Monday, August 22, 2011

Rediscovering Penang Part 1: Char Kuey Teow, Oyster Pancakes & Lor Bak on Lorong Selamat

My Dad is quintessentially Penang in his life long love for street food. Whisper "Char Kuey Toew" or "Hokkien Mee" and he is at the ready 24-7. Much to my Mum's despair in trying to manage his starch intake. Well, it's in his genetic make-up through-and-through to love these sinful things, and it's exactly where I get my hankering for them from too.

After over 10 years of not visiting Penang, I embarked on a little exploration into my Dad's birthplace with boy on tow. I was excited over the scandalous amounts of fabulous food on every corner, saddened it was run down in places and frankly quite filthy, but surprised and happy that there were more efforts to conserve its colourful history.

Doing food research for this trip was harder than usual. First of all there are endless options for any one single dish, how does one sift through to find the best? Secondly, even reputable forms of travel guides say "Char Kuey Teow on Lorong Selamat" or "Assam Laksa on Jalan Air Itam" without much more detail to what the stall looks like or even what names to look out for. So common sense, lots of guess work and growling tums are always the best guides in the end.

Day One: we decide to stroll around our hotel on Jalan Hutton to orientate ourselves. Receiving UNESCO Heritage status in 2008, Georgetown's core zone buzzed - an old town steeped in a rich history of being a key Asian entrepot. I adored the old Straits shophouses and facades, some preserved magnificently and others far more weathered.

Our navigating lead us quickly to Lorong Selamat, where we find a Kedai Kopi dan Ais Kacang to escape the scorching heat and have these treats:

Lor Bak: a sausage made out of minced meat (usually pork) and wrapped in soy bean skin and often served with a mixture of things. In this case taufu, cucumbers, chinese sausages, tea eggs and prawn fritters. It goes so well with the chilli and egg sauce that always partners it.

Oh Chien: Oh hello. Omelettes have a magical way of encasing any ingredient in its folds to showcase it's true beauty. These oysters were so plump and juicy amid the omelette's bounce. A stellar example of this Malaysian Chinese classic.

And the dish every Malaysian goes bonkers over: Char Kuey Teow. Malaysians can talk incessantly about what exactly makes it so unforgettable and go to great lengths in search of the perfect "CKT". It's cult status is quite amazing, it's really flat rice noodles charred in a wok with garlic, pork lard, prawns, cockles, soya sauce (light and dark), bean sprouts, garlic chives and egg. Sometimes chilli for a kick, and lap cheong (chinese sausage) if you're that way inclined. Fanatics say it's the wok hei (the charred quality imparted from the wok) that is behind it's X factor. Some say it's simply the combination of prawns, cockles and pork lard. 

Whatever the reason, I thought my dainty serving was a perfect welcome back to Penang. We huddled in the little booth of the busy coffeeshop, delighting in our dishes, watching punters come in and out and the stall owners filling order after order. So much in this city has changed but its fabulous foodscape has still stayed the same. 

In Part 2: Buddhas and Assam Laksa. Food is a religion!

P.S. I was told that THE CKT stall on Lorong Selamat is manned by the fiercest Chinese auntie wearing goggles and a beret. She'll bellow at you and by Malaysian standards her prices are high (one small serving sets you back RM 8) but it's unmissable. What a wally for missing it!

Kedai Kopi dan Ais Kacang (we would have had the glorious ABC too if we had space!)
Lorong Selamat
10400 Georgetown,
Penang, Malaysia

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Sean said...

here's hoping that whatever else will happen to penang, its legacy of fantastic food will always endure! i studied here for three years, and the memories of nasi kandar, assam laksa and char kuey teow are indelible :D
p.s. that looks like one beeeeautiful oh chien! not too greasy, but loaded with oysters! =)

Baby Sumo said...

So which CKT did you go for? The uncle with goggles?

Hungry Female said...

Sean - you were in Penang for 3 years?! Argh if I had known you would have been one of my Penang food consultants! That oh chien was fab. Definitely not greasy and full of those pearls of the orient:)

Yen - you know what, I'm actually now confused at which CKT I had! Definitely not the aunty with the googles but maybe the uncle was wearing them?! Geez, the CKT Penang craze has made me delirious!

Mr Noodles said...

Penang is so on my foodie locations to visit. One day, one day...

Cinnamon and Truffle said...

I want to cry looking at the pic of the oyster omelette! :( I didn't manage to get to the hawker centre to get some on this trip.

On the other hand, I had some killer Penang kway teow. So I shouldn't really complain, I guess...

Hungry Female said...

Mr Noodles - you would be in your element in Penang! This really is an Asian food mecca. Lots to see and do in the town as well, so if you need any tips...!

C&T - It's always impossible to fit in all your favourite things on those trips back eh? I bet even if one ate 7 meals a day for 2 weeks it wouldn't work! Sending oyster omelette thoughts to you!

Kay said...

you should try the char koay teow at the penang road..the shop beside the famous pg road chendol. the laksa is also very good...for me..

elaine said...

Shu, You should hop over to your dad's & my hometown, Bukit Mertajam & sample the famous Duck egg CKT! The last time I was there I had to wait 1 & half hours to get my dish but it was worth the wait!

Hungry Female said...

Ah I've heard about the Duck Egg CKT, definitely on the To Do list for next time!