Char kway teow, Penang hokkien mee, Penang laksa, rojak – you’re familiar with the names, but they’re all done Malaysian style, and on this side of the bridge
First published on . Updated on 23 Mar 2012.
The space comes across more like a canteen, with its fluorescent lights, and stark floors. It’s easy to imagine its former days as a branch of the Hong Kong Café chain, but the later-installed, vivid floor-to-ceiling photos of dishes that frame the glass doors afford some necessary cosiness and privacy. The walls are also given character with photos of colourful Peranakan ceramics. Waiters are constantly on the move among chatty customers, so stepping in here is like arriving at a busy eatery hidden on a side street in Penang.
What we ate
The ju hu char, Penang’s answer to the local popiah, proved to be a refreshing and crunchy starter. This cuttlefish stir-fry is made with jicama (a Mexican root vegetable), carrots, mushroom and strips of dried cuttlefish. Those not partial to the fishy aftertaste of the cuttlefish can order the lorbak, better known locally as ngoh hiang. Thin, moist slices of lean beef are wrapped up in soybean skin, then dunked into sizzling oil and served with a side bowl of spicy tamarind brown sauce. The char kway teow is a delight despite its small portion. This signature lard-laced offering has the right amount of wok hei (the slightly burnt taste achieved by cooking food quickly at a high temperature) and is brimming with shrimp, cockles, Chinese lap cheong (sausage), beansprouts and eggs. Skip dessert and opt for a glass of the Three-Layer Tea ($2.80). Starting from the bottom of the glass, this drink has bands of palm sugar syrup, evaporated milk, and red tea and ice.
It’s fair to say that you get what you pay for. They could be more generous with some of their servings, and we suggest you don’t go there on an empty stomach – unless you are prepared to order seconds. Charith Pelpola