eaters, infact in Australia we never eat them, we are really enjoying these. So far our favourite is topped with zucchini & eggplant, and we really love the crunchy crust around the rim.
We have yet to try the sweet pizza which is topped with pears and OMG there’s a Durian pizza waiting for us!!