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Penang Char Kuey Teow PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator II   
Tuesday, 24 March 2009 22:34


Article and Photos By HELEN ONG

It’s something that you have to try when you are in Malaysia, and definitely when you are in Penang. There’s nothing quite like this plate of flat rice noodles, short, fat crunchy bean sprouts and a handful of kuchai (garlic chives), a few prawns (if you’re lucky), a dollop of ground chilli paste, and optional seeham (cockles), fried up with chopped garlic in a large spoonful of lard. Some stalls add a few slivers of Chinese sausage.

It’s got to be good and quick, and all bound together with some good black soya sauce and an egg thrown in right at the end. No wonder this all-time favourite has been voted one of Penang’s traditional heritage listings.
A good char kuey teow must have “wok hei”, that certain characteristic aroma that can only be achieved with a large black metal wok sat over a really fiery heat (none of this non-stick stuff). The heat caramelises the sugar in the soya sauce and gives it a faintly burnt taste and makes your mouth drool when you smell it!

There are various versions of it available all over Malaysia: some are darker through the addition of more thick black soya sauce; others are redder (extra chilli). Some use thicker, broader noodles; others are finer. Some people prefer it slightly wetter with a touch more gravy; others prefer it with more yolk – achieved using a duck’s egg instead of the more traditional chicken. Here in Penang it’s a bit of in-between – neither too thick nor thin, neither too black nor red – in fact, any Penangite will tell you, “It’s perfect!” For our Muslim friends, halal versions are very popular too, available in many of our great hotels and restaurants.

Traditionally a poor man’s meal because of its high carbohydrate and relatively low protein content, in recent years the humble Char Kuey Teow can also be found in the more upmarket establishments: small shrimps have been replaced by succulent pieces of lobster, and it also comes garnished with juicy crab meat, which will of course mean commensurate prices. However, aficionados will argue that these add-ones are unnecessary: a good Char Kuey Teow seller doesn’t need such fancy items to enhance his specialty. He will make do with traditional ingredients only, because all he requires is that special skill.
Everyone has a personal favourite in some nook or cranny, although cholesterol notwithstanding, many seem prepared to travel far and wide in their hunt for the perfect plate of this local favourite. Personally, I don’t think we need to go far. And there are many places where you can get good char kuey teow in Penang - someone will have set up his gigantic black wok at practically every coffee shop or food court.


 Helen Ong is a self-confessed foodie who loves to hunt down the best of Penang. She is the author of the book Great Dining in Penang. Check out her blog on

Last Updated on Monday, 13 April 2009 10:00

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