Aug 17, 2009
Story By HELEN ONG
Photos By K.E. OOI
A recent food tasting session saw the old-fashioned Tau Sar Pneah winning hands down over the newer flavours.
IT’S another food item that is synonymous with Penang, and something that no visitor to the island will leave without buying either to enjoy as a light snack or to take back as a gift for relatives.
After all, Tau Sar Pneah, otherwise known as Dragon Balls or Tambun Biscuits, is one of the few things you can transport far without compromising on taste or quality.
Stocking up: Shopowner Mrs Ng putting the biscuits into plastic packaging at Tong Hoe Seng in Chowrasta market at Jalan Penang.
The little rounds of light flaky pastry filled with a sweet or savoury paste made of mashed green beans (tau sar) and a rich, underlying aroma of fried shallots are delicious straight out of the oven, though few would be so fortunate as to enjoy them this way.
However, if you freeze them as soon as you get them (I’ve frozen mine before), then defrost and put them in the oven for a brief spell, they will come out almost as crispy and tasty.
When you want a whiff of Penang, what better way than to tuck into one with a nice hot cup of our white coffee?
Hard at work: Sheng Hiang staff putting together the biscuits.
There are several well-known brands available but what was surprising even to me was the number of less well-known ones. Most also manufacture or retail other well-known Penang products like Beh Teh Saw, Hiao Peah, Dodol, nutmeg and the like.
And the flavours! Who would have thought the humble dragon ball would have evolved to include so many different tastes: there were pandan, coffee, orange, dried shrimp and even durian! And this was just the tip of the iceberg. So during one of my sojourns to Kuala Lumpur, I brought seven makes of the biscuits and got a panel together to try them out.
The panel consisted of Sunday Metro senior writer Faridah Begum, contributor Grace Chen, Star Two chief reporter Majorie Chiew and yours truly.
Popular snack: Ghee Hiang staff packing Tau Sar Pneah into boxes.
Tean Ean: Located in a huge mansion at the corner of Gurney Drive, this company was started about 14 years ago. 90, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, 10050 Penang. Tel: 04-229 8130
Soon Seng: Available from Chowrasta Market.
Sheng Hiang: Also established over a decade ago, now with several branches in Penang. They are famous for their “fruit” flavours although apparently their “sambal udang” is the most popular. 19, Kimberley Street, 10100 George Town, Penang. Tel: 04-261 9928
Loong Nam: Another established company which used to be in Penang Road and has now relocated to Hutton Lane. 213, Hutton Lane. 10050 Penang. Tel: 04-226 9663
TB Tambun: Available from Chowrasta Market.
Him Heang: Established in 1948, very popular with locals and visitors alike, as reflected by the number of cars which jam up Burmah Road. 162A, Jln Burma, 10050 Pulau Pinang, Tel: 04-228 6130
Ghee Hiang: One of the best known, it was established in 1856; probably the patriarch and oldest biscuit company in Penang. The old shop in Beach Street is still there, but they have introduced several outlets in town for easy access.
The fruit-flavoured Tau Sar Pneah that comes in corn, pineapple, orange and apple.
How the various Tau Sar Pneah stack up
Faridah: Moist and quite authentic, although a bit sweet for me.
Grace: Nice combination of sweet and savoury flavours. Lovely melt-in-your-mouth feeling.
Majorie: No crispy shallots but otherwise above average.
Helen: Sweet but tasty.
Faridah: Good onion flavour, great taste.
Grace: Strong hint of onions and margarine which make the pastry a winner!
Majorie: Not too dry, just nice.
Helen: Liked the thin layer of pastry but a tad too much margarine.
SHENG HIANG (different flavours)
Pineapple: It’s got bits of pineapple in it. Orange: Nice fragrance but not my cup of tea.
Pineapple: Would have preferred a pineapple tart.
Orange: Love the smell and taste. Goes well with the tau sar.
Apple: Crunchy apple bits make it interesting but taste is hard to trace.
Sweetcorn: Hard to suss out the corn taste.
Pineapple: Reminds me of pineapple tart filling. Not bad.
Apple: Apple bits a wee bit too hard. Reminds me of nutmeg bits.
Sweetcorn: Not too keen on this.
Helen: As a traditionalist, I found I preferred the good, oldfashioned flavour with no enhancements!
Faridah: Dry and no fragrance.
Grace : Like the onion smell.
Majorie: A bit dry, and not so sweet so less than satisfactory.
Helen: A bit bland.
TB TAMBUN BISCUITS
Faridah: Great taste, although margarine flavour a bit overpowering.
Grace: Liked the sweet/savoury sensation and onion bits.
Majorie: Nice aroma of crispy shallots and not too dry.
Helen: A strong taste of margarine.
Faridah: Lots of onions and very fragrant.
Grace: Beautiful nutty taste of beans. Colour of deep-fried onions renders the filling a golden brown colour which makes it very appetising.
Majorie: Nice flaky skin.
Helen: A good traditional flavour with equal measures of sweet and savoury.
Faridah: Abstained as it is not pork-free.
Grace: Very delicately flavoured with fragrant hints of lard.
Majorie: Unmistakeably “tambun”!
Helen: Again, tasty and traditional.
Faridah: A bit bland.
Grace: Will go very well with a cup of coffee!
Majorie: Hint of coffee.
Helen: Strong coffee taste.
Faridah: Surprisingly good, moist and fresh tasting.
Grace: Lovely combination of flavours.
Majorie: The pandan in the skin brings out the flavour.
Helen: Quite “pandany” but pastry is a bit thick.
Generally, the “other” flavours proved less popular. It came as no surprise why the traditional ones have remained firm favourites for all these years.