However, there are other options this evening, and here are what we had.
Oh chien (oyster omelette) - “oh chien” is a Hokkien/Fujianese-style oyster omelette. Similar excellent renditions, with minor localised variations, can be found in many places in this region with sizable Hokkien populations - Penang and Malacca in Malaysia, Singapore, Taipei and Kaohsiung in Taiwan, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Bangkok in Thailand, Jakarta and Surabaya in Indonesia.
I absolutely love the Taiwanese rendition, but I miss the hot chili sauce (which is usually served with “oh chien” in Singapore/Malaysia) which the Tainwanese are not too fond of.
Tau kwa chien (fried tofu) - this was offered by the “oh chien” stall as well. I love tofu in any form or dish, and this simple pan-fried version, served with a chili dip, hits all the right spots fot me.
Sar hor fun - a popular Cantonese stir-fried/braised noodle dish, this is the famous Penang variant of wat tan hor fun. I love the Penang version to bits - it has the lightest “sweet” taste which undercuts the saltiness of the sauce. The Hokkien influence in Penang probably sees the use of pork/chicken/pig’s liver/pig’s intestines alongside seafood items like shrimps, fish and squid, to achieve the complex, multi-layered flavours that I simply adored in this dish.
Yee fu mein - the other noodles dish, this one utilising the roasted-then-rehydrated noodle, given the same treatment/cooking procedure as for the sar hor fun, i.e. the noodle is first fried with lard, soysauce and a bit of sesame oil then set aside. The meats/seafood and kai-lan vegetable are then stir-fried with garlic, and the chicken/pork stock added, before being thickened with beaten egg and a cornstarch slurry. The whole braised meats/seafood sauce are then poured over the noodles and served immediately.
Char koay teow - the Penang Teochew classic of stir-fried flat rice noodles with shrimps, Chinese waxed sausages, chives, beansprouts, cockles and egg, flavoured with good soy sauce, fish sauce and chili paste.
Back to the popular Presgrave Street hawker stalls for dinner last night. Amazingly, all the hawker food options we ordered tasted so much better than I remembered from my previous visit - more care and attention by the hawkers in producing their food, maybe also because business is slower these days because of the concern over the COVID pandemic sees lesser number of people eating out.
Penang-style curry noodles - this Penang classic sets it apart from other types of curry noodles anywhere else in Malaysia or Singapore. The local version here is more liquid, with a salty-savoury coconut milk-infused soup (rather than gravy). The mixture of yellow Hokkien wheat noodles and thin rice noodles (“bee hoon”) are topped with shrimps, pig’s blood jelly (my fave!), cockles, cuttlefish tentacles, tofu puffs, beansprouts and mint leaves. A spoonful of spicy minced chili-cooked-in-oil was provided, to be mixed in before eating - warning, this chili paste is explosive, so I normally poured away some of its elsewhere.
Oh chien (oyster omelette) - the hawker-chef this evening was a younger chap, perhaps the son of the woman in-charge of the stall on my previous visit. His rendition tasted really good, and much better than the ones I had from my several previous visits. Hokkien “oh chien” requires a tapioca starch-slurry added to the scrambled eggs during the frying process, where the tapioca would transform into gooey-sticky bits much treasured by Hokkien diners. Oysters would be added to omelette towards the end, just before its being dishes out.
I have a couple of Singaporean cousins who’d come to Penang and order “oh chien” without the oysters (which always leaves the hawker-chef perplexed), just because they adored the fried omelette with the sticky-gooey tapioca starch bits inside.
Roti bak kwa - this is Penang’s answer to the Vietnamese banh mi, albeit a daintier, more delicate version: small buns sandwiching BBQ pork jerky slices. I grew up on these, and one can really devour 4 to 5 buns at one go. The buns were kept warm in a steamer (which also kept them incredibly moist), and the pork jerky would be lightly grilled on order. The buns were then slit open, and a delicious sweet-savoury sauce (used to marinade the pork jerky) would be slathered on the insides of the slit buns, then a slice or two of the pork jerky inserted inside. A must-try.
I often wondered what the Taiwanese hoped to achieve with that sweet-sour ketchup-based sauce of theirs. In Penang, our chili sauce was sharp (vinegar)-spicy (red habanero chilis)-tangy (calamansi lime) - its function was to cut through the richness and greasiness (and glugginess from all that tapioca starch jelly) of the oyster omelette. Next time I go to Taiwan, I’m going to pack some Sriracha chili sauce or the like.
Funny how our tastes diverged, despite the Taiwanese being from the same origins as Penang-Hokkiens. Penang’s Zhangzhou-based Hokkien dialect is mutually intelligible with Taiwanese. But Penang’s Hokkiens have absorbed other culinary influences: Thai, Burmese, Indian, Malay, etc. to make up what constitutes Penang-Hokkien cooking.