Thursday, January 7, 2010

Feasting in Penang: Ah Leng, world's best CKT?

with family
As I mentioned in the Padang Brown post, Char Koay Teow will feature strongly in this series on my visit to Penang. Not only is CKT the quintessential hawker dish which defines the culinary heights of Penang, it is also my favourite dish. All time favourite, irresistable. True it is less than healthy status due to lots of artery clogging cholesterol and saturated fat from the pork lard, eggs, prawns). But the fragrance, and taste of a well fried plate is heavenly.

Ah Leng is one of the masters of the art. Requiring superb balance of the ingredents, excellent freshness of the prawns and mantis prawns. And masterful control of the super hot wok. Originally with an evening pushcart in Kimberly Street, and operating in the day from the Stadium hawker center, the stall moved when rentals at the Stadium went through the roof, and relocated to the present location.

The stall is situated at the corner of Dunlop and Dato Keramat Roads in a nostalgic, rather run down coffee shop. As is common with famous Penang hawkers, be prepared to wait at least 45 mins during peak lunch time.

Ah Leng himself commandeers the hot fire. The koay teow is fried in batches of perhaps 2 plates a time...this is to try and address the waiting time issue, as the perfect CKT should be fried one plate at a time.

But they manage to create these masterpieces even two plates a time.

The order was placed for the "keh liao" (additional ingredients) which means duck egg is used, and mantis prawns are added. Fresh duck eggs are more luxurious to the mouth, richer tasting than ordinary fresh chicken egg. (BTW, fresh duck eggs are NOT imported and hence not found in Singapore because of a ban due to avian flu). And mantis prawn is added to increase the sweetness, and pure crustacean taste which totally imbues the noodles.

Fried with soy sauce and a touch of oyster sauce, and with a tapioca type thickener (similar to the gooey stuff in or luak, but used in very reserved portions, so normally it is not detected as gooey, but just thicker, slightly moist CKT). Typical with the traditional Penang CKT, lard crisps were well distributed within, and some sprigs of ku chai is added with the crunchy bean sprouts...still crunchy because it is briefly flashed in the scorching fire of the wok.

For me, this is the perfect CKT. Powerful wok hei. Not overcooked, not undercooked. The prawns were succulent, juicy, and crunchy. The mantis prawn soft and tender. The cockles were cooked perfect...just a touch to rid it of the blood and raw state, and not overcooked till rubbery. The noodles infused with the crustacean flavours of the prawn and mantis prawn. With the duck egg providing a smooth, luxurious mouthfeel. And the lard...gorgeous! For me Best CKT!

Ah Leng Char Koay Teow
Kafe Khoon Hiang
corner of Jalan Dunlop and Jalan Dato Keramat
GPS: N 5.412779, E100.31953
open from 7am till about 2:30pm daily

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