Siam Road Char Koay Teow (GPS: 5.41536, 100.32028) is a very popular char koay teow stall in Penang. It is operated by an elderly gentleman from a pushcart parked along Siam Road. The stall begins operating around 3:00pm in the afternoon.
The Siam Road Char Koay Teow has received many accolades, both local and international, over the years. This year, it is one of two street food outlets in Penang to be honoured as among the Top 50 World Street Food Masters during the 2017 congress in Manila, Philippines which I attended. For a full list, go to Top 50 World Street Food Masters.
I am happy that this char koay teow is honoured, and the hawker doesn't care one bit about the accolade. However, until now, I have not visited this char koay teow stall, primarily because its operating hours is not convenient to me. Nevertheless, I decided to make it a point to visit it one day.
So, on 16 May, 2017, my wife and I made a visit to Siam Road. We arrived just before 3:00pm, and thought that we were in luck, because we saw the Uncle pushing his cart down Anson Road towards his usual station at Siam Road. But by the time we parked and my wife walked over to order, a short queue of a few people has formed.
I waited while my wife joined the queue, so that I could walk around and take some shots. It was under the hot sun, but luckily she brought an umbrella. She only reached the top of the queue at around 3:35pm and we received our two packs of char koay teow, priced at RM6.50 each, at around RM3.41pm (based on the time log on my photographs).
I asked my wife, "The queue was so short, why did you have to wait so long?"
She told me that each order was for multiple plates, so that was why it took so long for her to place her order.
The coffee shop at the junction of Siam Road and Anson Road was already packed with customers, all waiting for their char koay teow. I discover that they would usually order many plates, which increases the waiting time.
Since there was nowhere to sit at that coffee shop, we took our two packs to nearby New World Park. And now, the moment of truth, how do I evaluate the Siam Road Char Koay Teow.
My verdict is not bad but over rated already. That it is good does not surprise me, for I would fully expect it to be good. It certainly does have the aroma that comes from stir frying the koay teow over a charcoal stove. But it is also too oily for me. Do you notice that it is very oily? I suppose it has to be oily to keep the koay teow from sticking to the wok.
Secondly, char koay teow is traditionally a packed hawker food. People buy it to take away to be eaten later. It is packed with a layer of banana leaf and an outer layer of newspaper, often in a cone or pyramid shape. When you open the pack, you can feel a whiff of steam mixing the aroma of the char koay teow with the banana leaf. To get that aroma, some hawkers even serve char koay teow on plate with a piece of banana leaf. But it's never the same as opening a packed char koay teow. So, while I do appreciate the aroma that comes from the charcoal fire, the aroma of banana leaf is absent because this char koay teow is packed on a transparent plastic sheet. Replacing the banana leaf with a transparent plastic sheet will never be able to give you that special char koay teow aroma.
I pronounce it over rated because I would not care to wait so long and often under the hot sun to receive my char koay teow. I blame this on the hype heaped on this stall, and also the fixation on koay teow fried over charcoal. As with a number of hawker stalls in Penang, there is a tendency to follow the crowd (the cendol comes to mind), when there are many as good but largely anonymous stalls in Penang.
Perhaps it is good that we assign the accolade to a few chosen stalls, while keeping our own favourite stalls under wrap, to spare us from the queue?
If I were to undergo a blind taste test of 12 different char koay teow from Penang, and have to divide 12 plates of Penang hawkers' char koay teow between "good" and "bad", I believe I would place the Siam Road Char Koay Teow with the "good" batch, but if asked to pick the best from the good batch, I might choose ... not this one. And certainly not this one, if other criteria such as waiting time is added to the consideration.
My wife joins the queue for the Char Koay Teow (16 May, 2017)
The uncle busy frying the koay teow. (16 May, 2017)
A pack of Siam Road Char Koay Teow. (16 May, 2017)
The Siam Road Char Koay Teow after opening the pack. (16 May, 2017)
And this is how the Siam Road Char Koay Teow looks like. (16 May, 2017)
Siam Road Char Koay Teow on Google Maps Street View
Siam Road Char Koay Teow is on the map of Siam Road
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