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Cintra Street, George Town, Penang

Cintra Street, George Town

Cintra Street is a narrow one-way street within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located within the city's Chinatown, Cintra Street runs straight between Chulia Street to the north and Kimberley Street to the south.

Interestingly, this street was named after an event, which was totally unrelated to Penang, that occurred in the Portuguese town of Sintra. Although the name was supposedly also connected to the early Eurasian community on Penang Island, Cintra Street soon gained a seedy reputation as a red-light district. Most prostitutes along the street in the 19th. century were of Japanese origin.

Cintra Street sign, George Town, Penang

A bilingual Cintra Street sign, featuring its Tamil name.

In the early 20th. century, camera shops were opened along the street by Japanese traders and businessmen. However, these camera shops actually served as a cover for their real intentions - espionage in British Penang, in the lead up to World War 2.

After the Malayan independence in 1957, Penang's first low-cost housing project, the People's Court, was implemented at Cintra Street. Today, Cintra Street is in the middle of George Town's Chinatown, with several restaurants and coffee shops located along the street. Among the more notable dishes on offer here are Chinese dumplings (bak chang in Hokkien), hum chin peng (a Chinese bread snack) and dim sum.

Etymology

Cintra Street was named after the town of Sintra in Portugal, where the Convention of Sintra between the invading French Grande Armée and the British in 1808. During the height of the Napoleonic Wars, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte tasked the Grande Armée with the invasion of Spain and Portugal. An Anglo-Portuguese army under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley defeated the French invaders in Portugal.

However, according to the ensuing Convention of Sintra, Wellesley's two incompetent superiors not only agreed to deport over 20,000 French Grande Armée soldiers using British Royal Navy vessels, the French were allowed to bring along their Portuguese loot unpunished. The Convention of Sintra was subsequently seen as an embarrassment for the United Kingdom, and after an official inquiry, Wellesley's two superiors were quietly pushed into retirement.

Although Cintra Street was ostensibly named after the Convention of Sintra which had nothing to do with Penang, the name was also connected to the Portuguese Eurasians who had arrived on Penang Island since the late 18th. century.

The Chinese also called the street Sin3 Kay3 Huan3 Kay1 in Hokkien and San Kai Wan Kai in Cantonese, both meaning 'the street crossing Campbell Street'.

As Cintra Street later began gaining a seedy reputation as a red-light district, the street was also known as Phak1 Phau1 Kay1 in Hokkien and Ta Phau Kai in Cantonese, meaning 'the street of the lowest grade prostitutes'. In addition, as most of the prostitutes along Cintra Street were Japanese, it was called Jit Pun Huan Kay (Hokkien) and Yat Pun Chai Kai (Cantonese), referring to 'the street of Japanese brothels'.

Cintra Street, George Town, Penang (2)

This stretch of Cintra Street (between Kampung Malabar and Kimberley Street) was once a red-light district.

History

Cintra Street has been in existence since at least the mid-19th. century.

Up until the early 20th. century, the street was a red-light district. At the time, Japanese geisha houses at the stretch between Kampung Malabar and Campbell Street would take Karayuki-san ('Miss Gone Overseas' in Japanese) from poor families living in the rural parts of Japan. Other brothels along the stretch between Campbell Street and Kimberley Street were stocked with prostitutes of other ethnicities.

Prior to World War 2, ethnic Japanese also established camera shops along Cintra Street. However, these shops were merely a cover for their real intentions; the Japanese were engaged in covert espionage of British Penang. Using cameras, Japanese spies were able to provide intelligence on Penang Island, enabling the Imperial Japanese Army to prepare for the eventual invasion of Penang in 1941.

People's Park, Cintra Street, George Town, Penang

People's Park, Penang's first low-cost housing estate, was built in the 1960s.

In the 1960s, the Penang state government, then under the Alliance ruling coalition (now Barisan Nasional), launched the first low-cost housing project in Penang at Cintra Street. The People's Court, one of the first housing estates on Penang Island, was built by the George Town City Council in 1961.

Today, Cintra Street is considered part of George Town's Chinatown, with Chinese restaurants and coffee shops lining the street.

100 Cintra Street, George Town, Penang

The blue-tinged 100 Cintra Street building now serves as a heritage bazaar.

Notable Landmark

100 Cintra Street

Hotels

  • Cintra Heritage House
  • Campbell House
  • Nam Keng Hotel
  • Inn Residence 18
  • Malabar
Spy wrought iron sculpture, Cintra Street, George Town, Penang

Spy Iron Sculpture, Cintra Street

Street Art

Two wrought iron sculptures have been installed along Cintra Street. One commemorates the history of Cintra Street, while the other celebrates the Chinese cuisine along Cintra Street.

  • Spy sculpture
    • Description : In the early 20th. century, the slightly risque reputation of this area was further enhanced by the presence of Japanese camera shops which were suspected of covert spying activities.
  • Same Taste, Same Look wrought iron sculpture, Cintra Street, George Town, Penang

    Same Taste, Same Look Iron Sculpture, Cintra Street

    Same Look, Same Taste sculpture
    • Description : Here you'll find traditional Cantonese restaurant serving Dim Sum.

Food

Cintra Street Food Corner, George Town, Penang

Cintra Street Food Corner makes some of the best Chinese dumplings on Penang Island.

Bak chang Chinese dumpling

Bak chang, a type of Chinese meat dumpling

Perhaps the only bak chang (Chinese meat dumplings) stall on Penang Island is located here. The Cintra Street Food Corner, which makes among the best Chinese dumplings on Penang Island, started off as a cart-stall in the years before World War 2. One can sample various types of dumplings here, including the Penang Peranakan variant which contains a mixture of coriander-accented minced pork and sugar-cured wintermelon bits.

Cintra Street Hum Chin Peng stall, George Town, Penang

Cintra Street hum chin peng stall

Cintra Street hum chin peng

A piece of salted hum chin peng

Other than that, one of the most popular hum chin peng (Chinese bread snack) stalls on Penang Island is located at Cintra Street. The modest roadside hawker stall, which only opens between 1800 hours and 2100 hours daily, sells two types of hum chin peng - salted and red bean filling.

There are also several Chinese restaurants and coffee shops along Cintra Street. Some of these open in the mornings, serving the popular Cantonese dim sum. Others serve more local cuisine, such as Hokkien mee.

  • Tai Tong Restaurant
  • Foo Heong Restaurant
  • Wen Chang Chicken Rice Shop
  • Sin Guat Keong Coffee Shop
  • Hsiang Yang Coffee Shop

Political Representation

Penang State Government

Northern stretch between Chulia Street and Campbell Street

N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)

Southern stretch between Campbell Street and Kimberley Street

N.28 Komtar State Assemblyman : Teh Lai Heng (Democratic Action Party)

Malaysian Federal Parliament

P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)

References

  1. Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books.
  2. http://www.penang-traveltips.com/cintra-street.htm
  3. http://www.penang-online.com/pages/penang-hawker-food/food-at-cintra-street.php
  4. http://www.chowhound.com/post/penangs-bak-chang-rice-dumpling-cintra-st-food-corner-991668

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