Faced with the prospect of yet another 2-week COVID lockdown to be declared soon, we decided to sally forth to Balik Pulau on the other side of the island to lunch at Lok Khoon last Friday.
Lok Khoon is the current social media darling in Penang, and food-hunters from all over the island would descend upon the ramshackle, tin-roofed eatery like packs of piranha each day.
I finally understood its popularity last week when i got there - amidst an Amazonian rainforest setting, Lok Khoon was an unlikely oasis of Penang-Chinese hawker fare with its plethora of unusual and tasty eats by its phalanx of enthusiastic hawkers: from Thor Huat Lim’s chicken rice balls, to Khor Keat Huat’s bubbly, crispy “sar hor fun” and Soo Hock Soon’s slow-griddled “oh chien”.
The ramshackle canal-side eatery, Lok Khoon, in Balik Pulau looked like a scene out of Héctor Babenco’s “At Play in the Fields of the Lord”.
Hainanese chicken rice balls
Thor Huat Lim, 46, is perhaps the only chicken rice-ball purveyor in Penang. Typical of Penang’s cosmopolitan make-up, he’s Hokkien but has mastered the art of cooking Hainanese chicken rice.
Hand-rolling chicken rice into ping pong-sized balls.
Poached yellow-skinned kampung chicken.
Chicken rice balls and poached chicken, served with poached chicken, beansprouts, cucumbers, with a trio of minced chilis, soy and garlic-scallion dips.
Sar hor fun and Hokkien fried noodles
Ah Huat’s noodles stall, adjacent to Lok Khoon. One can order the dishes here to be delivered to one’s table inside Lok Khoon.
Khor Keat Huat aka Ah Huat, 54, is Teochew-Chinese, but rustles up Cantonese stir-fries with aplomb.
Ah Huat’s claim-to-fame is his crispy noodle “sar hor fun”. The “tua pan koay teow” here is first deep-fried till the noodles bubbled up and crisped.
The broad, thick rice noodles (known as “tua pan koay teow” in local Penang-Hokkien lingo) were deep-fried in hot oil till they puffed up.
(Left) Puffed-up deep-fried noodles, and (right) noodles before being deep-fried:
Crisped noodle bubbles, ready to be smothered with meat-seafood gravy.
Ah Huat cooks the various noodle dishes with clockwork efficiency.
Crispy “sar hor fun” - crispy bubble-shaped noodles, smothered with an unctuous, eggy braised pork-shrimp-pig’s liver-gai lan gravy.
Hokkien char (fried noodles) - yellow Hokkien wheat noodles are stir-fried with pork, pig’s liver, shrimps and gai lan greens, flavoured with oyster sauce and both light- and dark- soy sauces.
Ah Huat also does a mean “belacan chicken” - chicken marinated in fermented shrimp sauce, then deep-fried.
Lunching at the hot, tin-roofed Lok Khoon at mid-day is like descending into Dante’s Inferno for one’s sustenance.
Oh chien (oyster omelette)
Youngish “oh chien” (oyster omelette) chef, Soo Hock Soon, is only 26. The talented sojourner has recently returned from working as a chef at Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore.
A local lad, he swapped his chef’s togs and the bright lights of big-city Singapore to return to his home village.
Here, he produces crisp-on-the-outside, moist-inside Teochew-style “oh chien”.
Fishing boats occasionally passed by the canal-side eatery.
Soo Hock Soon’s “oh chien” is meticulously fried and folded. Positively bursts with flavours.
Soo Hock Soon’s “oh chien” stall also offers Penang-Nyonya otak-otak (spicy fish-coconut crème pudding). Wrapped in banana leaf parcels and steamed, this is one of my fave snacks of all time in Penang.
Other stalls at Lok Khoon offered hawker food items which didn’t really stand out from others of their kind in Penang. One would probably get much better renditions in George Town.
4) Penang-style fruit rojak
Teochew “chai kueh” (steamed vegetable dumplings) - one can’t really find good “Teochew chai kueh” on Penang island, as the Hokkien-Chinese can’t simply get this very Teochew food item right. In Penang, one goes over to the mainland, Province Wellesley, Bukit Mertajam or any of the townships which are Teochew-dominated to get good renditions.
Penang white nutmeg juice - chilled nutmeg juices - excellent rendition here - served with salted plums.
"Hor kar sai"- the milk coffee + Milo (chocolate mailt) iced beverage originating from the neighbouring town of Taiping in Perak state.
Come to Lok Khoon by 11.30am, to avoid the lunch-time crowd - it’s simply amazing how many people from George Town made the long drive out here, just to have the selfsame dishes one can get in the city, but simply to have them in a rustic atmosphere.
Kedai Kopi Lok Khoon (樂群茶室)
Kampung Jalan Baru, 11000 Balik Pulau, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6010-383 1274
Opening hours: 11.30am to 9pm Mon-Tue, Thu-Sun. Closed on Wednesdays. (Chicken rice stall is also closed on Tuesdays).