A Hainanese chicken rice stall with a rich legacy

A family business...from left: Lim Jit Tan, his wife Chow Yoke Chun and sons Lim Fang Jeong and Lim Fang Kheng. — Pictures by K.E.Ooi
A family business...from left: Lim Jit Tan, his wife Chow Yoke Chun and sons Lim Fang Jeong and Lim Fang Kheng. — Pictures by K.E.Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Feb 25 — When a young Lim Heng Kai first arrived in Penang back in the 1940s, he went to work at the grand E&O Hotel in George Town together with his brother and relatives.

In fact, most of the Lim family worked in the hotel, holding a variety of positions from bell boy to general workers.

“You can say all of the Lim family worked there when they arrived here... it became like a family business to work for the Sarkies brothers,” said Heng Kai’s son, Jit Tan.

(The Sarkies, born in Iran, founded a chain of luxury hotels in South-east Asia including Penang’s E&O and Singapore’s Raffles Hotel.)

The roast chicken and lor bak are prepared fresh daily by the Lims.
The roast chicken and lor bak are prepared fresh daily by the Lims.

Jit Tan said his father decided to venture out on his own by opening a chicken rice stall at the Eng Loh coffee shop along Church Street in 1967.

His father named the stall Wen Chang which is a province in China known for its poultry farms and high quality poultry.

“My mother knew how to cook Hainanese chicken rice as we are Hainanese so we started out using her recipe,” he said.

He said the original Hainanese chicken rice in China only used poached chicken but here, his father wanted to sell roast chicken too.

Lim Jit Tan preparing poached chicken in the kitchen at Wen Chang.
Lim Jit Tan preparing poached chicken in the kitchen at Wen Chang.

“So we started roasting our own chicken and sold it alongside the poached chicken with our rice cooked in chicken stock,” he said.

Jit Tan started helping his father at the stall right from the beginning, when he was only 16 years old.

“I had to help out after school hours at that time and even after I left school, I worked at the stall so I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” he said.

Sometime in 1972, Jit Tan said they opened another stall at Campbell Street but they were there for only three years before moving to another coffee shop on the next street.

The Wen Chang chicken rice shop, which is always packed during lunch, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
The Wen Chang chicken rice shop, which is always packed during lunch, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

By then they had closed the stall at Church Street and concentrated on the one in Kampung Malabar along Cintra Street.

“It was also during that time that we introduced lor bak that my sister had learnt to make from the economy rice stall she was working at,” he said.

Jit Tan, 66, said they finally bought their own shophouse further down the road along Cintra Street in 2003 and shifted there to open their own coffee shop.

The third generation, Lim Fang Kheng, 30, helping out at the stall.
The third generation, Lim Fang Kheng, 30, helping out at the stall.

Today, the chicken rice shop continues to be a popular place at lunch as they serve up both poached and roast chicken along with lor bak.

Jit Tan’s sons, Fang Jeong and Fang Kheng, are now helping at the coffee shop while his wife, Chow Yoke Chun, took over preparing the lor bak.

Wen Chang
63, Cintra Street,
George Town, Penang
Time: 11am-7pm daily

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