Penang’s Hokkien mee originated from the “spring noodles” of Fujian province, China. However, whilst the original in Fujian gets its reddish hue from parboiling shrimp-heads and shrimp shells, the Penang version gets its colour (and some heat) from pureed chilli.
Penang-style Hokkien mee consisted of a mix yellow Hokkien wheat noodles and thin “bee hoon” rice noodles in a rich, slightly spicy pork-shrimp broth, quite different from the Singapore Hokkien mee which is stir-fry of yellow Hokkien noodles and thick white rice noodles in a pork-shrimp stock.
KL’s Hokkien noodles, on the other hand, is a stir-fry of yellow Hokkien noodles in lard, garlic, minced dried flounder and a rich pork-shrimp broth added gradually during the frying process. So, different versions for Penang, Singapore and KL - the only similarity being the use of pork-shrimp broth in the cooking process.
One of Penang’s best-known Hokkien noodle spot is located at the Presgrave Street Hawker Centre which only opens in the evenings (after 5.30pm). Presgrave Street is known in the local Penang Hokkien dialect as “Sar Tiau Lor” (Third Street).
There’ll be a constant queue at the Hokkien mee stall - you won’t miss it. The noodle stock is spicy and savoury-sweet (most Hokkien mee vendors add rock sugar into their soup stock during the boiling process). Noodles - usually a mix of yellow Hokkien noodles, thin “bee hoon” rice noodles and blanched beansprouts - are added and topped with thinly-slivered pork slices, shrimps, a few slices of hard-boiled egg and a sprinkling of golden-fried shallots: very simple, rustic fare which betrays its peasant roots.
There are other hawker food options around if one wants to try other types of well-known Penang hawker fare: Penang “char koay teow” (fried flat rice noodles with shrimps, eggs, lard, Chinese waxed sausage, chives):
Penang “char koay kak” (fried rice-radish cake, similar to Vietnamese “bot chien” or Singapore fried “chai tow kway”).
Penang-style wantan noodles, which is pretty different from the excellent Cantonese ones that I find in Kuala Lumpur, or the subtle soupy ones in Hong Kong. The Penang wantan noodles have very good “sui kow” (pork-shrimp dumplings) but pretty wonky “char-siu” - tinted red and no caramelisation - different from KL/HK versions but similar to Singapore ones. I think both Penang and Singapore are mainly Hokkien-Teochew, so their cooking styles reflect those dialect groups’ practice. The Penang version is served with pickled green chili.
There is also a very famous “lor bak” (variety of deep-fried morsels: pork roll, shrimp fritters, tofu, etc.) stall located at the same hawker centre, right behind the Hokkien mee stall. It was formerly from Ho Ping coffeeshop on Penang Road, but has moved here last year after a dispute between the lor bak seller and the Ho Ping coffeeshop owner. However, this stall wasn’t open yesterday evening when we were there - still on an extended break after the Chinese New Year (28/29 Jan) celebrations.
“Sar Tiau Lor” is part of George Town’s “Chit Tiau Lor” (7 Streets) district - an old inner city precinct of 7 parallel streets which used to be a working-class neighbourhood, but parts of which has gentrified these days, with dining gems sprinkled here and there.
The 7 Streets (“Chit Tiau Lor”):
1st Street - Thau Tiau Lor = Magazine Road
2nd Street - Ji Tiau Lor = Noordin Road
3rd Street - Sar Tiau Lor = Presgrave Street
4th Street - Si Tiau Lor = Tye Sin Street
5th Street - Gor Tiau Lor = MacCallum Street
6th Street - Lak Tiau Lor = Katz Street
7th Street - Chit Tiau Lor = Cecil Street
Further afield are:
8th Street - Pek Tiau Lor = Herriot Street
9th Street - Kau Tiau Lor = Sandilands Street