Penang’s Favourite Day & Night Time Char Koay Teow Stalls
Where is the best Char Koay Teow in Penang? Do all Char Koay Teow taste just about the same?
When we were knee-high to a grasshopper, the best Char Koay Teow was inevitably the one from the school tuck shop or canteen.
We’re talking about life in the 70s and 80s, yea. I’m THAT old. Do the Maths kids but don’t call me aunty. That’s reserved for your dad’s sister or mom’s sister.
Ask them what their favorite Char Koay Teow is and listen to their story. Listen. Go about the mulberry bush with them if necessary.
As far back as I can remember (elephantine memory helps) Char Koay Teow was fried over a charcoal stove with an old uncle bent over fanning furiously to start the flame dance.
That blacked cast iron wok reputed never been washed is a testament to what they young ‘un look for nowadays. That elusive (Cantonese) “wok hey” loosely translated as the breath of the wok.
WHAT IS CHAR KOAY TEOW?
Char Koay Teow is Penang’s most famous street food. This beloved comfort food is much sought after by both locals and tourist. Reputed to be cholesterol-laden, this plate of wok fried flat rice noodles is greasy, oily, fragrant and SCRUMPTIOUS!
The ingredients are simple and standard. Flat rice noodles, soy sauce, bean sprouts, chives, cockles, and prawns. Most stalls cook it with a chicken egg. But it is the duck egg that makes it extra creamy and delicious.
The aroma, shall I describe it as resplendent? Its what makes regulars and fans salivate at the thought of a Char Koay Teow meal.
The Char Koay Teow back then had these lovely ingredients which are no longer used due to high costs or its availability.
A sprinkle of crabmeat. The mud crabs are grilled over a charcoal bbq. The smoky flavor is mouth-watering.
The original shellfish used is the long thin clams called razor or bamboo clams. Super sweet and crunchy. These are hard to come by and most stalls just use cockles. Freshly shucked blood cockles. (None of that prep stuff sitting frozen in the plastic bag full of ice) The clams are pried alive dripping in blood onto a bowl by an assistant. This is then heaped on top of the freshly fried Char Koay Teow.
Prawns used for Char Koay Teow have doubled, tripled and quadrupled in size. That wasn’t the real deal in the beginning. Customers want extra value so it’s become the norm.
WHAT IS LARD? ASK A PIG!
We Penang Hokkiens have no other name for this is ‘Bak Ewe’. We just like our Char Koay Teow flavorful, fried to charred caramelized bits and with Pork LARD! The reason for this superfluousness is simply because I have been asked many times. “What is Lard and is it animal shortening?” Well, to put it mildly, the pig’s life was abruptly shortened so we could render the fat under its skin for pig fat oil to the uninitiated. Nothing beats that smell of smokiness which vegetable palm oil could ever replicate in taste.
So if I asked to name the best of the best, it is safe to say all fall short of the original taste and ingredients.
PRICE OF CHAR KOAY TEOW
I remember in the 80s the most expensive Char Koay Teow was next to the Alor Setar Public Bank. It was RM10 a plate of super-sized Prawns, Eggs, Blood Clams, and Chinese Sausages. Nowadays the price may start at RM5.50 up to RM8.50 or beyond.
WHERE TO EAT CHAR KOAY TEOW?
This quintessential Penang street food is a firm favorite with visitors and travelers to the State. Most stalls are push cart type can be commonly found in most coffee shops, food courts in the markets and the suburbs.
There are mornings, afternoon and nighttime stalls with their favorite followings. Speak to any Penangites and they will rattle suggestions. Check out the stall below for some satisfying eats.
MORNING/ DAY STALLS
In Penang, you will find local men named Dragon (Ah Leng) or even Tiger (Ah Hor) as a take of their Chinese names. Char Koay Teow stalls are referred to by their location (Siam Road Uncle) or even what they wear (Red Hat Woman)!
I ate at the Red Hat before she became famous. Back then I wasn’t fond of the taste, price nor attitude.
Siam Road Char Koay Teow to me is not extraordinary, hence I wouldn’t queue for it. The only stall that I would make a point to try is Tiger Char Koay Teow and Perak Road Charcoal Char Koay Teow. I will update the post once, I get to taste this two stalls.
A favorite stall that seems to be closed and has very irregular operating hours is at a kopitiam just before the roundabout at Ayer Itam. I was there on Thursday and it was closed again! Sigh.
Tiger Char Koay Teow (Day Morning Kopitiam)
This kopitiam stall is operated by three generations of the Yeow family spanning over half a century. Mr. Yeow aka “Ah Hor/ Tiger in Hokkien” operates Tiger Char Koay Teow, Teow is more famous than the café itself.
The stall is jammed pack during weekends. So go early if you want a plate or two to fill up. Ping Hooi Coffee Shop is located at the junction to Carnarvon Street and Lebuh Melayu.
Tiger is reputed to use fish sauce to bring out the umami flavors in his Char Koay Teow. The real draw is the fresh and juicy Prawns and Bamboo Clams. The Prawns are cooked just right. It’s not overcooked making it hard but has a slight resilient springy texture.
Travel Tip: Only opt for the red version of the dish if you can take the heat!
Special Ingredients: Fish sauce in the soy sauce for that umami flavor
Tiger Char Koay Teow (老虎炒粿条) | Kafe Ping Hooi | 179, Lebuh Carnarvon, George Town, Penang | Business Hours: Daily 8 am – 2.00 pm (Closing days are irregular and as and when the coffee shop of hawkers decides not to operate for the day)
SISTERS CHAR KOAY TEOW (Day Morning Kopitiam)
The two sisters who operate the stall have been selling Char Koay Teow since I was a young girl. This stall is worth a try for a taste of Penang’s heritage street food. The Sister’s Char Kway Teow has the standard prawn, egg and is garnished with some peeled boiled crab meat. Nowadays you may find an elderly man cooking the Char Koay Teow instead. The last time I ate here was a few years ago. It’s just my timing that I either go on a Monday (this has happened too many times!)
Travel tip: The coffee shop has a cover charge of RM0.50 per person if they don’t order drinks.
Special Ingredients: Crab meat garnish
Sisters Char Kway Teow | Lam Heng Café | 183 Macalister Road, Georgetown, Penang. Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 8.30 am to 4 pm. Closed on Mondays
SIAM ROAD CHAR KOAY TEOW (Day Afternoon Push Cart)
Manned by a father and son team, the Siam Road Char Koay Teow was ranked 14th at the World Street Food Congress 2017 held in Manila. The 77-year-old owner, Tan Chooi Hong and his son, and his son Kean Huat, 53 operate this push cart stall at the junction of Siam Road in Penang.
Siam Road Char Koay Teow received rave reviews as “the classic traveling food cart on 4 wheels. He cooks it over a … wood-fired wok and the smoky smooth appeal is the reason for the lines wherever he drags his char kway teow cart to”. – The Star Online
Perhaps one of the most reluctant calls to fame, the elderly man and his son were thrust into the limelight as photos of his Char Koay Teow made the rounds in social media. Sudden queues of 40 strong hungry crowds drove the seller into hiding as he could not possibly cope frying up the noodles in time. Last year, they took a 10-day break following a massive influx of customers.
The writer’s opinion is wisdom must be exercised in such nominations. Winning isn’t everything if our elderly heritage hawkers are put to the test.
Chinese daily, Kwong Wah Yit Poh‘s (KWYP) Char Koay Teow recommendations shares where travelers can get their Char Koay Teow in other parts of the city without having to wait for over an hour! All these stalls are equally good, tasty and cooked with passion by George Town’s hawkers!
Kwong Wah Yit Poh has released an updated report stating that Uncle Tan is temporarily taking a break as his new shop is currently undergoing renovations. He will be resuming his business in mid-June. The Char Koay Teow will no longer operate from the roadside pushcart.
Travel tip: The Siam Road Char Koay Teow does not have fixed closing days. Generally, the business hour is Tuesday through Sunday from 3 pm to 11 pm.
Special Method: Charcoal fire
PERAK ROAD CHARCOAL CHAR KOAY TEOW (Night)
For a simple duck egg, Char Koay Teow fix at night, this stall ingredients such as prawns and Lap Cheong and rice noodles. There are no fancy big prawns or mantis prawns but good wok hei makes it a great meal with good aroma. Most patrons will buy takeaway as there are only 1 or 2 tables provided for dining in.
Travel tip: Try the red bean soup from the small stall selling next to this CKT
Special Method: Charcoal fire
Perak Road Charcoal Char Koay Teow | first traffic light past Jalan Perak fire station | Business Hours: 7:30 – 11:30 pm (Supposedly close on weekends)]
Landmarks: On your left, after the first traffic light past Jalan Perak fire station if you are coming from Georgetown
KIMBERLEY STREET CHAR KOAY TEOW (Push Cart Night)
This is the stall I normally take my outstation friends when they visit Penang. The pushcart stall is stall located at the junction of Kimberley Street and Cintra Street, in front of Kedai Kopi Sin Guat Keong.
I like this section of Chinatown at night for the number of stalls available at the numerous kopitiams in the area. What about New Lane or MacAlister Road area, you ask? It’s a just a personal preference.
We like the Char Koay Teow here. Most in Penang know this stall and are divided in their opinion. Some say it’s the best, others complain that it’s is overpriced and the portion is small.
Taste wise it’s not so fantastic nor is it bland. Some days when Uncle is not so tired he fries up a solid plate. The charred bits and smoky flavor are what I enjoy the most. Sometimes, the standard slips a little. Uncle is a little inconsistent in his quality. Old habits die hard, my friends and I remain regulars as enjoy the taste of the Char Koay Teow here.
Travel tip: You can order this even if you sit in any of the kopitiams. I will normally wait and self-service as sometimes they forget where you’re seated if there is a long queue. Hygiene wise try not to seat in Kedai Kopi Sin Guat Keong. The kopitiam need a good wash!
Special Method: Has mantis prawns
Kedai Kopi Sin Guat Keong | 86, Lebuh Kimberley, George Town, Penang
Operation Hours: 05:30PM—12:00AM (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
BEE HOOI CHAR KOAY TEOW (Push Cart Night)
Most Penangites, bring take their visitors to Pulau Tikus enclave to have a nice hawker feast. Only the tourists go to Gurney Drive area to eat. This is a fact. So if you have a local Penang friend, you’re in good hands if they mention Bee Hooi or the Pulau Tikus Night Market as part of your eating itinerary.
I normally have Pasembor at Bee Hooi for some strange reason. My friends have remarked that I only order this for supper at a kopitiam. My closest friends will know my two favorite haunts for supper and these are not hawker food. <Grins> if you follow this blog closely you will realize that I have a penchant for bread rather than noodles.
One night I was starving and decided to order a Char Koay Teow here. It was already 10.30pm what was I thinking? I knew it was too late and too calorie and cholesterol-laden right? I walked through the stifling spicy smoke and ordered a plate.
Verdict: Simply delicious and it tastes better than the stall at Kimberley Street
Bee Hooi Restaurant | Food Court | 415, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, Penang
Business Hours: 6 PM – 11 PM
How I make my Homestyle Char Koay Teow
Reputed to be cholesterol-laden, this plate of wok fried flat rice noodles is greasy, oily, fragrant and SCRUMPTIOUS! Sometimes we make a healthier version for our Sunday brunch. We love this one-pan Homestyle Char Koay Teow with extra Chinese Chives, Bean Sprouts, fresh Prawns and Sio Bak. This is definitely a crowd pleaser guaranteed to win many votes from secret admirers.
Char Koay Teow is best prepared in individual portions. It is not always possible or convenient to prepare it this way at home.
Normally, I would prepare this Homestyle Char Koay Teow for 4 large servings all at one go. I normally cook about 500gm of Koay Teow. This way, the entire family gets to eat together. This is great for a Sunday brunch meal as it is a time saver and tasty.
You can use shrimps, eggs, Chinese Chives, and Bean Sprouts. We just like to make a luxurious version with added Sio Bak. You can choose to fry the Sio Bak or leave it as garnish.
I use a large non-stick pan for this recipe as I don’t have a well-seasoned wok. With a non-stick pan, the Koay Teow does not stick to the bottom of the wok. If you have growing teens, then this beats taking them out for a hawker meal treat. The boys can polish off three plates of Char Koay Teow each!
2 lbs fresh Koay Teow (fresh flat-cut rice noodles) (800g)
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 cloves garlic (minced)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp chili paste
2 tbsp fish sauce
½ tsp ground pepper
200g Fresh Prawns
Bean Sprouts (trimmed) (200g)
Chinese Chives (optional)
2 tbsp Minced Chinese Preserved Radish (normally used for Char Kueh Kak)
- Loosen up Koay Teow and set aside. Peel thick strands and separate it.
- In a large non-stick pan, heat vegetable oil. Saute minced garlic for 30 seconds. Add Minced Chinese Preserved Radish and continue to fry for 3 minutes.
- Put in the Prawns
- Add Koay Teow, chili paste, dark soy sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, and pepper. Stir to get everything well mixed and coated with sauce. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Move Koay Teow aside and add enough oil to fry the egg.
- Add bean sprouts and continue to stir for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Remove and serve immediately.
Cooking tip: If your non-stick pan is too shallow, fry this in two batches.