Met up with a couple of old school chums for brekkie last Saturday (28 Sep) and they suggested the ever-popular One Corner Cafe. It was the eve of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival or, as it’s called in Penang, “Kew Ong Yeah”, a major Taoist festival which stretches for 9 days, and is also known as the “vegetarian festival”, as many Penangites who’re Chinese-Taoists will go on a strict vegetarian diet for 9 whole days. Many of Penang’s famous hawkers will be closed for the entire 9 days as their customer numbers will dwindle drastically. One Corner Cafe itself will shutter for 9 whole days from 29 Sep till 7 Oct, with many of their hawkers taking the opportunity to go for vacation overseas.
Anyhoo, we were there, together with a whole horde of hungry customers, for one last taste of the hawker goodies before the Hunger Games begin.
- Unmissable, of course, is the famed Hokkien mee stall, which usually entailed a 1-hour wait. Their rendition of the Hokkien noodle/mee dish ticked all the boxes: flavoursome pork-prawn broth, good quality ingredients. Their chili paste was spicier than those from other Penang Hokkien mee spots. Of course, Penang Hokkien mee is as different from KL-style Hokkien mee, as they are both different from Singapore-style Hokkien mee. The similarity is that all 3 used pork and prawns, and yellow Hokkien wheat noodles.
The infamous stall - Super Hokkien Mee - beware the stallowner’s wife who takes the orders. She’s got a big tantrum and is the undisputed Hokkien noodle Nazi of Penang: more than a few of my friends had been on the receiving end of her wrath. They only “followed up” on their orders (a strict no-no!) and she’d holler, “IF YOU CAN’T WAIT, YOU DON’T NEED TO EAT HERE!!”.
Lor Mee and Lor Kay Kah - Lor mee is a Fujianese/Hokkien noodle dish with a brown, unctuous sauce, very flavoursome from the use of meat stock and various condiments, thickened with tapioca starch, and streaked through with egg ribbons.
We don’t usually come to One Corner Cafe and order this - but then, half of the stalls were already closed in preparation for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival - including the more popular Char Koay Teow, Wantan Noodles, Hainanese Chicken Rice and Koay Teow Th’ng stalls.
Penang’s lor mee has a mix of yellow Hokkien wheat noodles and thin “bee hoon” rice noodles, with braised pork, chicken feet, fish cakes, hard-boiled egg and beansprouts. The Singapore version is similar, but with the addition of fish meat, and crunchy crisp-fried tapioca flour bits.
This lor mee stall also offered lor kay kah or braised chicken feet, which my friends simply loved. Very tasty indeed.
Koay chiap - this is a Teochew/Chiuchow/Chaozhou dish, and I loved the Penang rendition to bits, with its lighter duck-based broth. The version which I’m more familiar with - in Singapore, is pork-based and is blander and greasier. Bangkok (where the Chinese are largely Chiuchow/Chaozhou - they are called Taechiu in Thailand) has a pork-based version but with a very peppery broth.
All three renditions are similar in that the noodle used, or the “koay”, is a thick, broad flat rice noodle which curls upon boiling.
The rendition here at One Corner Cafe surprisingly has a strong pork-flavoured broth (instead of the more common duck-based Penang version), and is served garnished with boiled pork slices, braised pigs’ ear, soy-braised chicken feet, tofu and hard-boiled egg. The flavours are more Penang than Singapore despite its pork-base.
Fish rice congee - a Cantonese breakfast dish, and surprisingly tasty! We’d never had ordered this if the other popular stalls had been open, but we’re glad we did - a new food find. It’s served with julienned ginger strips, fresh scallions, a shake of white pepper, and a drizzle of light soysauce and sesame oil.
Chee Cheong Fun (left) and Teochew Chai Kueh (right) - chee cheong fun is steamed rice rolls - the Penang rendition called for a beanpaste dressing spiked with “hae koh” (fermented shrimp paste) which one doesn’t find in versions elsewhere (KL, Singapore, Hong Kong, or anywhere else in the world!). Didn’t quite like it here.
The chai kueh or steamed dumplings filled with either stewed jicama or chives were marginally better, but I won’t come here for this specifically.
Okay, now to endure the next 9 days without many of my favourite hawker food around town.
P.S. - the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is only a big deal in Penang, where the populace are largely Fujianese/Hokkiens. It’s also quite big in Phuket (Thailand) because of its historic links with Penang. The festival is not observed on such scale (if at all) in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Malacca or elsewhere in Malaysia.