Malay street food : Hokkien mee (Penang prawn noodle soup)


After grazing our way through some other areas of Malaysia we made our way up to Georgetown, Penang (or Pinang), lauded as the food capital of Asia, street food mecca, whatever. We had high hopes. 

Penang is world famous for having a cultural melting pot of Indian, Chinese and Malay population who all contributed to the culinary landscape.
Penang did not disappoint, in fact it was probably better than expected – One thing; if you’re planning on eating like it’s your last week alive don’t visit during the lunar new year festivities.

Hokkien mee simply translates as Hokkien (as in, the place of origin – Fujian province of China) and mee, meaning noodle. To anglicise, you could call it a prawn noodle soup, but that’s an injustice because it’s so much more.

It’s a pretty complex dish and a well-known Penang hawker speciality – The use of the name, or variations apparently exist in KL & Singapore, but the end product is a type of stir fry, and does not bear similarities to Penang Hokkien mee.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is probably not only the best Penang hawker food we ate, but probably the best meal I had in all of Malaysia. I know, it’s a big claim – provided you get it from a decent hawker stall.

Heaven in a bowl

Heaven in a bowl

The base is a rich, slightly spiced fishy prawn broth which is naturally slightly sweet due to the shellfish. The prawny soup is turned a deep red with the addition of chilli sambal.

The standard additions to the Hokkien mee soup are a mix of noodles, part yellow egg noodles and part skinny rice vermicelli noodle, along with some boiled prawn and egg and a little pork meat.
The end product is a divine creation – sweet hints from the broth, chilli & garlic spices from the sambal floating around in the stock, mixed with the flavours of pork meat and egg is like a party in your mouth with every sweat encouraging mouthful better than the last.

We ate Hokkien mee at a few places, one was absolutely awful and bore no similiarity to any others I’ve seen since; In Red garden food court, which had drag queens singing Abba – best avoided on all fronts. A pretty decent one at a hawker stall on Lebuh Kimberley, which has a whole heap of options for eating in the early evening (It’s also close to the famous chendol street). Lastly the best meal we ate in all of Malaysia was recommended to us, as we would have never found it on our own at Greenhouse Food Court – a half hour walk out of central Georgetown up Jalan Burma. It’s absolutely worth the effort.
The additional pork hunks were like sweetcure bacon sticks, with the prawns and the broth and just enough spice to get the lips tingling – heaven in a bowl.

Just look at those pork sticks!

Just look at those pork sticks!

Expect to pay from five to eight ringgits per bowl, depending on your choice of fixings.

Phrases worth knowing 

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people will often respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry


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