[Penang, Malaysia] Dinner at Gou Lou Sar Hor Fun, Campbell Street

The Gou Lou (“Tall Guy”) Sar Hor Fun stall was one of the mainstays at the now-defunct Yi Garden coffeeshop on the junction of MacAlister Road and Lorong Selamat. Founded in the 1930s, Gou Lou Sar Hor Fun was one of the most famous proponents of this Cantonese dish in Penang, alongside Foo Heong on Cintra Street and Seng Kee on Dato’ Keramat Road.

The Thum family has been running the business from generation to generation since the 1930s. The current owner-chef is 60-something year-old Mr Thum Soon Choong, who’d been frying “sar hor fun” and “yee fu mee”, taking over from his uncle over 40 years ago at Lorong Selamat.

The menu at its new digs in Campbell Street contains all the staple dishes from the well-known fried noodle purveyor of yore: “sar hor fun”, “yee fu mee”, “oh mee” and “Hokkien char”.

Our dinner yesterday evening consisted of:

  1. Sar hor fun is a Cantonese dish named after its wide, thick noodles originating from the “Sar Hor” district in Guangdong. The noodle is called “tua pan koay teow” in Penang.
    Nowadays, Hokkien-speaking Penangites have bastardized the name of the dish, calling it “char hor fun”, a hybrid term - “char” meaning “fried” in the Hokkien dialect and “hor fun”, the Cantonese term for flat, rice noodles.

Sar hor fun consisted of a mixture of wide, flat rice noodles with fine “bee hoon” noodles, first wok-fried in lard, sesame oil, dark and light soy sauce till aromatic.
Then, a braising sauce with pork, pig’s liver, prawns, fish-meat and “choy sum” greens are prepared and poured over the noodles.

  1. "Oh mee - braised yellow Hokkien noodles with oysters, shrimps, pork & pig’s liver.

  2. Yee fu mee - a fried then braised noodle dish. The dish used a crisp-fried, rehydrated, then fried “yee fu” noodles which has an aromatic scent and spongey texture.
    The braised meat & seafood sauce slathered over the noodles is the same as the one for the “sar hor fun” dish.

  3. Fried Hokkien noodles - stir-fried yellow, wheat noodles with prawns, pork and pig’s liver, flavored with dark- and light-soy sauce, flavored with minced garlic and dried flounder.

  4. Belacan kay - deep-fried chicken wings marinated in Cantonese “har cheong” (fermented prawn sauce).

  5. Fried “choy sum” with oyster sauce, topped with pork lard and shallots

It calls itself a rather lengthy Gou Lou Hong Kee Chao Sar Hor Fun & Noodles nowadays. The neighboring Hong Kee Bamboo-pressed Wantan Noodles eatery a few doors down is actually owned/run by Mr Thum’s younger brother.

The name of this noodle shop included Hong Kee, similar to the wantan noodle shop, down the street as Thum Soon Choong’s older brother, Thum Soon Hong, owned the latter shop.

Address
Gou Lou Hong Kee Chao Sar Hor Fun & Noodles
高佬(鸿记)炭炒沙河粉面食
89, Campbell Street, 10100 George Town, Penang
Tel: +6016-548 1248
Operating hours: 10am to 9pm Mon to Sat. Closed on Sundays.

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Sounds a lovely meal, Peter. I know you have a healthy appetite - but how many of you were eating that feast?

By the by, I think I’m going to be soon dining out vicariously through your reviews. I’m expecting a local lockdown of restaurants, probably to be announced on Monday (although we’d already decided not to go out this week). Like most major urban areas in northwest England, we’re already subject to extra restrictions but they’re not containing the virus. Our borough has gone from an infection rate of under 9 per 100k population a month ago to nearly 200. And the neighbouring borough, Manchester, is over 500.

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Would eat every dish at this place.

I especially like this one, leaves Hong Kong’s overcooked kai lan with oyster sauce in the dust.

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There were four in our party - it was a pretty carb-heavy meal, so we were feeling quite sated afterwards!

Do keep safe, John. Precarious times still - as long as we don’t have the vaccine yet.

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497 days since the Malaysian Control Order (MCO) was first implemented on 18 Mar 2020, and Day 78 of the current MCO 3.0 lockdown. And with new COVID cases showing an alarming spike in numbers currently, it doesn’t look like there will be any loosening of controls to permit dining-in at restaurants any time soon.

Lunch today were take-outs from Gou Lou Sar Hor Fun. Noodle dishes that needed to be served sizzling hot, straight from being wok-seared over high heat, normally don’t travel well.

Ditto Gou Lou Sar Hor Fun’s dishes which we ordered today - they ended up rather gluggy as we plated the 3 noodle dishes we’d ordered from their take-away packs. Luckily, the noodles’ taste profiles were so expertly balanced, they made up for the deterioration of textures to a certain extent.

  1. Cantonese Sar Hor Fun - still one of the best in town. All things being equal (no one in town can offer dining-in anyway), Gou Lou managed to trump its nearest rivals with a well-flavored rendition of the dish. I’d always marveled at Penang sar hor fun - its closest equivalent in Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur - the wat tan hor, do not come near the Penang version, which has a stronger taste profile, for “porky”, more intense seafood flavor in its gravy, sharper focus on its flavors by using vinegar, sugar, garlic and other condiments. Actually, the noodle dish which matches it most closely is Thai Rad Na noodles - about 80%-90% similarity.

  1. Dry Cantonese Yee Fu Mee - yee fu noodles in Penang (akin to “crispy noodles” one finds in Chinatowns in the West) are usually made in large keg-shaped wheels of crisp, dry noodles - one always see them stacked alongside a hawker stall. The noodles had been deep-fried to a dry crisp and has a lighter, spongier texture, plus a distinct toasty flavor when rehydrated by par-boiling.

The re-hydrated yee fu mee is stir-fried in lard, soy sauce and other condiments till a “wok hei” seared fragrance is obtained, before being topped with the meat-seafood gravy. As with the sar hor fun, the yee fu mee is served with pickled green chilis, which cuts through the richness of the dish beautifully.
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  1. Hokkien Char - this is a local Penang-Hokkien stir-fry - a Fujianese dish which finds its way into many Cantonese noodle places in Malaysia by virtue of its popularity, and also the fact that the Hokkiens/Fujianese constituted the largest ethnic Chinese group in Malaysia, ahead of the Hakkas, Teochews, Cantonese, Hainanese and others. Hokkien char is never served with pickled green chilis, but with spicy-red sambal belacan chili-and-fermented shrimp paste dip.

We do miss dining out, and having these noodles served steaming hot, straight from the wok. But, with the current situation as it is, Gou Lou’s probably the best place to have take-out versions of those dishes.
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Can I ask if the lard mentioned in these posts are all the same or different?

The reason I’m asking is I started fiddling with American BBQ and there are a lot of trimmings which are overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) fat. I can and have rendered and used the fat as a cooking oil but there’s so much I’m trying to find other uses such as various forms of seasoning meat.

Your writing about the choy sum topped with lard in particular seemed like a similar application so any information you may have towards that end would be much appreciated!

That should be lardons, i.e. crisp golden-fried nuggets of pork fat.

The noodles fried in lard refers to rendered fat here.

Gotcha, thanks!

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold