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Posted by on May 9th, 2007
Filed Under: Kuala Lumpur, Special

Ch’ar kuay tiau .

THE FIRST THING outstation people think of when they come to Penang is ch’ar kuay tiau. The traditional i.e. genuine stuff is to be found at Lau Hio Hnui (Kampong Sireh, Lengkok Burma) where the stall is located among others catering for office workers. The kuay tiau is fried slowly over a charcoal fire fanned by the man’s wife. The pork oil used is first class and not too much diluted by vegetable oil. One thing that I did not like was the Cantonese intrusion, little pieces of lap ch’eong. But the absence of burnt specks of kuay tiau was a delight. Duck eggs, a traditional must, are available, though supplies from Thailand are uncertain owing to a suspicion of bird flu. Demerit points: absence of pork crackling. In some places if you ask for them, the hawkers are generous.

There is another favourite stall of mine at Carnarvon Street: “Lau Hor Ch’ar Kuay Tiau.” It was started by grandfather Lau Hor (Tiger) and is the best of the “blow torch” fire breed. The fierce flames are kept firmly under control and the cook (grandson fries whenever the son is away) is not compelled to use frequent doses of water to prevent a disaster. Here the vegetable oil does not dominate and the taste is, therefore, not ruined. Duck eggs are available. Demerits: absence of koo ch’ai and pork crackling. “Lau Hor” tells me he is now also operating alsos at Prima Tanjong, Fettes Road, which astonishingly, has a dance floor well patronised, Fridays to Sundays..

Where Macalister Road meets Perak Road in a small coffee shop, once famous for its curry mee, is a man who not only produces decent char koay tiau but is also a skilled cook. If you are lucky and prawns are available ask him for hair chian. No one that I know of has produced such delicate batter to wrap a prawn with than him.

At Hillside there is a stall along Jalan Sungei Kelian which serves very satisfying ch’ar koay tiau. The man is extraordinarily energetic, scouring the roads that cling to the hills, with his cry of “ch’ar koay tiaaaaauuuuuuuu”, taking orders, frying, then back to deliver. He reminds me of Ipoh’s Spider, a .

Penang man, who was a legend in Green Town, Ipoh where he would ride up on his tricycle after four, when the government servants returned from work. Ready cooked food is available at the coffee shop at which he is. The cook has a supply of rare pair chn’io, fried the old fashioned way.

lor bar ‘
Next to Lau Hor is a lor bar stall which is reasonably good. It is the one of the rare ones to offer the traditional preserved ch’ai t’au (lopak). The other one is at Bayan Baru operated by the former owner of this stall.

ch n’air hoo
And vegetarians will be pleased to know that Dato Kramat football field is the place where you get the best chn’air hoo, the Penang version of Mama’ passambul. It was a joy just to watch the man at work. The speed of his cutting and chopping was breathtaking. He’s not there any more but his successors have maintained quality. But notice the vegetable part is much reduced. This is probably because of the increase in the price of cucumbers and other veges that make up the dish. But that is no reason for the drastic reduction. The balance should be maintained and the overall size reduced.

If you are in Beach Street try the chn’air hoo at Sri Weld Food Court. It is reasonably good if you don’t mind seating in the steamy heat of the place.

While still at Dato Kramat try the yong tau foo. It’s still good.

Wandering about in Pulau Tikus is a stall on wheels which serves Mama ‘ passambul with almost the original taste but we have discovered one even better along Fettes Road. His prawn crackers are really good to chew.

curry mee.
I find the curry mee at Fettes Road very much to my taste, nearer to the curry type without the lemak added. Two night stalls at the Pulau Tikus market offer the lemak variety, but not too lemak for me to condemn them. I am not too fond of the lemak type which came into fashion after the 50’s owing to the Thai influence and the demands of Singapore tourists. All these stalls serve the required tau pok and blood cubes. This dish is also to be found at the Public Cafe along North Beach, lunch time. The cook produces a mixture with an Ipoh flavour, which is very welcome to those who want a change. An added attraction here is that lor bar and rojak are available for those with larger appetites. There is a new stall on Hong Kong Street (now renamed Cheong Fatt Tse for some unexplained reason)

If you try the dish elsewhere, make sure that it does not have a powdery taste, – the tell tale sign that curry powder is used. And make sure you get the right mee, the soft Hokkien mee and not the hard Cantonese variety. Those from KL, who are prone to distorting Penangese and call this dish curry laksa, please remember to ask for “curry mee” to save yourselves embarrassment.

If you are in Kuching, Sarawak, you must not miss their curry mee which they call curry laksa. It has a character all its own and is superb.

goo bar kuay tiau
Those who love beef soup and despaired at the disappearance of favourites at the Victoria Street bus stop and at Acheen Street need worry no more. They will find that the stall opposite the Bomba at Beach Street provides excellent goo bar kuay tiau; in fact, the meat is better cooked. The coffee shop which houses this stall is unique because those who run it are English educated,
a very rare phenomenon. You will surprised that this coffee shop also cooks an English breakfast.

There is a stall at Perak Road which also serves good goo bar koay tiau, near the Francis Light School

Hokkien mee
When Penangites say Hokkien Mee they mean Hair Mee (prawn mee). Elsewhere the term identifies the fried variety, which is perversely called here, Hokkien Ch’ar. So, in Penang, Hokkien Mee could either mean prawn mee or bar koot mee. We have never been good at hair mee but our bar koot mee is excellent . Try the stall at Hong Kong Street.

jiu hoo eng ch’ai

The stall at Song RIver Cafe is improving and is about best in town. They have a branch at the newly opened hawkers place at the Island Plaza traffice lights which is also very good. I liked the Thai stall whereyou can get genuine Thai food at fairly cheap prices. What is annnoying is that the shed is so designed that the smoke is trapped and at popular hours this can be anuisance.

kuay tiau t’ng
It is very difficult nowadays to find a good kuay tiau t’ng hawker. The fish balls at most stalls are unreliable. But there is one at Armenian Street which offers first quality fish balls.

lark sar
And if you are crazy about lark sar (laksa) you will find an excellent version next to a ch’ar koay tiau stall along Burmah Rod, opposite Bangkok Lane. After your first bowl, try the lemak version and, for a third bowl, have the two versions mixed. You will love it.

larm mee
Since Ah Kee’s excellent larm mee along Burma Road stopped business we despaired of getting good larm mee. Someone introduced us to the stall at the Tanjung Bungah market which we found to be a satisfying compensation for the loss.

bair t’ay sor
The Penang-made biscuits deserve their popularity because they are excellent but if you pass through Ipoh try the Gunong Rapat variety and tell me what you think.

see kak pniar
Those who are nostalgic about this type of biscuit should go to Simpang Ampat where they make very crunchy “simply melts in your mouth” biscuits.

tau foo far

There are two stalls which use black sugar. One is along North Beach after 4 p.m. and the other is
itinerant and to be found at odd hours along Pulau Tikus, near the Malayan Banking office. I see that the stall at the Market now offers black sugar too.

iu char kuay
Excellent iu char kuay will be found near the Pulau Tikus market Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Those who wake up late will get the same at most afternoons at the Batu Lanchang market, and at Leandros Lane. Best of all, try the Cecil Street Market.

goreng pisang

The stall along Tanjung Bungah Road is continuing to be popular but try the one at Fettes Road which serves a variety which includes koay kodo’.

Restaurants and coffee shops

Nyonya
It is sad to report that Hitam Manis has closed down. This truly genuine Nyonya food restaurant gave pleasure to thousands during its short existence; its gulai toomee and jiu hoo ch’ar and tau iu bar’ especially pleased. Now we are happy to report that Siang Pin at Tanjung Bungah serves execellent gulai toomee; the traditional pair chnioh is always available. Next door, the coffee shop also serves cooked meals. It is the only one I have seen with a “Monday closed” sign instead of ” XX close” and it boasts a few posters advertising Thai massage.

Opposite is an enormous deserted bus stop, unused because either the state government or the federal decided in the Thacherite economics manner that the boondocks should be deprived of their feeder bus services.

Thai
“Prontip” along Peel Avenue offers genuine Thai cooking at reasonable prices. Its kensom will blow your head off.

Mama’ rice

Nowadays impertinently called by the KL imported name of nasi kandar. My view is that Mama’ (“Uncle”) is a respectful and historical form of address used by the Baba and should continue to be used.

It is difficult to find the genuine stuff because of the Mama’ habit of going back to India without teaching anybody their cooking secrets. But there is a place at Kong Bee Lee Coffee Shop opposite Bangkok Lane with flavours nearest to the original. The present owner inherited the business from his father and continues the tradition. The stall at Batu Lanchang market also serves food which has the flavour and taste of the original.

It is no use looking for Mama ‘ fried mee or mee rebus. The secrets have not been passed on and visitors will be disappointed.

The nearest to the original flavours is the stall at Armenian Street which has a hint of past glories but the high price of sotong restrains the essential flavours. But the man knows how to fry his mee, not too dry and burnt.

Afternoons

The Batu Lanchang makan place, next to the market, a market that operates in the afternoons, is an excellent place to visit if you sleep late. The iu char kuay, ch’ar kuay tiau (RM2.20 plain, 2.70 with egg and 3.00 with duck egg – how prices have doubled the last ten years!). chn’air hoo (Chinese passambul) and po pnia should please you. But be warned. Typically this place has no public facilities

You will have to go to the back of the market next door which is awash with water and stinks. You will also catch one or two sarong clad serfs of the money pinching stall holder washing his slaughtered chicken in the wash basin – the water is free, you see.

Along Jalan Bawasah, in the afternoon, excellent Mama po pnia chnee is to be had with the right chilly sauce. And the nyonya cakes are a delight.

Norman, which serves what they call Malay food but which is really Malay-fusion food, serves excellent and unforgettable sambal. Their krabu towgair and kachang botol are excellent. So also is their fish, which is always fresh. The fried fish reminds me of what we used to have along Tg Tokong and Tg Bungah, just the right frying to enable one to chew up all the bonesl.

In Bandar Baru there is a coffee shop along Jalan Angsana which offers excellent Indian rice and curry (non-beef), excellent sio bar and good ch’ar kuay tiau. If you are in that area you will be very satisfied with your lunch.

We also found a coffee shop along Fettes Road with ready cooked food which is cheap and good. And it was service with a smile. This road serves ready cooked food morning, noon and night, something to keep in mind.

Night time

New Lane is about the best place at night for hawkers’ food. The variety is very wide. It is here that you will find heng jin tair done the Hokkien way without the flavour that the Cantonese like. If you are a vegetarian your needs will be met by 6 or even 8 different dishes

At North Beach the Song River Cafe has very good jiu hoo eng ch’ai and chicken wings. And if you can wait long enough the grilled prawns that come about 10 pm are a delight.

The night stalls at the Pulau Tikus market are second to those at New Lane and also have a variety to offer. Their present site is a disgrace.

And there is at Tanjong Tokong a newly opened hawkers complex next to Island Plaza offers good food if you are in that area.

Seah Boay

The historical and lively seah boay market was destroyed in the interests of the Manhattan Project – the dream of Penang’s rulers to conjure George Town into a little New York. With it went the special rice and moi stalls where you perched high on bangku (stools) standing on long benches and had excellent and cheap food like preserved crab, lopak-egg omlettes, groundnuts and salted eggs. The bangku style of eating has not quite disappeared and you can squat and eat to your hearts delight at Magazine Road.

For those who would demand a better ambience three restored buildings offer attractive restaurants in different parts of the town: Edelweiss and Spice & Rice. Jaipur Court, located in a 1920s buillding is sadly no more.

Those who like to sit by the sea should enjoy an evening out at North Beach Cafe (next to Kedah House) which offers a view of glittering North Beach on one side and the lonely, winking darkness of Province Wellesley on the other.

Tanjong Bungah

Tanjong Bungah market

Tanjong Bungah deserves a special mention. This is because here you step into an older world of infinite courtesy, a thrilling experience which starkly contrasts with the nonchalant, sometimes even rude service that affronts one in George Town. It is close to the frisson of delight that lifts the weary traveller reaching Taiping from sour puss Singapore. Among the attractions of this area are the excellent chicken rice along the Vale of Tempe

Seah Boay

The historical and lively seah boay market was destroyed in the interests of the Manhattan Project – the dream of Penang’s rulers to conjure George Town into a little New York. With it went the special rice and moi stalls where you perched high on bangku (stools) standing on long benches and had excellent and cheap food like preserved crab, lopak-egg omlettes, groundnuts and salted eggs. The bangku style of eating has not quite disappeared and you can squat and eat to your hearts delight at Magazine Road.

For those who would demand a better ambience three restored buildings offer attractive restaurants in different parts of the town: Edelweiss and Spice & Rice. Jaipur Court, located in a 1920s buillding is sadly no more.

Those who like to sit by the sea should enjoy an evening out at North Beach Cafe (next to Kedah House) which offers a view of glittering North Beach on one side and the lonely, winking darkness of Province Wellesley on the other.

Tanjong Bungah

Tanjong Bungah market

Tanjong Bungah deserves a special mention. This is because here you step into an older world of infinite courtesy, a thrilling experience which starkly contrasts with the nonchalant, sometimes even rude service that affronts one in George Town. It is close to the frisson of delight that lifts the weary traveller reaching Taiping from sour puss Singapore. Among the attractions of this area are the excellent chicken rice along the Vale of Tempe
with first class crackling pork at request and a pet cockerel that crows unexpectedly, standing on a chair, while you are eating. The t’au k’air so tells me that he has adopted her shop and comes in before closing time to spend his nights there. His hen, she says. was killed by a dog only recently

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