Hunting Down the Best Penang Char Kway Teow in Penang
During a recent trip to Penang, I checked out some of the island's most popular Penang Char Kway Teow (Fried Rice Noodles) stalls even though such a quest is detrimental to my weight loss plans.
Crazy about carbohydrates and street food, Char Kway Teow is an Achilles Heel for me, amongst many other carb-laden dishes. I prefer Penang Char Kway Teow to Singapore-style Char Kway Teow because thinner strands of rice noodles are used and it's more savoury and spicy than the sweeter tasting ones sold in Singapore. It's so hard to find decent Penang Char Kway Teow (Penangites usually spell it as Char Koay Teow) in Singapore that I was determined to try as many plates as possible during my 3 day stay in Penang.
1) Red Hat Auntie's Penang Char Kway Teow along Lorong Selamat
I was groggy after suffering a sleepless night before my morning flight to Penang so I'd forgotten about Lorong Selemat till our taxi driver suggested taking us there for authentic street food. Lack of sleep usually makes really hungry so I was looking forward to wolfing down my first plate of Penang Char Kway Teow. The first stall in a row of about 8 to 10 hawker stalls that lined the street on both sides, we started with Red Hat Auntie's Penang Char Kway Teow. We waited for about 20 minutes for our food to be served.Red Hat Auntie's Penang Char Kway Teow @ MYR 11 for a large plate
I'd ordered a large plate for us to share so we could indulge in more street food. The portion was rather small for a large plate but close to forty percent of it comprised of huge and juicy prawns, succulent blood cockles, thinly sliced wind-dried Chinese sausages and crunchy beansprouts. The thin, soft and silky smooth strands of rice noodles (known as Kway Teow / Koay Teow) and prawns glistened with the sheen of rendered pork fat. Painstakingly fried over a charcoal stove, the rice noodle strips were flavourful, slightly spicy and had a lovely smoky flavour due to "wok hei". "Wok Hei" is a Cantonese term referring to the smoky flavour imparted by cooking food over high heat in a wok, it's loosely translated to mean "breath of the wok". I could eat this everyday! All I need to do is to tell Red Hat Auntie, "Please put less oil so I can eat more plates of Char Kway Teow."Red Hat Auntie's Char Koay Teow Stall at Lorong Selamat
This stall is located in front of Kafe Heng Huat. There are 2 stalls, one selling char kway teow that had been cooked over a charcoal fire and another where the char kway teow is cooked over a gas stove by her helper. I was thrilled to end up at the stall that Keropokman had recommended to me and took his advice to order from the lady boss with the red hat and the charcoal stove. The Penang Char Kway Teow here is a Must-Try!
Later that day, we chatted with some locals in a cafe and learnt that Red Hat Auntie has been boycotted by many Penangites for her rude service and exorbitant prices. They insisted that we should to go to the stall at Siam Road in spite of the one hour wait. The locals were right about the prices, the large plate of Char Kway Teow here was the most expensive hawker dish we ever had during our stay in Penang. As for the service, we didn't feel particularly slighted as the folks working in the coffeeshop kept us pretty occupied by asking where we were from and if we'd like to order drinks and other dishes. The cool thing about the coffeeshop we were seated at is that we can pretty much order from every stall along the street without having to shift.Kafe Heng Huat 108 Lorong Selamat, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia Foursquare: http://4sq.com/aVaSJY Operating Hours: 11 am to 4.30 pm (closed on Tuesdays)
2) KTG Penang Char Kway Teow along Lorong Selamat (aka the uncle with the safety goggles)
I felt a little conscious about eating a competitor stall's Char Kway Teow while seated just behind Red Hat Auntie as she slaved over the stove, furthermore there were people waiting for seats. We walked a little further down the street to the coffeeshop closest to KTG Char Kway Teow stall, Kedai Kopi Low Eng Hoo. We waited about 15 minutes for our Penang Char Kway Teow to be served.KTG Penang Char Koay Teow @ MYR 10.50 for a large plate
Slightly cheaper and spicier than Red Hat Auntie's, KTG's Penang Char Kway Teow was also less greasy and slightly less flavourful. The portion size was also pretty small for a large plate and I was beginning to think that street food serving sizes in Penang are as dainty as the ones in Thailand. This plate of Char Kway Teow was chockful of ingredients. Close to forty percent of the plate was taken up by firm and sweet prawns, juicy cockles, sliced Chinese Sausages and beansprouts. The first prawn you see in the photo was the largest prawn we ever had from a hawker stall during our stay in Penang that unfortunately, V dropped while trying to pick it up with chopsticks. Ah, where's the stray cat when you need one?KTG Char Koay Teow Stall at Lorong Selamat
We figured the flavour was not as intense because this plate of Char Kway Teow had been cooked over a gas stove and the owner could be a little more health conscious as his plate of Penang Char Kway Teow was not greasy. KTG Char Koay Teow is worth a try especially if you're conscious about your salt and oil intake.Kedai Kopi Low Eng Hoo 84 Lorong Selamat, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia Foursquare: http://4sq.com/zKZoXf Operating Hours: 1 pm to 6 pm (closed on Tuesdays)
3) Jalan Siam's Char Kway TeowSiam Road's Penang Char Kway Teow @ MYR5.50 for a large plate
This was our favourite Penang Char Kway Teow amongst the 4 plates we had during our stay. The heady aroma that wafted from hot wok as the hawker was frying over a charcoal flame was so alluring, I decided this was worth breaking our modus operandi for and ordered a large plate for each of us. After 50 minutes of coveting everyone else's Char Kway Teow, dallying with a cup of White Coffee and exchanging knowing smiles with other patrons who were waiting, we finally got our plates of Char Kway Teow. Although I'm not the most patient person especially when hungry, this was well worth the 50 minutes waiting time! Glistening with rendered pork fat, the thin strips of Kway Teow had been perfectly infused with the slightly spicy flavour of the seasoning. The "Wok Hei" was a little more pronounced in this dish which made us yearn for more after every mouthful.
According to the locals we chatted with in the cafe, uncle doesn't fry large batches at a time hence the better aroma and flavour. Costing only half the price of a large plate of Penang Char Kway Teow at Lorong Selamat, the prawns served at Siam Road were a little smaller but I was delighted to have smaller prawns in exchange for a tastier plate of rice noodles at a more reasonable price. I have to make a note to ask for duck eggs for a fuller flavour the next time I visit.
This hawker's devotion to his craft is admirable. I can totally understand why it's so popular with the locals and tourists alike. Unlike Red Hat Auntie, he doesn't have an electric fan to fan the flames of his charcoal fire but does so by hand with a traditional fan made of leaves. I now understand why one of my friends said that he's known as the legendary God of Penang Char Kway Teow. This is absolutely a MUST-TRY!Siam Road Charcoal Char Kway Teow Siam Road. (off Jalan Anson), 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia Foursquare: http://4sq.com/h6F9ry Operating Hours: 3 pm to 7 pm (except when uncle takes a vacation...which is of course, unpredictable. Good luck!)
4) Penang Road's Penang Char Kway Teow at Joo Hooi CafePenang Char Kway Teow at Penang Road's Joo Hooi Cafe @ MYR 4 for a small plate
Joo Hooi Cafe is an old coffeeshop next to the famous Penang Road Chendol Stall along Lebuh Keng Kwee. We were charged MYR 0.50 for the bowl of Chendol that we'd brought into the coffeeshop even though we ordered food from just about EVERY stall in the coffeeshop. Even though we were pretty full, I ordered the Penang Char Kway Teow here because this stall is supposed to be very popular too. We waited about 20 minutes for our plate of Penang Char Kway Teow. This was our least favourite out of the 4 plates we had because it wasn't as tasty nor did it have a smoky aroma. This is worth a try if you like a less oily and salty plate of Penang Char Kway Teow.Joo Hooi Cafe 475 Jalan Penang (at Lebuh Keng Kwee aka Keng Kwee Street), 10000 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia Foursquare: http://4sq.com/bb2x4r PS: So much food to eat, so little time and tummy room. I hope to be able to visit Penang again so I can try more Penang Char Kway Teow at various other stalls. In the meantime, I guess I need to try to lose some of the pounds I gained on this trip. If you have more suggestions to make, feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email. I'm so glad to have chatted with friendly and helpful Penangites who offered tips. The family we met at the cafe even drew a map so we could easily locate the Penang Char Kway Teow stall along Siam Road. :)