Behold, the Penang ‘char koay kak’

The char koay kak can be eaten as a snack too but it is usually eaten as breakfast or supper. — Picture by K.E. Ooi
The char koay kak can be eaten as a snack too but it is usually eaten as breakfast or supper. — Picture by K.E. Ooi

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GEORGE TOWN, Aug 31 — The Penang char koay kak is something that you can only find in Penang even though some hawkers in other states try to cook it.

But like many other Penang hawker food, it is not easy to replicate.

It is often mistaken as chai tau koay (radish cakes) but the char koay kak here is mostly made from rice cakes, not radish cakes, and prepared differently from the Teochew-style snack.

The char koay kak can be eaten as a snack too but it is usually eaten as breakfast or supper.

Its preparation is almost like Penang’s iconic char koay teow and in fact, it can be said to be the lesser known “cousin” of the popular dish.

Instead of using flat rice noodles, the char koay kak uses koay kak which literally means squares of rice cake.

Though the origin of the dish is not clear, there are traces of Hokkien and Teochew influences in it due to the ingredients used so it could be the result of a marriage of different ethnic Chinese cultures.

The preparation of the char koay kak seems simple enough as steamed rice cakes, cut into small bite-sized squares, are first fried with lard and a mixture of dark and light soy sauces either in a wok or on a flat frying pan.

Then, in comes the ingredients that gives it additional layers of flavours and textures to make it distinctly different from the char koay teow or the chai tau koay it is often mistaken for.

Bits of pickled vegetables are a must in any plate of char koay kak as these add an interesting crunchy texture to an otherwise soft dish.

Next are the bean sprouts that give it a bite of fresh sweetness to balance out the saltiness of the combined sauces and pickled vegetables.

Finally, in goes the egg to add more texture and another layer of flavour, giving it an altogether different aroma.

Of course, there are variations as different hawkers add different ingredients to set their offering apart from others.

Originally, the char koay kak also had Chinese chives (koo chai) for some greens and bits of crunchy fragrant bak eu phok (deep fried lard) in it but in recent times, these are quite rare.

Some hawkers still add Chinese chives but the crunchy deep fried lard has become few and far in between, perhaps due to more health conscious consumers who ask not to have this added in.

There are plenty of hawker stalls selling char koay kak all over Penang, especially early in the morning for breakfast, in the afternoon for tea or late in the evening for supper.

Here are some of the stalls to try out:

1. Lorong Macalister

GPS: 5.417095,100.328967

Time: 8am--noon

2. Lebuh Kimberley

GPS: 5.416545,100.332427

Time: 7.30am--11am

3. Jalan Burmah

GPS: 5.423298,100.321795

Time: 7pm--11pm

4. Batu Lanchang Market Hawker Centre

GPS: 5.391062,100.304891

Time: Noon--5pm

5. Super Tanker Food Centre, Lengkok Nipah

GPS: 5.34301,100.295193

Time: 6pm--11pm

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