Here we are, eighteen hours into the New Year. The passing of an entire decade is a significant event. I wish that I had some appropriately weighty musings to share with you.
Unfortunately all I can think of at the moment is what Dave and I ate for breakfast this morning.
But as we sat at our table getting caffeinated the sounds and scents of a good fry drifting from the char kuih kak stall at the food court's edge woke our sleeping appetites.
We've probably eaten, at most, four plates of char kuih kak, a.k.a. stir-fried carrot cake (the 'cake' is not really made from carrots, but from daikon, known locally as white carrots), since moving to Malaysia 4.5 years ago. There's a good reason for this -- the dish is fabulously, grossly unhealthy.
If you're referencing char kuih kak, 'greasy' is an adjective of high praise. It's the sort of dish that you know, as you're loving every bite, will put you in the ground sooner rather than later if you eat too much of it.
But we figured what the heck -- it's the first day of an entire decade! Dave and I passed a relatively low-key Eve, so why not make up for it on the Day? Sure, it ain't a bottle of champagne or a tub of caviar, but a plate of char kuih kak says 'celebration' in its own 'I know it's bad for me but today I just don't care' sort of way.
Char kuih kak starts with a well-seasoned cast-iron griddle boasting the diameter of a truck tire, a generously sized bowl of oil, and a jiggly radish cake, which the vendor cuts into squares by pushing it through a cross-hatched wire rack.
The radish cake cubes are vigorously stir-fried with lotsa oil (note how he keeps it close to hand -- and warmed -- right on the griddle) and dark soy sauce. When the cake is ready he pushes it to the side of the griddle, adds one egg per order (you can ask for an extra egg) -- breaking the yolks but essentially leaving the egg(s) be -- and a few dabs of chili paste.
Bean sprouts are next. They're quickly stirred into the eggs,
the radish cake is pulled forward and incorporated (with another spatula tip or two of oil to smooth things along) with a few quick stirs. As some point bits of crackling have also found their way into the mix.
The lot is dished up on a square of banana leaf -- a nice old-style touch (the leaf releases a bit of scent when it's hit with the hot fry-up) that's all too rare among char koay teow and char kuih kak vendors these days.
This vendor's been working his stall at Chow Rasta for about twenty years, and his char kuih kak is excellent: the radish cake is soft but not mushy, bean sprouts retain a bite, and everything -- egg and nubs of crackling included -- is touched with smoke. He's not cooking over charcoal, but we didn't miss it.
It's a greasy pile, no doubt about that, but if there's a better day of the year on which to start with something a bit over-the-top we don't know it. If every day of 2010 begins this well we'll be fortunate and happy campers indeed.
Happy New Year, and best wishes for 365 days of goodness in 2010!
Char kuih kak, outdoor food court off Jalan Chowrasta (between Jalan Kuala Kangsar and Jalan Penang), Chow Rasta Market, George Town, Penang. Mornings. Other possibilities for good eating at this food court include curry laksa and mee jawa. The freshly made Hong Kong-style chee cheong fun (filled with shrimp and/or chopped pork) are only yibande (so-so).
Update: EatingAsia reader and Penang native (now Stateside) Jenny was so excited about this post that she ran out to buy the ingredients for this dish and made it for her husband for their 11th wedding anniversary. If you're similarly inspired you can find her recipe here.