For every plate of char kway teow that is served up in Malaysia, there are only a few that gets the distinct nod of approval. And apparently there are more heads nodding in Penang than anywhere else in the country. Good char kway teow is all about the 'ummph' factor. The big fire to lend that great 'wok hei' flavour, the right amount of ingredients that goes into the wok at any one time just so not to overwhelm the heat ... it's beautiful art and science rolled onto a plate.
Whilst Sisters on McAlister Road serves up a decent plate of noodles; with those big crunchy prawns and sprinkling of crab meat just before the dish is served, I have always been left with a twinge of disappointment of the lack of ‘ummph’ I felt. On this trip to Penang (for VO’s wedding ….or should I now say Mrs VT) it was straight pass McAlister Road and on to Heang Huat on Lorong Selamat instead. Look for the lady in the wacky sunglasses and you know you’re at another of Penang’s char kway teow institutions.
The noodles were good but I was still not feeling the ‘ummph’ . I was not throwing up my hands in the air and declaring it one of the best plates of char kway teows I’ve ever had. Even worse I was beginning to think that Penang food was standing on an extremely rickety pedestal. All the elements of a good plate of char kway teow were there – good wok hei, good balance of the ingredients, some very nice big crunchy prawns but if I were to be pedantic (which I am so totally not … ) there was not enough chives and it was so oily that at least a healthy half a teaspoon of oil was left on the plate after I had finished. I walked out of Heng Huat feeling slightly dejected. At this rate there was still no challenger to my all time favourite from Seng Lee in Damansara Heights.
A flurry of wedding festivities over, we were headed back to KL but not before one last plate kway teow. This time we let a local take charge. First impressions of Khoon Hiang were pretty bad. Tucked away in a corner of a not particularly busy area (but let’s remember it was in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday), the coffee shop was dead quiet save a few old men gathered around a formica topped table sipping cups of iced tea and a few strays flopped about in the shade. And it was hot, not helped much by the corrugated tin roofs. Grumpy and eager to be on my way home (it had been a terribly long weekend with too much food and booze and not enough sleep) I wasn’t even cheered up with arrival of the first plate of noodles. But as the chorus of ‘emmms’ and ‘not bad, not bad’ (high compliments coming from a bunch of discerning Malaysian eaters) compelled me to dig in. It was good. Good flavours without the feeling of an oil slick in my mouth (which was perhaps my biggest objection to the CKT from Lorong Selamat).
If I thought the first plate was good, the second was better. For a few ringgit more they add extra prawns (those big crunchy babies that are so darn delicious) and mantis prawns (which look suspiciously like smaller version of a witchetty grub). If you want the full whack, spend an extra 50 cents and your run of the mill chicken’s egg will be upgraded to a duck egg.
Belly full and burping wok hei garlic I think I may have just eaten some very good CKT. Is it my personal favourite? Maybe not … call me a KL girl at heart. I like my noodles with a touch of thick dark soy sauce KL style. Penang CKT may just be too fine a dish for me ….
Kafe Heng Huat, 108 Lorong Selamat,Penang
Ah Leng Char Koay Teow, Kafe Khoon Hiang, Jalan Dato Keramat, Penang
Sister’s Char Koay Teow, Lam Heng Cafe, Jalan Macalister, Penang
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