The first thing we did when my uncle picked us up at the airport was to race to the Char Koay Teow cart before closing time. This Char Koay Teow cart does not have a name, but locals call it Char Koay Teow Jalan Siam after the street it’s on. Luckily, we made it just in time for their last order, but had to settle with having yellow noodles (mee) mixed with the regular flat rice noodles because they were running out.
Char Koay Teow is a dish that is also popular in Singapore and other countries with Chinese influences; different countries have their own versions of this dish, but the Singaporean and Malaysian versions are very similar. The difference is that the Malaysian version does not have the sweetness from the black soy sauce, which is a signature Singaporean ingredient.
While waiting in the long line, I watched as the Char Koay Teow master fanned his charcoal stove while stirring the noodles with his other hand, just as he has done for the last 50 years. The key to making good Char Koay Teow, just like making good Pad Thai, is a very hot wok. Just from standing there, I could tell that this wok was HOT; it only took about 2 minutes to cook the fresh shrimp, cockles, fried lard cubes, chives and Chinese sausage.
The flavors of the Char Koay Teow were intense, salty, spicy and smoky. The noodles were soft and completely soaked in these flavors. The Char Koay Teow master cooked a batch big enough for about 6 plates, then pushed it all to one side of the wok, added an egg to the pan, let it cook for a few seconds, divided a little bit of the noodles into the eggs, and then scooped it all onto a plate. Because the heat was so intense, it only required a short time to cook everything, which means that all the ingredients were still fresh and juicy. This is the place to go to for Char Koay Teow in Penang and it was one of my favorites during my trip!