What's Cooking in... Penang, Malaysia

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 57 of the February 2013 issue.
Chef Teng stirring in prawns and squid. Photos: Sandra Scott

Penang was a British possession from 1786 until 1957, when it became part of the Federation of Malaya. Located in the Strait of Malacca west of the Malay Peninsula, today this Malaysian island is a popular beach resort destination.

On a visit to Penang in February 2011, John and I stayed at the Parkroyal Penang Resort (Batu Ferringhi Beach, Batu Ferringhi, Penang Island 11100, Malaysia; phone 011 60 4 881 1133 or, in the US, 877/237-7838), paying $140 per night for a double room, including breakfast.

We visited for only a week, but many Europeans stay for a month or more, taking advantage of lower long-stay rates offered by hotels. With many high-rise condos along its beaches, it reaches out to foreign visitors with the appeal, “Make Penang your second home.”

Three times a week, as part of the resort’s daily activities, the Parkroyal offers complimentary cooking demonstrations for its guests, featuring a variety of ethnic recipes. John and I would lounge around the pool most of the day, then head to the restaurant midday for a culinary lesson from Chef Teng and his staff.

We went on the day they featured the signature dish of Penang, Char Koay Teow (aka Char Kway Teow), which, loosely translated, means “stir-fried rice cake strips.”

Originating in Penang, this was an inexpensive dish that provided energy and nutrients for workers, though now it is popular with everyone throughout Malaysia and is frequently sold in hawker stalls in other Southeast Asian countries as well. It can be found in several variations.

4 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
4 tbsp sugar
Whisk all ingredients together and set aside. It can be made ahead and saved. Ingredients can be adjusted to taste. Refrigerate.
1 tsp chili paste (or to taste)
2 tbsp Koay Teow Sauce
½ oz bean sprouts
2 eggs
2 tbsp chives, diced
5 oz dried flat noodles (preferably rice noodles)
2 tbsp cooking oil
3 peeled garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ lb prawns, shelled and cleaned (or medium-size deveined shrimp)
½ lb squid, cleaned and cut into strips
Make sauce and set aside. Prepare rice noodles by covering with boiling water and letting them soak until al dente (about two minutes), then drain, rinse with cool water and set aside. Heat cooking oil in a wok, then sauté garlic until lightly browned. Add prawns and squid. Sauté for three to four minutes, then add chili paste, bean sprouts and the reserved noodles. Stir in Koay Teow Sauce and fry for two to three minutes. Crack eggs directly into mixture and stir until set. Sprinkle with chives. Serve.