One of the most iconic Penang street food has to be the koay teow th’ng, flat rice noodles served in a savoury clear soup, garnished with slivered chicken meat, duckmeat, fishballs and, sometimes, minced pork patties. A spoonful of golden-fried minced garlic in oil and a sprinkling of chopped scallions complete the dish.
Koay teow th’ng is of Teochew/Chaozhou origins - a close cousin to Penang’s koay teow th’ng is Vietnam’s hủ tiếu Nam Vang (literally “koay teow Phnom Penh”), so-called as the dish was introduced to Vietnam by itinerant Teochew noodle vendors from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
One of Penang’s leading purveyors of koay teow th’ng is a long-running stall at Soon Yuen Coffeeshop run by the efficient husband-and-wife duo, Mr Tan Kee Tin (72) and Mdm Pung Mooi Jee (69). Their koay teow th’ng business was started by Mr Tan’s mother back in 1957 when the British first granted independence to Malaya. Mr Tan and his wife took over the cooking and running of the stall from his mother in 1977, and they’d never looked back since.
Teochew fishballs are made from either wolf herring or eel forcemeat and delivered in sheets such as this one. The fishballs are detached and plunged into boiling broth to cook before being added to the noodles & broth.
Be mindful that Soon Yuen coffeeshop opens early for breakfast (around 7am) and closes by noon. It’s pretty packed throughout the morning, and snaring a table can be quite a challenge. But be wiling to persevere and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best street food you’d find in George Town - besides the koay teow th’ng, the Penang-style curry mee, wantan mee and chee cheong fun here are all very good.
Koay teow th’ng - this popular Teochew staple is always done very well here. The dish keeps well as the noodles and soup were packed separately for take-outs. Re-heated at home, it tasted every bit as good.
Wantan mee - one of the best renditions in town here. Unfortunately, this Cantonese noodle dish did not fare so well as a take-out - it was a bit gluggy by the time we got home half an hour later. Malaysian-style wantan mee comes with a dark soy sauce-based dressing - for this take-out, the sauce had seeped into the noodles, softening the texture a bit too much.
On our first night in Osaka, having just checked into our hotel at night, we went to eat dinner. Then right after that on the stroll back to the hotel we saw an udon noodle soup shop. I ordered a bowl and a beer, the partner only had room for some beer, though. The soup was great, and I had just eaten dinner. The beer was poured by a robotic arm attached to the tap!
Reminds me so much of the popular Japanese TV serial, “The Midnight Diner” which I followed for years. The main character is a chef who runs a diner that opens from midnight till dawn. He serves a limited menu of soup noodles (udon/ramen) with beer and sake. Each episode would see different kinds of characters coming in for their supper and, somehow, they all had problems which the chef (just called “The Master”) helped them solve.