Everytime we go to Penang we cover Georgetown on foot, north to south and east to west, often walking the same stretch of road five or six times in a single day. Yet - amazingly - we always come away with new finds.
This find isn't our own; a friend who's known Penang much longer than we have can take credit for the perfect kopi with toast and kaya we enjoyed the other morning at Toh Soon Cafe.
To label Toh Soon a 'cafe' may be stretching it a bit. The place is more of a family-owned assembly line occupying a galley kitchen that opens onto an alley crowded with tables.
At 8am on Saturday we grabbed the last two available seats, placed our order and, following the example set by the cafe's regulars, sat back to await delivery.
Malaysian kopi has its detractors, but when it's made well (and it's not always) we quite like it. Like Vietnamese coffee - about which most every tourist seems to rave - it's adulterated. Most beans that go into a classic cup of Malaysian kopi are roasted with sugar, which caramelizes and even burns during the process, resulting in an exceedingly dark and slightly bitter brew that - like Vietnamese cafe (in Vietnam beans are also often roasted with sugar, among other ingredients) - marries perfectly with sweetened condensed milk.
Toh Soon's kopi is not the very best in town, we think. But it's right up there.
Another element in Toh Soon's favor:before it sandwiches salted butter and a thin smear of excellent kaya (coconut and egg jam), the cafe's bread is painstakingly grilled over charcoal. It's quite an ingenious contraption they've got going in that galley kitchen, actually - an old oil drum with a charcoal fire in the center. On top, water boils for kopi. Beneath, flames brown the bread.
Sure, a toaster would be more convenient. But the result wouldn't be as delicious, and that's why Toh Soon is heaving. Untill 9am anyway, when traffic police take to the streets to enforce Georgetown's ban on curbside parking, and you're practically guaranteed a seat.
Toh Soon Cafe, alley off Lebuh Campbell just shy of Jalan Penang (across the street from from Lean Wah Silk Merchant), Georgetown, Penang. Mornings, every other Tuesday closed.