It's a question every char koay teow fan wrestles with at one time or another.
Is this unofficial Malaysian national dish of stir-fried wide rice noodles best generously sauced and tinted an even black-brown? Or should it be taken light of soy and pale of color, every speck of wok hei'd char visible to the naked eye?
But a recent lunch at Jalan Klang Lama (Old Klang Road) stalwart Restoran Theng Wah made me rethink my bias. I flirted with the dark (and wet) side, and it tasted pretty good.
Purists may argue that the noodle dish pictured up top isn't a true char koay teow. Though it incorporates the required blood cockles, eggs (light, fluffy, and left in big pieces rather than broken up), bean sprouts, and pork (char siew, in big, rustic, rough-cut slices), this version omits prawns, adds choy sum (Chinese mustard), and is served with chopped fresh chilies and soy sauce on the side ('Heresy!' some readers will hiss).
Well soaked in soy sauce, it evinces a characteristic char koay teow smokiness. The optional fried egg crown (or, if you prefer, side order) may seem a gilding of the lily, but the runny yolk makes it an inspired addition to a classic.
This vendor's been doing it (char koay teow, that is) his way, with a recipe and at a stall inherited from his father, for over thirty-five years. You know what they say about practice.
I've gone over to the dark side. Until the next unparalleled dry version lands in front of me, that is.
Char koay teow stall at Restoran Theng Wah, Jalan Klang Lama (across from Taman Bukit Desa), Kuala Lumpur. Morning to early afternoon.