Char kway teow
My mum’s back in Singapore, and even though she is stopping over to visit en route to Penang, she still nodded enthusiastically when I told her that I had read a review of Penang Road Cafe and would like check it out with her. It seems that the fate of every person from Penang is the endless pursuit of authentic Penang fare, no matter where they are.
As you enter the cafe, you are enveloped by the smell of spices and wok hei. Wok hei, literally translated is “wok air” and it is the flavour, tastes and “essence” that you get from frying your food in a very hot wok. It’s a term that is often used to describe dishes like fried flat rice noodles (char kway teow) and fried noodle enthusiasts often rank the dishes according to this, as it reflects on the expertise of the chef and also the authenticity of the food.
There is a very limited menu, which makes deciding very easy, and to me, makes me think that they specialise in a few dishes, and (hopefully) do them well. And they sure do, here.
Penang hokkien mee
As a starter we ordered loh bak – strips of pork, marinated in chinese five spices, mixed with onion and water chestnuts and then rolled in tofu skin and deep fried. I can only think of why I have no photo of this is because it was so delicious that I was too busy eating it ! Melt in your mouth crispy on the outside, juicy and sweet inside, all it was missing was the thick dipping sauce that I am used to it being served with. At Penang Road Cafe, they serve it with a simple chilli and ginger sauce, which adds a nice heat to the dish.
The char kway teow – a classic Penang dish of wok-fried thick flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, prawns, chives, egg and chinese sausage and cockles – came next. Definitely where the wok hei aroma came from, with the noodles charred and crispy edged and the overall dish permeated with a delicious smoky flavour. We ordered the special, which came with more prawns and cockles and also crab meat. Not sure if the addition of crab meat worked here – if it ain’t broke…This dish is one of the standards of which many people rate entire restaurants/cafes just because anyone can fry noodles, but only a few can do them like this, and do them well.
The third dish that we ordered was the Penang Hokkien mee – rice vermicelli and yellow noodles served in a rich pork and prawn broth. Again, this is one of those dishes that is very popular and quite difficult to find where the stock is not “boosted” with sugar and MSG, leaving you thirsty for hours after eating it. The hokkien mee at Penang Road Cafe was great – you get a mouthful of broth that is both savoury and sweet from hours of slow cooking the pork bones and prawns.
We would be so happy to go back there again to work through the menu – only so that we can run out of dishes and start at the beginning again !
Penang Road Cafe
275 Thomson Road
#01-08, Novena Ville
Tel: 62563218, 97862079
11.30am to 2.30pm
5.45pm to 9.15pm