A recent international online report ranks Malaysian food a few whiskers lower than Singapore’s and of course it set off a flurry of angry and resentful comments from across the Causeway. There was even one that said the majority Malaysian only liked their own food, and it did not come across as flattering. But, hey, my dear northern friends, fret not. For starters, these kind of comparison and listicle pieces are mere click baits and no one can authoritatively say which country’s food is better. If you like your own food, that’s national culinary pride. Like how many Thais and the French often look for their own food, even when they travel. And when Singaporeans find their way into Malaysia, it’s overwhelmingly for food, then maybe some mountain, sun, sea and sand or golf and local shopping. We are proud of your food and that’s why you see so many Malaysian branded hawker food stalls and café all over our little red dot, like the many Penang Laksa, Ipoh Hor Fun or taugay Chicken, KL Hokkien Mee and the very popular Penang Cha Kway Teow (CKT) which I will muse about today.
To me, a great Penang CKT is so humble because it comes with such honesty and dignity. It’s just kway teow, eggs, bean sprouts, chives, shrimps, cockles, Chinese sausages, flavoured with a couple types of soy sauces, stock and some pebbles of rock sugar. Unlike the Singapore version, they use no sweet soy sauce. The beauty is in the art of the wok. You will notice the masters only fry one or two portions at a time because the heat distribution has to be perfect, hence, wok tossing them in bulk is a cheat-sheet method not appreciated by CKT fans. Three stalls here hit the spot for me..
1/ Penang Fried Kway Teow. 01-94, Albert Centre Hawker Centre, 270 Queen Street, 10.30am-8pm, closed on ad hoc basis (closed on 5th Apr)
They are mercurial and fast and does it over high heat. The assistant even cracks the egg over the noodles at the right moment, tag team style. The soy-stock combination flavour is gentle and spot on and the thinner kway teow used (like all the rest here) is like how it is in Penang. The wok-hei or breathe of the wok is evident in the dish.
2/ Apollo Penang Fried Kway Teow, 01-261 Yishun Street 22, Block 293, 8.30am-6pm, closed Mondays.
It’s out in the boondocks unless you live nearby the industrial estate. They offer only one dish and it says “master at work” when the hawker is in action. He fries it one plate at a time (correctly so), wears a mask and sleeve guard and pays a lot of attention to the wok, hence the little 10-15 minute wait. The soy sauce is a tad more intense than the above mentioned stall and all the wok-flavour is boldly intact.
3/ Penang Fried Kway Teow, 01-08, 17 Upper Boon Keng Road Hawker Centre. 11am-7pm. closed Monday and Tuesday
This septuagenarian (in her mid 70s) has been at it for over 3 decades. She is fastidious, has a little scratchy attitude but be patient, and she’ll release one well fried Penang Cha Kway Teow on you. She does it one plate at a time and is very diligent in her ways. She carefully spreads the noodles in the wok so each strand gets enough wok heat. Her soy/stock sauce is very comforting and it has “Penang” written all over it.