Monday, January 11, 2010

Feasting in Penang : Apong Guan

It is curious how fame supports hawkers in Penang...many of the famous Penang hawkers "feature" 45 min to 1 hour waiting times...many of them have awful manners in dealing with customers, many of them charging very high prices (RM9 may not seem high to a Singaporean...afterall it converts to S$3.50, more or less ok for a plate of hawker center CKT, but the average Penangite, this is daylight robbery...especially when the same stalls were offering the same food for RM3 when they started, 10 or 15 years ago...before fame sets in). But worse are those who dilute the goodness of their food...because tourists don't know the difference...and reduce the ingredients, while increasing prices.



But Apong Guan is none of these. The spritely 61 year old is one of the better known sons of Penang Free School...my alma mater...a school founded in 1816 (yes, before the Raffles founding of Singapore), and once the best English school in the region. He told me that he started work at Malayawata Steel as a Technician, when he told his Engineer that he wanted to strike out on his own. The Engineer gave his blessings, and told him to come back to Malayawata if the business fails. That was 40 years ago.



From this little spot along Burma Road, just opposite the famous Him Heang confectionary, he has had his stall. I remember when I was in school, sometimes, a bunch of us would visit for some apong (Malay pancake, made with flour, eggs, and garnished with ripe bananas).



A special pan, with 8 positions for frying the pancake...the pan is oiled, the pancake flour - a concoction which Guan came to by trial and error added...the lid closed...half way point, he opens the lid, adds the super ripe slices of banana (pisang mas) and a teaspoon of cream corn, closes the lid. About 2 mins later, 8 freshly made apongs are dished out.



Best eaten hot, the apong was fragrant. The skin was golden brown, the insides cooked nicely. The banana...super ripe if you remember me saying...adds a sweet punch, and the creamed corn a nice luxurious finish. Nice. But I was bothered with the smell of uncooked eggs in Guan's apong.




Just 20m before reaching Apong Guan, is another stall...looks almost the same, but the sign says "Apom Chooi"...I believe the original Malay spelling is apong, so spelling the pancake apom is a delebrate attempt to differentiate. BTW, many mamak (Indian muslim) and malay stores spell the pancakes apom too, so the practice is not totally unusual.

But unlike the chatty Guan, Chooi was tactiturn...and looked serious. On the other hand Guan always had a smile on his face. I asked Guan if he was related to Chooi...having read somewhere that they were brothers...and he smiled...and confirmed that indeed Chooi was his brother...but their recipes were different. And due to a family squabble, they don't talk to each other.

I found Chooi's apom to be similar, but without the eggy smell...so in comparing the two, I preferred Chooi's.


Apong Guan
push cart along Jalan Burma
+60-16-409-3701 (call for directions or to order in advance. Guan speaks English well)
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