PETALING JAYA, Nov 16 — In any list of the best cities for street food, particularly in Asia, Penang usually features, and if it doesn’t, that’s usually a good sign to disregard anything else the list might have to say.
For those of us in the Klang Valley, some popular favourites like char kway teow and Hokkien mee (known as prawn mee here) are widespread, so much so that claiming that one can find pretty good Penang food here feels less blasphemous than ever before.
It’s no wonder then that I can walk into JJ Budget Restaurant, a fairly nondescript-looking coffee shop in Petaling Jaya, and find char kway teow, prawn mee and even mee jawa goreng, a rare gem here that’s commonplace in Penang.
They’re served by the largest stall in the front, where two wok burners stand tall with their characteristic hoods.
Instead of a sweet, thick stock, the Mee Jawa Goreng Kampung (RM7) comes teeming with wok hei.
The tomato stock is beautifully caramelised, coaxing out an almost charred kind of sweetness, with each mouthful bringing tangy and savoury notes with a lick of fire to strike a wonderful chord in your brain.
Chunks of potatoes and beancurd round out the mostly soft textural experience, with slices of raw onion and a squeeze of calamansi lime significantly brightening up proceedings.
Feeling snacky on my second visit, I decided to get some Yam Cake (RM4), which is another iconic Penang food that’s since become popular here.
Soft and dense, it came with a packet of brown sweet sauce and a salty, spicy and downright addictive sambal hae bee (dried shrimps).
The Char Kway Teow (RM10 for kar liu/additional toppings) is reminiscent of some plates I’ve had in Penang, sporting a much lighter complexion than its Kuala Lumpur counterpart, likely due to the absence or lighter use of dark soy sauce.
But it’s light in colour only and isn’t lacking in the flavour department, with each strand of kway teow coated in just the right amount of oil and a seriously smoky char.
When asked if you want chilli with yours, it’s best to say yes, as the plate I had without chilli on another visit was a little bland.
Cockles are a notable omission here, which is a bummer for some, but I think it hardly misses it.
I find the desire, sometimes need, to gorge on a bloody pile of fresh cockles with char kway teow to be borderline fetishistic: the lust for bursts of red juice (it’s just haemoglobin) is too often exploited to mask mediocre char kway teow, which is far from this.
Rounding out the trio of Penang noodle dishes is Prawn Mee (RM7), with a faded orange broth that tastes like every last ounce of sweetness has been squeezed out of the prawns.
Plenty of savouriness is also afforded courtesy of the crustacean, and while it’s light on the spice, adding the chilli boh on the side gives it a nice kick.
Pork slices, prawns, kangkung and of course, yellow noodles round out the dish in what was a surprising contender for my favourite dish from the stall.
JJ Budget Restaurant
29, Jalan SS25/16, Taman Mayang, Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Open daily, 8am-3pm
Tel: 03-7886 3617
* Follow us on Instagram @eatdrinkmm for more food gems