[Penang] "Lor bak" at Kedai Kopi Malabar

“Lor bak” refers not only to the 5-spiced meat rolls (consisting of pork strips marinated in Chinese 5-spice, then wrapped in beancurd sheets and deep-fried), but a paraphernalia of deep-fried morsels that, together, make up a “lor bak” platter. A similar dish in Singapore is called “ngoh hiang”, which is Hokkien for “5-spice”. The term used in Singapore is also used elsewhere in the region, including Taiwan and other parts of Malaysia.

In Penang, it’s called “lor bak” to refer to the “lor” dip: an unctuous sauce made from boiling water, 5-spice power, dark soy sauce and sugar, thickening it with a tapioca flour slurry, then stirring in egg white. The dip, served at room temperature, is recognizable from its dark brown appearance, streaked through with egg ribbons. By dipping the “bak” (meaning “meat” in Hokkien) into the “lor” sauce, one gets “lor bak”. Another dip served separately would be a spicy, red chili dip - spicier and less sweet than their Thai counterpart.

The usual “lor bak” platter would usually consist of the “lor bak” (5-spiced rolls), “heh chee” (crisp, golden-fried prawn fritters), deep-fried tofu, century egg wedges with pickled ginger, batter-fried fish and fresh cucumber. Different “lor bak” stalls may also other options on top of these basic, must-have ones.

A plate of Singapore’s “ngoh hiang”, for comparison’s sake. The Singapore “ngoh hiang” does not have the brown “lor” sauce, which distinguishes it from its Penang counterpart. This “ngoh hiang” was obtained from Hong Lim Food Centre, and is one of Singapore’s best.

But, other than their common Fujianese/Hokkien roots, the two dishes have evolved separately through the centuries. Penang’s “lor bak” tend to have lighter, crispier textures, and “cleaner” taste, compared to the heavier Singaporean “ngoh hiang”.

In Malaysia’s oldest city, Malacca, a similar dish there is actually called “hae phneah” (which is Hokkien for “prawn biscuit” - referring to the prawn fritter which is part of their platter). Different terms and with slight regional variances for essentially the same dish.

Yesterday at lunch, we re-visited one of Penang’s legendary hawkers who made the first visit to Adelaide in 1975, as part of the Adelaide-Penang Sister Cities celebrations. Back then, it afforded South Australians a rare opportunity to taste Penang hawker fare.

One of Penang’s most famous 𝘭𝘰𝘳 𝘣𝘢𝘬 spots is the one at 𝗛𝗼 𝗣𝗶𝗻𝗴 kopitiam on the corner of Penang Road and Kampung Malabar. But ever since the old kopitiam closed down in 2022, it’s moved next door to 𝗞𝗲𝗱𝗮𝗶 𝗞𝗼𝗽𝗶 𝗠𝗮𝗹𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗿.

Lim Ah Kuang was the founder of this famous 𝘭𝘰𝘳 𝘣𝘢𝘬 stall – by the time he was selected as one of the state’s best hawkers to promote Penang hawker food in the 1975 Penang Week in Adelaide, he had been in the business for 35 years. Other hawkers who were in Adelaide included the famous 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘳 𝘬𝘰𝘢𝘺 𝘵𝘦𝘰𝘸 and fruit 𝘳𝘰𝘫𝘢𝘬 hawkers from Gurney Drive, and the 𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘪 𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘢𝘪/𝘮𝘶𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘣𝘢𝘬 hawker from Batu Lanchang. Lim Ah Kuang was usually assisted by his two daughters, Lim Siew Hong and Lim Siew Choo.

Today, Lim Ah Kuang’s maternal grandson, Lee Chee Khim @ CK Lee (the son of Lim Siew Choo), continues the family’s 𝘭𝘰𝘳 𝘣𝘢𝘬 business, following on the tradition of his grandfather in providing some of the best-tasting 𝘭𝘰𝘳 𝘣𝘢𝘬 in Penang!

To order, one just needs to point out one’s choices to CK Lee, who’ll then deep-fry the morsels, cut them up and deliver them crisp and hot to the table

“Lor bak” platter, served with its two trademark sauces: “lor” (brown sauce dip) and “huan chio cho” (chili-vinegar dip)

“Heh chee” (prawn fritter) dipped into the “lor” sauce

Kedai Kopi Malabar
55, Kampong Malabar, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6016-986 0984
Operating hours: 8am to 5pm, Mon to Sat. Closed on Sundays.