Penang Char Koay Teow - this is a recipe that embodies so many memories for me. It has a very soft spot in my heart, not only being a signature dish from my home town, but also a reminder of my very dear late grandmother. She would cook it for us, however (as with most special, longed-for meals) not as often as we would like. We would pester her relentlessly before she would give in and put together this delicious plate of noodles.
Char Koay Teow (literal translation fried rice noodles) is something that can be found across any Malaysian restaurant on their menu. Like most things with cultural food though, whether the authenticity is there or not is debatable. Penang has long been known as the "Food Capital of Malaysia" and is particularly well known for their "hawker foods", mostly featuring incredibly fresh ingredients and made to order. Char Koay Teow is the very representation of hawker food - fresh rice noodles tossed with tender juicy prawns, crunchy bean sprouts, salty Chinese sausage, fragrant chives finished off with a kick of chilli. If you visit Penang and don't take the opportunity taste this, you haven't been to Penang at all!
The best way to get that authentic taste in your home is to cook this dish in individual portions, not in one big batch. Using a cast iron wok and a gas cook top will best replicate the complex, smokey flavour of the dish (often referred to as 'wok hei' or breath of the wok) which is usually the magic factor in all genuine hawker dishes.
Traditionally, Char Koay Teow would also include succulent de-shelled cockles and crunchy pork lard or rind, however these ingredients are hard to find here so they have been omitted from this particular recipe. If you are lucky enough to find these additions though, absolutely feel free to toss through the cockles and rind with the prawns. They're certainly my favourite bits of the dish! You can also exchange the chicken egg out for duck egg if you're feeling exceptionally indulgent.
(makes approx six portions)
Koay teow or flat rice noodles come in a variety of styles. Try get the thin version, otherwise if you can't find it use pad thai noodles. Chinese sausages (lap cheong) can be found in most Asian grocers or down the international aisle of your local supermarket. With the prawns, this dish will benefit from the freshest prawns you can find. I normally put all the fresh ingredients in individual bowls so that everything is quickly and easily accessible. The ingredient quantities are a rough guide, so if you are partial to having more prawns or sausage and less garlic or chives, feel free to adjust. You can tailor each plate to the person that is eating it.
**Please note the instructions are for each individual plate but the ingredient quantities are for six servings.
500 grams of Koay Teow (flat rice noodles)
2 bulbs of garlic - chopped
A bunch of chives - washed and cut into 3 inch length
4 Chinese sausages (Lap Cheong), sliced
About 20 prawns - shelled and de-veined
Chilli paste - mix 2 tablespoon of chilli powder with 2 tablespoon of water to make paste
Rule of thumb per plate:
1/2 tsp for mild dish
1 tsp for medium dish
1.5 tsp for spicy dish
1/2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoon hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs (chicken or duck)
Oil for frying
Mix dark soy sauce, soy sauce, hot water and salt together. Make up the chilli paste. Assemble all ingredients together in separate bowls like below.
In a wok, heat on medium 2 tablespoon of oil. Add two teaspoon of garlic and your chosen quantity of chilli paste. Saute the garlic and paste for at least two minutes until fragrant.
Once it's fragrant, add three prawns and six slices of Chinese sausages (add more if you wish). Stir, then push it aside and crack an egg in. Scramble egg and mix it with the other ingredients together.
Add in a handful of rice noodles and three teaspoons of the soy sauce combination. Give the noodles a good toss. Lastly, add in a handful of beansprout and chives. Fold the noodles in gently so that you don't break the rice noodles.
Dish up and serve while hot.
I guarantee this dish will have you salivating long before you have it plated!
As I mentioned before, Char Koay Teow is strongly entwined with the memory of my grandmother. Today is the 100th day of my late grandma passing. I'd like to share a beautiful picture of her enjoying duck egg Char Koay Teow in my home this time last year.
Look at that wonderful smile of hers, clearly delighted with these noodles. I hope that this recipe can also put a similar smile on your face as you indulge in this dish. Happy eating my friends!