The Wok Hei Economy

One of the great mysteries of eating in Penang is the economics of the hawker center. A group of vendors cluster around a kedai kopi, a cafe serving drinks and work almost independently of the cafe. Some pay rent, others are owned by the cafe, some seem to have agglomerated at a single point in an organic manner like a coral reef of wok burners accumulating on a restaurant atoll. The cafe often provides electricity and an awning to make monsoonal downpours tolerable for the vendors. Each cluster of vendors seems to be in competition, but there is value in assuring that the competing stalls all perform good business, thus attracting overflowing customers to your stall. The proper etiquette seems to be to order at the vendor at the front, then at least buy a single drink from the roaming waiter so that the kedai kopi owner gets their piece of the action.

Lorong Selamat Hawker Centre

Two hawker centres loom large. The Lorong Selamat center (above), with its reputation for serving the best char kway teow in Penang (and by inference, the world) and the ramshackle collection of hawkers on Swatow Lane (for ABC Special and Ice Kacang), just off Jalan Burma.

Char Kway Teow

I’m apprehensive about the approach to anything as hyped and as personal as this (above). I tend to place more value on the nubs of deep-fried pork fat, prawns and cockles that go into the dish (and the smoky wok hei flavour), than I value the core element: noodles. The noodles here are creamy and soak up charcoal smoke aplenty, a real lardy highlight. The only valid criticism is price. At RM7.50, the dish is roughly double the price of the average plate of char kway teow on Penang, a point that locals tend to debate and then eat on Lorong Selamat anyhow. It is too good not to eat there and the price serves as a talking point rather than deterrent.

Lor Bak

We finished with a plate of , marinated lean pork wrapped in bean curd skin then deep-fried, served with a starchy bowl of broth thickened with egg and another bowl of chilli sauce. In this case, it was plated on top of an array of other deep fried delights and a local sausage.

Location: 84 Lorong Selamat, ,

3 Comments The Wok Hei Economy

  1. Dana

    i beg you to never eat at that terrible place again.

    Try finding where Pulau Tikus is, and there are loads of great eatery there. Most interesting would be the Apam-balik pancake on charcoal stove right at the prominent corner of the coffee shop, opposite the police station that is. Within the coffee shop, there are great Asam Laksa (undiscovered still I think!), as well as the Mee mamak (fried Indian noodles with peanut sauce), which my dad thinks it taste like from yester-years!

    Reply
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