Travelblogue: Postcards from Penang – Char Kway Teow


I like getting postcards from exotic locations all over the world. If I were in Penang I’d send postcards like this to all my friends…

Dear Jane,

Just had some Char Kway Tiow…Wish you were here!”

It just so happens I was in Penang and did have this Char Kway Tiow. It’s impossible to be there and not! Who could resist a plate of freshly fried noodles, fragrant with ‘wok hei’ (the slightly charred aroma that comes from flash frying in a hot wok) and glistening with hidden gems of Chinese sausage, prawns, chives and beansprouts.

I don’t know if this sounds typically touristy, but staying on Jln Macalister is really the most convenient if you want to eat Char Kway Tiow and assorted other hawker food. With many stalls within walking distance of each other, it’s pretty easy to find something decent without having to worry about finding your way around (cabs are S C A R C E here)

Many 'kafes' here have the cooking done out front. As if it were the building that grew out from behind the food cart.

The stall I really like, and where this ‘post card’ was taken is Kafe Heng Huat. It was recommended by a friend’s aunt who lives in Penang (and by our long-awaited for taxi driver) and if the locals say it’s good, whose gonna argue?

It’s on Jln Selamat, just off Macalister , and easily distinguished by the cook out front who spends the whole afternoon ‘char-ing’ kway tiow in a flamboyant, fire-engine red chef’s hat.

It only opens from lunch onwards and closes in the evening. We were the last customers one evening, and got to watch the ‘Mrs Fire-engine’ fry up her last dish and unwind from the labours of the day by counting her takings – the fruits of her labour so to speak.

The noodles are gorgeous. So far one of the better versions I’ve had in Penang (don’t bother with Sister’s, just up the road at the start of Jln Macalister – not so great in my opinion).

Imagine a mouthful of this right now...

At ‘Kafe’ Heng Huat, the fresh strands of rice noodles are coated with just enough oil and egg to be moist but not greasy; and the perfect harmony of soft noodles, firm but succulent prawns and cruchy bean sprouts.

Imagine it steaming hot from the wok. Savoury and spicy and delightfully redolent with ‘wok hei’. Uunnghh…I would kill for a plate now. Damn the erosion of the good ole’ hawker tradition in Singapore. Damn the food court chains that serve soulless, tasteless, mass produced gloop.

The lovely thing about eating in Penang too is that you can be sitting in one ‘kafe’ but order food from a million other hawkers outside and they will serve you wherever you are. Nobody seems to mind – neither ‘kafe’ owner nor hawkers, and definitely not the customers. I think the only thing is you should order drinks from the ‘kafe’ you sit in – as a form of courtesy.

In Heng Huat, as you wait for your Char Kway Tiow, you can enjoy the delights of the street. And no, I’m not talking about hookers. More like Assam Laksa…hahah…you can get it from the stall diagonally across the street.

Noodles light as air (none of that spongy, fatty texture that’s so common in the Penang fat bee hoon), simmering in a soup that’s heartily flavoured with ‘hay kow’ (if you don’t know what this is, you don’t want to know) and mint, sweetly tangy with pineapples and crunchy with cucumbers and onions. Delightful, just delightful!

So much for postcards. Someone just send me an airticket to Penang please!

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About Mizdee

Food, food, food. Apart from love, it's the other thing that makes the world go round. When I'm sad it's a comfort, when I'm happy it's a celebration and when I'm not hungry, it's just greediness. But hey! Why not? Life is short too pass up a good meal.

One comment

  1. mads

    and i thought it was in SG!@#!@#!@ hahaha.
    next trip d!

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