Rice Noodles

Penang Char Kuey Teow 炒粿條

Universally the Noodle-World is typically divided into two distinct camps: soupy or fried. Every great noodle-eating culture has its own unique fried classics – in Thailand the ubiquitous pad thai reigns supreme, whilst yakisoba proudly flies the flag for Japan, but in both Malaysia and Singapore the undisputed king of fried noodles has to be Char Kuey Teow.

Penang Char Kuey Teow 炒粿條Literally meaning “fried flat rice-noodle”, Char Kuey Teow enjoys enduring popularity through-out both Malaysia and Singapore, manifesting in many delicious guises, accommodating a variety of tastes and dietary restrictions. Sliced fish-cake and bean-curd are popular variations, especially with halal interpretations of the dish, but Char Kuey Teow is at its best when eaten in its most authentic form – Penang-style! Like all hawker-fare in Penang, everyone has their favourite Char Kuey Teow stall, the most popular of these can immediately be identified by the snaking queues that lead to them. In Malaysia one should never be put off by a queue for food – invariably they end in a tasty delight that is always well worth the wait!

Stripped back, Penang Char Kuey Teow is a very simple dish made with just a few well chosen ingredients. With the exception of the noodles, the dish is made up of just 6 vital ingredients: prawns, beansprouts, Chinese chives (garlic chives), egg, Chinese sausage (lap cheong) and blood cockles (see hum), although the latter is often omitted locally due to health concerns (and many a runny tummy!). Lap cheong is an acquired taste and is therefore sometimes left out at the request of the customer. Whilst some of the ingredients may sound intimidatingly exotic, they are easily found at most well-stocked Asian supermarkets, although the blood cockles can be trickier to source. These can be left out altogether or substituted with a less exotic mollusc! I often use tinned clams as a substitute.

Another important component of the dish is the cooking sauce. Even though only a few teaspoons are added to the noodles, the sauce can make or break the dish. Given that Char Kuey Teow is classic hawker-fare, authentic recipes for its soya-based sauce are hard to come by, as the exact quantities and ingredients are often a fiercely guarded secret! I have tried a myriad of recipes over the years, but the nearest I have found to the real thing is from Rasa Malaysia, although I prefer to use slightly less dark soya sauce. Although the below recipe’s quantities are for a single serving, the sauce recipe will yield enough to make at least 10 plates of Char Kuey Teow and can be kept in the fridge until needed.

Ingredients aside, the key to making a decent Char Kuey Teow is technique and a hot, hot wok. A wide, well-seasoned wok needs to be kept searing hot throughout and as a result, only individual portions can be cooked at a time. Given the dish’s ferociously short cooking time (just a few minutes per portion), preparation of all the required components is vital – everything needs to be ready and to-hand when you start cooking. A moment’s hesitation can be the difference between success and ultimate noodle-failure!

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Phad Thai (Gai or Goong)

Phad Thai Gai

The origins of Phad Thai are both fascinating and insidious in equal measure and are a testament to the power of food. Firstly, it may surprise most to learn that this ubiquitous Thai dish is relatively new to Thai cuisine. Conceived as a solution to a national rice shortage during World War II, the then fascist Thai government created and promoted Phad Thai as a symbol of Thai national pride and actively encouraged street vendors to sell it en masses – a government campaign with the dual objective of both reigniting a flagging sense of Thai Nationalism and addressing a crippling food shortage. In essence, Phad Thai is culinary propaganda at its tastiest.

Sadly, Phad Thai has to be one of the most corrupted Asian dishes in the World. Outside of it’s native Thailand, this wonderful noodle dish has been bastardised beyond recognition by dubious Thai takeaway joints in an ill-advised attempt to make it appealing to a non-Thai palette. I can only imagine the shock that must befall so many tourists who order Phad Thai in the back streets of Bangkok only to end up wondering what on earth they’ve been eating all these years! My version is by no means truly authentic but I’ve tried to replicate the original as best I can – the main difference between my version and the usual takeaway fare is that the only vegetables that are cooked are the bean sprouts and spring onions – the rest are served raw on the side. You can decide if you want to add chicken or prawns, the latter being the more authentic version, but the recipe works well without either.

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Beef Hor Fun 滑蛋牛肉河

Some times in life you’re just haunted by glorious ghosts of noodles-past and beef hor fun has haunted me more than most. These luscious noodles truly rate as one of my all time childhood favourites. That said, even in Noodle Nirvana of Penang a good beef hor fun is hard to come by, but when you do find a place that does it right you’ll be hooked!

There are two vital components to the success of this dish: super tender beef and silky soft noodles. After trawling the internet I discovered the secret to the tender beef, but I just couldn’t source fresh noodles in Cape Town. Undeterred and determined to feed my hor fun cravings, I tried for many years to replicate this dish with dried flat rice noodles but it was always well short of the mark. That’s until I chanced upon this particular brand of dried noodles at the Mun Fong Chinese Supermarket in Goodwood. Don’t ask me what they are called, my Mandarin is non-existent – all I know is that they’re the closet I’ve come to finding the texture of fresh rice noodles in their dried form. Buy them, buy a lot of them.

Anyway, armed with my eureka-noodles I once again attempted to make my version of Beef Hor Fun and I can safely say that I can put this particular ghost of noodles past to rest. Enjoy.

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