Lorong Selamat Char Koay Teow

Lorong Selamat, Georgetown, Penang

I have to put a caveat on this post, only because I was doing a little research to try to find a more precise address. This is not the (in)famous Lorong Selamat Char Koay Teow stand at Cafe Heng Huat, run by the allegedly abusive auntie. You’ll know you’ve found the right place when you see this guy working up a sweat in his scuba mask over a searingly hot wok. Oh, and if it helps, it’s directly opposite two garishly pastel peach apartment towers.

Mr A, my Penang food guide, took me here for CKT as Georgetown’s best CKT stand – which uses a charcoal fire – wasn’t open that day, being closed on Mondays. According to Mr A, this place is the next best, even though the vendor uses gas (apparently gas-fired woks are inferior for CKT?). Apparently he’s a second generation CKT master, and having learned from his father, whose eyesight was damaged by years of intense heat and smoke, he dons the safety goggles to protect his eyes from the constant smoke coming from the sizzling char koay teow. Wok hei is great for noodles, but not so much for eyes, it seems.

This was the first CKT I tried in Penang, and I was excited! CKT has always been one of my favourite dishes, Malaysian or otherwise, and I’m fairly sure the fact I ate it four times in four days had something to do with my holiday weight gain. But it was bloody worth it. Now Penang CKT is slightly different from the KL or Singapore styles – from what I can gather, I might be wrong – in that it uses a much thinner rice noodle, much like that of a pad Thai.

It’s stir-fried in a searingly hot wok, along with prawns, clams, bean shoots, Chinese sausage, chives, and egg. Mr A told me that what differentiates a good CKT from a great CKT, however, is the soy sauce used. Each vendor in Penang uses a different soy sauce concoction, usually a secret recipe, rather than something unadulterated off the shelf.
There’s an element of sweetness to the soy, like a kecap manis, but it’s not a sticky as that, and also there’s the matter of how much wok hei there is, which accents and changes the way the soy tastes. Then there’s the amount of chilli or sambal, which again, interacts with the soy, changing its flavour profile. Who would’ve imagined a stir-fried noodle with two sauce elements would be so complicated?

Anyway, Mr A was right. This CKT master served up a truly spectacular Char Koay Teow. The prawns were plump and juicy, and all the elements ‘popped’ flavour-wise, the bean shoots and chives bringing a freshness to what is essentially quite an oily dish. That’s the other thing: CKT should be inhaled as quickly as possible, as it can start to taste a bit greasy once it cools. Which is a guilty pleasure of an entirely different sort. In any case, I made short work of this one.

And then Mr A thought I should try the ice kachang. A traditional Malaysian dessert, it involves shaved ice mounded over a selection of not necessarily sweet ingredients – like kidney beans, corn and grass jelly – drizzled with some sort of sugar syrup – often rose, gula melaka or pandan – and coconut milk.
This one had rose and sarsaparilla syrup, and a little scoop of ice cream on top. The sarsaparilla was an interesting flavour, but to be honest, ice kachang really isn’t my cup of tea. It was definitely refreshing in the tropical heat, but there’s something about shaved ice with jelly and dairy that is a little off-putting for me.