Makansutra: A taste of Penang char kway teow in Singapore
Three stalls in Singapore hit the spot
A recent international online report ranked Malaysian food a few whiskers lower than Singapore's, which of course set off a flurry of angry, resentful comments from across the Causeway.
But hey, my dear northern friends, fret not.
For starters, these comparisons and listicles are mostly mere click bait, and no one can authoritatively say which country's food is better.
If you like your own food, that's national culinary pride.
And when Singaporeans find their way to Malaysia, it's overwhelmingly for food.
We are so keen on their fare that there are many Malaysian-branded hawker food stalls and cafes spread across our little red dot, offering favourites such as Penang laksa, Ipoh hor fun, taugeh chicken, KL hokkien mee and the very popular Penang char kway teow (CKT), which I will focus on here.
To me, a great Penang CKT is a humble dish that comes with honesty and dignity. It's just kway teow, eggs, bean sprouts, chives, shrimps, cockles and Chinese sausages, flavoured with a couple of types of soy sauces, stock and some pebbles of rock sugar.
Unlike the Singapore version, they don't use sweet soy sauce.
The beauty is in the art of the wok. You will notice the masters fry only one or two portions at a time because the heat distribution has to be perfect, so wok-tossing them in bulk is a cheat-sheet method not appreciated by CKT fans.
These are the three stalls offering it that hit the spot for me.
Penang Fried Kway Teow
01-94, Albert Centre Market & Food Centre, 270 Queen Street;
10.30am to 8pm (closed on ad hoc basis, like April 5)
They are mercurial, fast and do it over high heat. The assistant even cracks the egg over the noodles at the right moment, tag team-style. The soy-stock combination flavour is gentle and spot-on, and the thinner kway teow used is like how it is in Penang. The wok hei is also evident in the dish.
Apollo Penang Char Kway Teow
01-261, Yishun Street 22, Block 293; 8.30am to 6pm (closed Mondays)
It's out in the boondocks unless you live near the industrial estate. It offers only one dish and it says "master at work" when the hawker is in action. He fries it one plate at a time (correctly so), wears a mask and sleeve guard and pays a lot of attention to the wok, hence the 10 to 15-minute wait. The soy sauce is a tad more intense than the above-mentioned stall and all the wok flavour is boldly intact.
Penang Fried Kway Teow
01-08, Upper Boon Keng Market & Food Centre, 17 Upper Boon Keng Road; 11am to 7pm (closed Monday and Tuesday)
This woman in her mid-70s has been at it for over three decades. She is fastidious and a little snappy, but be patient and she'll release one well-fried Penang CKT to you. She does it one plate at a time and is very diligent in her ways. She carefully spreads the noodles in the wok so each strand gets enough wok heat. Her soy-stock sauce is very comforting and definitely has "Penang" written all over it.
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