GEORGE TOWN, April 27 — Char koay teow, when translated, simply means fried flat rice noodles but this dish is more than what its name meant.
A plate of fried flat rice noodles may sound like a simple dish but it is not easy to find a really good plate that has all the essential ingredients and just the perfect sauces to bring out its flavours.
The Penang char koay teow is long revered by many, travellers and locals alike, and though this hawker dish is available throughout any of the states in Malaysia, none seemed able to live up to the Penang version.
Loved by many and one of the must-eat Penang hawker fares when visiting this northern state in Malaysia, the Penang char koay teow is a combination of seafood, pork, vegetables and sauces that perfectly add flavours to the otherwise plain, and rather tasteless, flat rice noodles.
Perhaps it’s the absorbency of the rice noodles, but it is the perfect starchy base to the various flavours of its ingredients.
A plate of char koay teow can be fried up within minutes but the secret to a really good plate of fried flat noodles is mostly in the sauces and the wok.
The wok is as important, if not more important, as the ingredients and sauces because any hawker worth his salt knows only a seasoned wok that has fried countless plates of char koay teow for many years will yield fried noodles that are fragrant, flavourful and has its own unique taste.
The Penang char koay teow must have the essential flat rice noodles which are fried with eggs, cockles, shrimps, Chinese sausage, Chinese chives and beansprouts.
A taste of the char koay teow would bring a burst of flavours unlike any other fried noodles as it has the taste of the sea from the cockles and shrimps which are surprisingly complemented by the sweet and salty thinly sliced Chinese sausages.
The beansprouts add a burst of sweet juiciness to the dish which, when combined with the chives’ flavourful aroma, provide some fresh green taste to the dish.
The sauces used to fry the noodles are a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce and the most important condiment; chili paste.
Some stalls might even throw in crunchy deep fried lard for the extra oomph and use lard to fry the noodles instead of regular vegetable cooking oil.
Penang is also famous for the halal-version of char koay teow which does not have the Chinese sausages but is equally tasty and has a whole host of different flavours from its mix of sauces, beef stock and even beef slices.
This dish is so popular that a Penang char koay teow stall can be found at almost all hawker centres, many coffee shops, road side stalls and in pasar malam (night markets).
Here are only 10 stalls all over the state to try out but if you are in Penang, you can absolutely try out any of the stalls you stumble onto.
1. Jalan Ipoh, Jelutong market
Time: 7.30am - noon
2. Siam Road
3. Ah Leng char koay teow, Khoon Hiang coffeeshop, Jalan Datuk Keramat
Time: 9am - 3pm
4. Sisters char koay teow, Lam Heng coffeeshop, Macalister Road
Time: 9am - 4pm
5. Sin Wah Coffee Shop, Burmah Road
Time: 11am – 4pm
6. Sin Guat Keong coffee shop, Kimberley Street
Time: 6pm – 11pm
7. Ah Leng char koay teow, Lorong Zoo 6, Air Itam
Time: 6pm – 9pm
8. Jalan Johor (Padang Brown)
Time: 6pm – 10.30pm
9. Sany char koay teow, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah (halal)
Time: 6pm – 2am
10. Adam char koay teow, Jalan Permatang Pauh (halal)
Time: 6pm - 3am