Dave and I spent last week in George Town, Penang. We were there mostly for work, and to be honest eating well was not Priority Number 1. In fact there were moments, whole hours even, during which I didn't think about food at all. Meals were skipped. Imagine that.
But while I was busy with interviews Dave was out scouring the city for images and in the process, ended up discovering and sampling some new-to-us fare. That's the beauty of George Town -- no matter how much time you've spent there, if you roam far and wide enough you're bound to find something yet untasted.
We sincerely hope that the city never gentrifies so much (and gentrifying it is) that the Municipal Council does away with George Town's mobile hawker stalls. Like this one, parked on a lonely stretch of Lebuh Pantai just east of Lebuh Melayu.
It seems to be a mother-and-son operation; he stir-fries, and she tells him how to stir-fry (when she's not assembling and delivering condiments). Around 4pm they push their cart up the street, set up their ingredients, and place a few tables in the portico of a crumbling warehouse
After eating here Dave raved about the gorgeous late afternoon light -- and the noodles. Then he dragged me to Lebuh Pantai.
They do two dishes here: Hokkien char and char hor fun. The former is not to be confused with Hokkien mee Kuala Lumpur-style, which is a greasily indulgent dish of yellow noodles stir-fried (in lard, preferably) with lots of dark soy sauce and pork. Nor is it to be confused with Hokkien mee Penang-style, which isn't a stir-fried dish but a soupy noodle featuring a rich, spicy prawn and pork stock. Confused yet?
Hokkien char, we think, is the Penang version of KL-style Hokkien mee, but lighter and saucier and relatively oil- if not fat-free (tucked in amongst those noodles, prawns, slices of pork, and stems of Chinese mustard are bits of crackling). It's served with a sour-and-fiery sambal.
A tasty dish and Dave's quite keen on it, but I took a shine to this gentleman's char hor fun, rice vermicelli and wide rice noodles stir-fried with pretty much the same mix of vegetable and protein as the Hokkien char, but in a lighter Cantonese-style sauce (egg optional -- we didn't go for it this time around).
What I love about this dish is the way the rice vermicelli wrap around the wide noodles, forming a web that, when it rests on the surface of the wok, firms and sucks up the pan's smokiness. What you end up with then are wok hei-infiltrated, triple-textured noodle nubs: crispy on the outside of the 'nest', yielding but toothsome just beneath the outer layer, and soft inside.
A very simple dish that I would never be able to recreate at home. Which pretty much guarantees that we'll be visiting this hawker stall again on our next trip to George Town.
Char hor fun and Hokkien char, Lebuh Pantai between Malay and Aceh streets, from about 4:30pm (to be safe) until ????, George Town, Penang.