[Penang] Char koay teow from Bee Hooi coffeeshop, Pulau Tikus

Day 54 of the Lockdown here. Penang has eased some of the controls, and hawkers by the roadside can operate now. No dining in is allowed still, so all food businesses can only offer take-outs.

This octogenarian hawker has been frying his char koay teow outside Bee Hooi Café in the suburb of Pulau Tikus for nearly half century now. His wife still helped him - fanning the charcoal-fired brazier with a hand-held bamboo fan, whilst the old man dishes out his popular fried noodles. The old chap is a stickler for the “proper” way to fry his noodles: in individual servings. I ordered four take-out packs, and stood there watching him fry them one at a time: first sautéing the garlic and chili paste in pork lard, followed by the blood cockles, shrimps and Chinese waxed sausages. The flat rice noodles (“koay teow”) are then added, given a good fry to sear them, then the beansprouts and chives. Condiments are then added: the fish sauce, light & dark soy sauce. And, finally, an egg, cracked into the wok and tossed in with the noodles to give the finished product an added richness. And he meticulously repeated this process for each individual portion.

I contrasted his approach with the “Penang-style char koay teow” I had at the insanely popular Malaysia Boleh foodcourt in Singapore. I was told by my Singaporean cousins that the char koay teow there was justly famous and joined in a snaking long queue to give it a try. Then, I watched as the guy there fried something like 20 portions at one go in a gigantic wok! He was cracking the eggs straight into his huge mound of noodles in the wok from an entire carton he’d laid next to his gas-fuelled cooking stove! There was no way he’d get the wok-seared aroma from bulk-cooking like that!

More importantly, it highlighted the approach taken by Singapore hawkers (bulk processing/short-cut/fast delivery) vis-à-vis Penang hawkers with their traditional approach and taking pride in their preparation and cooking. Penangites are also fussier with the taste and quality of their hawker food, whereas Singaporeans, through the years, have come to regard food as not much more than “fuel-for-the-stomach”. Hawker food in Singapore from as recent as the 70s and 80s were still very, very good. These days, it’s a sad state of affairs - really good, discerning hawkers have become the exception rather than the norm in Singapore. In Penang, a bad hawker would not last beyond a month!

The old couple here at Bee Hooi coffeeshop has 3 children, all grown-ups - two daughters and one son, but all of them had their own families and careers. But there was one woman helping him do the wrapping for take-outs yesterday - I’m not sure if she was one of the daughters.

As always, I’d see bandages on the old man’s arms and legs - I highly doubt frying “char koay teow” is that dangerous - but the old couple were sparring verbally as always, as they worked yesterday: I used to wonder if their quarrels turned physical at home, but then, the wife always looked perfectly fine. :grin:

I liked my char koay teow without the chili paste, but 99% of Penangites will have theirs with chili. You can see the different shades of char koay teow without and with chili here:

Red-hued, chili-spiked char koay teow - one of Penang’s most popular hawker food item:

Bee Hooi
415 Jalan Burmah (intersection with Pulau Tikus Lane)
10350 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Opening hours: 6pm to 11pm daily, except Tuesday.


You must be so relieved to get out of the apartment block at long last. Stay safe, mate.

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Thanks, John. Am out, but with some degree of trepidation. Funny how a steady diet of scary news from around the world played on one’s nerves.

But I bought some stuff I’d been hankering for during the lockdown at the large Mercato supermarket (our version of Sainsbury): I got some polenta to cook for lunch today. :grin:

I’ve got a pot of ratatouille which I’d just cooked perfuming the kitchen, even as I’m typing this.

And I’ve got a new stash of Cumberland pork sausages in the freezer. :joy::joy::joy:

That said, it’s not exactly “back to normal” here in Penang and the rest of Malaysia - we are still under a Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), but it’s loosened a bit - e.g. two persons allowed in one car, whereas previously it was one. And the police road-blocks which were everywhere had been lifted - previously, if one didn’t have a valid reason to be out, it’s an automatic MYR1,000 (£188) fine. The CMCO will last until June 9 - after that, it’s anybody’s guess what new conditions we’ll have.


Very good news!

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