Debates rage around local tongues about the "duck" or "chicken" egg option when ordering Koay Teow. In all honesty, I find the duck egg delicious, but a tad too rich, so usually opt for a humble chook. Not ignoring the fact that it's cheaper too, but it just layers the food without adding too much colour. After having had a few bonzer plates in the capital, and now resigned to live out the next month's span in the alleyways of Georgetown, I had plenty of time to unlock the cities secrets, and most importantly find the best Koay Teow. Previously to this visit, I had eaten a few, but rarely researching, and ending up plonking down at a random food stall and hoping for the best. Subsequently, having had a really delicious version at Lot 10, I decided it imperative to use my time wisely and further the cause of gastronomy for the lazy or uninterested.
I tried three different places, all recommended or randomly fallen across. For the sake of suspence and the ongoing dualties of internet mystique, i'll start with the worst and end with the triumphal blast of the trumpet horn. Seatbelts fastened, tray tables stored in an upright position:
noodles and shrimp diaries
ho ping cafe
Entering the shade of this patchwork tile decrepid restaurant, I longed for the food to match the aura, imagining characters from Wong Kar Wai films congregating over a bowl of soup as the sun peered from behind buildings. Unfortunately, the fixations were surrendered to the void when the plate arrived. For the price, this was a steal, but as the old saying goes "You get what you pay for", and i'd happily throw in a couple extra Ringgits to eat at a place more satisfying.
All in all the noodles were fine, but the hugely problematic thing was the shrimp. They were tough and dry and tasteless, and I'd be hard pressed to imagine they were not dragged from a frosty freezer where the packaging had been left opened and the entire catch had suffered freezer burn.
This was a sad example of style over substance, but in the most ironic way.
Charcoal 82 Seafood Char koay teow
Staying at the legendary (read: crappy) Chennai Hotel, mostly out of sheer laziness at being a short walk from Sri Ananda and Tajuddin, my receptionist bestowed deep respect and flattery on this spot. Each time I exited the elevator (on days it was working) he checked in: "Boss, did you eat the Koay Teow yet?". Out of sheer curiosity, and to be able to put to rest the question, I headed there on instruction that it only opened in the afternoon, and managed to time my arrival with being the first customer of the day. I'm not sure that's something you want to be when eating this dish, as surely it gets better the more portions have "seasoned" the wok, but regardless, I ordered and sat down with my 100plus and a head full of hopes.
The searing charcoal wok fizzled when the oil hit it, I opted for a duck egg since this was their specialty, and felt the small plastic chairs crimple around my bottom. A small bright green plate was steered before me, and a pair of chopsticks became extensions of my being. I dove in, unashamed, scarfing at the plump prawns and chinese sausage before they took on the AC's chill. This was a good plate of food. If i'm going to be picky, it was a touch on the sweeter side than I enjoy, but overall this was a decent version that any visitor to Penang could happily boast about trying. Sure there are probably stalls in outer lying suburbs or marketplaces that outshone this, but for being downtown and within reach of most tourists, it's hard not to recommend it.
the holy grail
new siam road char koay teow
Believe all the hype! Undoubtably the best plate of Char Koay Teow I ever ate. In the top 10 of every blog about the dish in town, mourned by the throngs at Penang Foodie when they temporarily closed down, this is slightly off the main drag of tourist sights, but well worth a grab ride or long walk. Be aware, you will have to wait more than 2 hours if you arrive at peak times. However, slide into the line around 3pm and you'll be faced with a 30-45 minute wait unless, like me, you get stuck with a bint in front of you who is picking up 10 portions for her work collegues. Exhale, drink some water, and stand in line smelling the wok hei, and seeing the meticulous repetitions of a true master.
If you're lucky, grandpa will be out either making the food or imparting small corrections to his long-term apprentice son. Grab your plate, finally, and head into the bakingly hot restaurant (no AC), find yourself a table if you can, and literally scoff it down quicker than you could say "Terima Kasih". Juicy shrimps, fatty sausage, gloriously caramelised noodles, fresh greens and a spinkling of cockles along with a nice hit of chilli (ask for it spicy) round off a meal fit for Kings.
Faced with the prospect of only 1 day in Penang, head here and avoid all immitations. We warned you.
P.s. Yves of Moonshine & Lemongrass managed to head there during CMCO, check out his vlog:
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.