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Posts Tagged ‘hawker food’

I already wrote about Kopi Classic and its famous Hokkien Mee some time ago. See: https://diehardowl.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/kedai-kopi-classic-hokkien-mee/  

I don’t pretend to have tried all the Georgetown Hokkien Mee stalls but this one remains my favourite. For those of you who haven’t visited Penang before and are going to look for a Café with a sunscreen like the pic just below: don’t, because last year the kopitiam invested in a brand new flaming red sunscreen. 

The former sunscreen at kedai kopi Classic
The former sunscreen at kedai kopi Classic

Have a look at  the video below. It shows the new outside look of the kopi Classic.

Now what is so special about a dish serving a bowl of noodles in a broth? As far as I’m concerned the most important part is the making of the broth itself. It’s a shrimpy and spicy soup and I guess it’s all about balancing the ingredients with a not too sweet and real spicy shrimp/pork broth.

Penang being a food paradise has of course many signature dishes but for me personally, a big bowl of kopi Classic’s Hokkien Mee is the best way to start the day. So, for the newbies, what is it all about?

Mr Ooi's hokkien mee

Mr Ooi's hokkien mee

Hokkien Mee is a mixture of yellow noodles, rice noodles and bean sprouts  served in a prawn and pork broth. What makes it special in my experience and view is the balance of the strong, spicy and flavourful shrimp/pork taste. It’s usually served with sliced and fried shrimps, thin slices of lean pork and sprinkled with crispy fried shallots. If you come very early to kopi Classic you also can get great fried lard crisps adding an extra kick to your noodles dish.

The bowl comes also with a spoonful of added chilli for people who really like it hot. YES, I do!

Noodles for HM

Noodles for HM

Some stalls in Penang add too much extra pork meat while cooking the broth;  in my view that makes the soup way to sweet. Some also add sliced hard-boiled egg (what I like) but no extra egg in the Classic’s bowl though.

The Classics' Mrs & Mr Ooi crew in full operational mode

The Classics' Mrs & Mr Ooi crew in full operational mode

The place usually starts business at 8 in the morning. Regulars however are already sitting round the tables as early as 07:30! Just bring along a book or a newspaper. Or you also can admire the team getting prepared to fire up the gas-cookers, unloading bags of noodles to start a new day for us to enjoy delicious Hokkien Mee. 

There is another Hokkien Mee stall in the “One Corner café” coffee shop (Jalan Bawasah).First we tried to visit the place on tuesday, kopi Classic’s closing day. No good as it was also their closing day. Then we tried again 2 day later ( it was not yet 11:oo am), they already were closing down: sold out!  We’ll try again on a next visit as it also has a reputation for being one of the best in town. As a matter of fact,  I later read somewhere that Kedai Kopi Classic Hokkien Mee’s Mrs Ooi is the elder sister of Mr Lim Bok Huat, owner of the stall at One Corner Café.  So, I guess they share the same recipe and in fact are having 2 of the most popular HM businesses in Georgetown. Both stalls closing Tuesdays,… to avoid losing customers to one another? A good alternative in my opinion is the Hokkien Mee stall in Swee Kong café, across the police station in Pulau Tikus. They open very early and close already round 09:00 in the morning.

Hokkien Mee (Swee Kong)

Just a little warning: when asking for Hokkien mee in Singapore or KL, don’t expect the same dish  as in Penang. In Singapore they use both the egg noodles and rice noodles, stir fried in lard and served dry without soup. It comes with shrimps and sliced lean pork, sambal (chilli) and lime. In KL they use thick egg noodles braised in thick dark soy sauce. Ingredients include cabbage, squid, fish cake, pork and crispy fried cubes of pork fat.

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Back from having been  away for some time lah!

Flag of the State of Penang, Malaysia.

 Since our latest visit we have counted the months, weeks and days before finally touching down again in Penang some 10 days ago. And boy …  were we in need! Desperate for Food with Capital F. So, as from the moment of arrival till the eve before flying out one week later, I gained about 5-6 kg. Na und? So what?  Anyway, that still is only about 70+ kg for a guy over 6 feet. No danger for turning into a sumo or average USA-er there yet [grin].

Of course we went to many of our favourite places in George Town during the week. I’m personally getting good at comparing quality at different stalls for their recipes of CKT, Penang Hokkien Mee, Loh Bak, fried rice, satay and more. In fact, I/we even start being  picky! On average we visited and sampled food from up to 5/6 different shops every day and almost always it was well worth it. Regarding Hokkien Mee, Kedai kopi Classic and Swee Kong remain among “da best” but we tried many more and all were ok,  from average good to real good, to very good.  Yet… we also started noticing [already during our last trip] that we better avoid the newer, so-called modern Hawker centres, equipped with LCD screens and loud music. As it seems the food quality at those places is going down hill while prices are climbing and the offered decoration is of a definite and certain lack of taste for those older than 13. (My opinion only). Now sadly that is nothing new for me but I was hoping Penang would have been able to avoid that kind of “modernisation”. I explain:

On our last visit to Belgium I invited my wife to one of the local stalls selling Belgian fries. Once upon a time in Old Belgium they all were selling their stuff with an ok to very good/excellent quality. Those hawkers prepared the potatoes at home (peeling, cutting) as well as they did prepare themselves the extras like curry chicken [local Belgian style], beef carbonades and more. Nowadays however the youngsters that take over the business, buy the food from industrial manufacturers. Gosh, even the fries now, they buy them pre-cut, if not [the horrour] frozen.Go figure. In fact it’s simple, they don’t find pleasure in preparing. They are becoming a lazy bunch. The only thing they want is selling and getting your/my money. Well, we just vote with our feet and our wallet as we do no longer buy from that lazy bunch. To find a decent “fritkot” (translation: fry-stall) one, sadly, has to look around for quite a while. I hate to say it but having been there and seen that, I’m afraid that Penang’s GOOD hawkers also are a disappearing breed. Let’s hope I’m wrong but…

I’ll be posting about our latest experiences in the coming days, as for the moment I’m in “kicking-off mode”, being back home in HK. Not because of jet lag but more because of Makanan lag, sort of.

In the mean time: here is a nice read from another blogger from Penang… (living in the UK… the poor thing) for those who are new to culinary Penang Hawker Food.

http://breadetbutter.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/what-is-malaysian-food/

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IMG_1370   Lok Pin at Anson road is a place selling Fish Head Behoon, Chicken Rice, Hokkien Mee, Wantan Mee, Loh Bak and (according to the stall’s owner own saying) “Famous Asam Laksa Anson Road”. On the street in front a few more hawkers selling pancakes, fruit, Mee Goreng…

The café itself was under renovation. I don’t know what it looked like before but now it seemed  they were busy turning it into a more modern place, with more fancy seating and tables and a few flat screen TVs on the walls and giving it a so-called trendy look. We’ll have to come back another time to see the final result. I’m always a little wary about this kind of renovation. Most of the times it turns a beautiful place into a cold venue with no traditional or heritage feel left at all. I wonder what the stance of Unesco is.

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 The Penang Asam Laksa we ordered was worth every sen. Nice sourish, not watery it is one of my favourite plates and one of Penang’s signature dishes, totally different from laksa from other Malaysian regions. A yummy balance of sweet, sour  and spicy flavours. One suggestion: don’t miss it!IMG_1372

Loh Bak is also very good, …especially as I forgot to pick the most important item when I was chosing among all the different goodies… Hmm, yes after they fried our plate and served it to our table, my wife wondered where actually the Loh Bak was???… Right, my blooper for the day.IMG_1383

 Where is the Loh Bak hiding, he?IMG_1381

Some tropical downpour all of a sudden helps to cool the temperature at lunch hour. 

 According to pancake specialists (not me… yet), the pancakes from this stall just opposite Lok Pin are among the better on offer. Have a look at this review of a Ban Cheang Koay stall: http://www.penangtuapui.com/2008/06/speedy-makan-makan-part-4-ban-cheang-koay-anson-road/

After a huge but short downpour, the streets are drying in only a few minutes and everybody resumes cooking, buying and eating. This place below, called “Kedai Kopi Juventus” is the neighbour of Lok Pin and sells among others Curry Mee, not FC Juventus T-shirts. It’s the old style small kopitiam with neon tubes, not fancy but I like the atmosfere perhaps more.IMG_1385

Have a look at this café just a little round the corner, I think on Siam street. These are the ones I personally like much more than the new modernised places. All it needs is a decent maintenance and eventually some restoration, not modernising. No need to make it look like boring western places without a soul.IMG_1388

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After the accidental discovery of a Malay stall proposing a do-it-yourself Assam Laksa dish, we finally were about to reach the initial target of our expedition journey. It’s situated close to the sea, along a small river in the Kampung Jalan Baru, a Chinese community close to Batik Pulau.IMG_1475

I saw a lot of private houses that were having hawker stalls on their grounds, although most of them were not in operation. We got the impression it was a  friendly small community where everybody knew everybody. Next time we visit, I want to walk a little around in the village and also follow the river to the sea. Maybe we could try to ask some of the locals to show us around in one of their little fishing boats.IMG_1487

So,there it was! We finally found the place. We drove into a big parking lot and were ready for some reputed food. The house in the background was the major cooking place. Alongside a house in front, there were also a few stalls, selling Loh Bak and fruits.IMG_1488

Loh Bak and Fruit stallsIMG_1486

Assam Laksa & Hokkien Mee ready to be served!  At the left side of the house in the back, there is a covered terrace with tables and seats for the customers.In the beginning there only was one other table being occupied but by the time we left, people were already waiting to be seated.IMG_1484

About the quality of the Hokkien mee and the Assam Laksa, we can only agree that it is up to its reputation! I really recommend this place without hesitation and I suggest that you gals and guys go and try it out for yourself. The people serving and cleaning the tables were all very friendly. It’s a small family business from their house, only open for customers during the weekends.

The Loh Bak was also very tasty.IMG_1480

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 A big bowl with tasty succulent Hokkien Mee.IMG_1478

 The Laksa, very rich with a thick fish soup.IMG_1482

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 It was our first visit but clearly, we will be back for more.IMG_1483

All those little fishing boats along the river leave a very nice impression and add to the attractiveness of  this Kampung. It’s clearly not yet a site for visiting tourists and I hope it stays that way. IMG_1489

 

Location:

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This was going to be a challenge: I only had very few information how to find a certain place I read about. It was way out of town, a private house in a fishing village on the West Coast, near to Balik Pulau. Anyway, we’ll be trying to find it. Moreover we wanted to drive via Batu Feringgi, the Telok Bahang dam and reservoir all the way to Balik Pulau. A very scenic road through the hills of Penang. At times it remembered me of some driving I used to do in Europe’s Dolomites or Ardennes. When we finally arrived in Balik Pulau, we started asking around, got lost a few times but finally we had the impression we were nearing our destination driving along Jalan Bharu (P16). For the exact location check the map at the end of this post. Along this kampung road look out for a small bridge over a also small river; before the bridge on the right you can see the stall, it’s a small makeshift place. It’s a Malay food stall promoting its own Assam Laksa. I think the place is called Sungai Pinang kampung. We decided to have a look and have some food, in case we wouldn’t find our initial target.

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A friendly Malay lady told us the Laksa on offer was a self service operation thingy. So we started to fill a bowl with those thick rice noodles, chopped some onions and the other laksa ingredients like bunga kantan flower ( torch ginger in English), cucumber, lemongrass, chilli, mint…

bunga_kantan_torch_ginger_bud

The fish stock is made with mackerel (ikan kembung) and its most important feature is the assam ( tamarind) which gives the soup its typical sour taste.

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The good thing about that self service was that you could pick more or less of the ingredients and noodles according to your preferences .

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After all the ingredients were added the lady did pour the hot Laksa broth in our bowls and then it was up to us to judge the dish.IMG_1471

 It was tasty and although the broth was rather light we did enjoy it very much. After we finished the lady put a box with homemade cookies on our table, inviting us to have some. IMG_1472

Price: 1 Ringgit/person all in! Incredibly cheap.

IMG_1469After paying we innocently asked the shop owner if she knew about some Chinese community in the neighbourhood that was reputed for its Hokkien Mee. (We didn’t mention Chinese Penang Assam Laksa, as we thought it might not please her.)  And yes, she knew about that place, only 1 or 2 km down the same road along the river on the outskirts of a local Chinese fishing village. So, we were going to have more food and more precisely the food we initially came for! I’ll write about that experience in a next post.

Location:

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Lam Heng Cafe is a corner coffee shop at the end/beginning of Macalister Road. It’s in this place that the sisters operate their business. The kopitiam also offers Assam Laksa, Mee Jawa and their own Otak-Otak. They say the Laksa is also of superior quality but I haven’t tried it out yet. Next time…

2007 Picture courtesy to Jay Jun's blog

2007 Picture courtesy to Jay Jun's blog

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Regarding the Sisters and their reputation, I admit being a tad sceptical. No doubt that their Char Koay Teow is among the better on offer in Penang but I must say that the quality is lacking consistency, especially when the skinny Sis is stirring the wok. Sometimes it’s completely out of balance, like on our visit in June, but then again, last week the plate was perfectly cooked. I don’t know how to explain those inconsistencies unless maybe that the girls are getting older and are loosing some of their skills. Not impossible, as I experienced the same with some elderly members in my own family.

I prefer the CKT cooked by this sister:

IMG_0934Anyway, my biggest complaint regarding this stall/cafe is their use of styrofoam plates and throw away chop sticks. Ok, there is no need for using their best china plates, porcelain spoons or high-end ivory chop sticks. Good hard plastic plates/spoons/chop sticks will do, thank you very much.  I’m thinking to bring my own plate and chop sticks but am a little bit afraid that might cause a tantrum… Anyway, someone with more guts than I have, ought to tell the sisters that they are really a lazy bunch, apparently oblivious regarding the impact on the environment. We, our kids and grandkids do really appreciate.  NOT!

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Ah Leng

Location :  Kafe Khoon Hiang, Jalan Dato Keramat/Corner with Jalan Dunlop, Penang. Opening hours are from 8am till 2pm and their closing day is Thursday.  It’s situated in the same  neighbourhood as  Padang Brown food court and Kedai kopi Classic. A highly recommended area for food lovers.

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Anyway,  after some 12+ visits in 5 years, [trying  to make that now a 4 times visit per year] I’ve made up my mind about the Penang Char Koay Teow. It’s basically a great dish but at some places it’s way overrated. So, I stopped asking for the special or extra add-on stuff, as I personally feel that the basic dish is the right one. No need for extra big shrimps or prawns, neither for (too sweet) mantis prawns. Just K.I.S.S. =  keep it stupid simple.

I’ve had the CKT at various places and personally I prefer it with regular chicks… Oops, I mean chicken eggs, instead of duck eggs.  Anyone out there tried with goose egg? (Grin).

Thus, when we made our way to Ah Leng, I already knew I was going for the regular dish and boy, THE WORKS! It was simply a great treat!

IMG_1334 Tastewise?  The fast frying-and-tossing-noodles technique of the wokmeister plus a professional handling of the heat, resulted in a most delicious Char Koay Teow dish.  Malaysia, truly Asia? CKT: truly Penang!

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Another stall in the same Kafe was selling Hokkien Mee. As I’m a big fan of that dish, I could not resist and ordered a bowl.

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IMG_1337It looked very nice but after tasting, it was a bit of a disappointment. Not spicy, not sour, the soup tasted sweet.  A pity for sure, but then again, who am I to judge? Lots of people, looking like regulars, came and ordered the Hokkien Mee. So, lets agree to disagree and accept that personal taste is very different from person to person.

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