Penang Hawker Food Slowly Losing Its Unique Tastes

It was silly of me to still think that only Penang has the best hawker food anywhere in Malaysia. Penang used to have hawker food that tasted really nice. Among my favourites are hokkien mee, kali mee, wantan mee, popiah and char kuey teow. Over the years, especially since I moved down to Kuala Lumpur, I have come to realise that the hawker food in my little island paradise do not taste as good as it used to be anymore during those few trips back.

In my opinion, the major cause of this is the ingredients. In the olden days, the hawkers prepared all the essential ingredients by themselves. They pounded the chilies, made the pastes and soup stock, deep-fried the shallots and even made the noodles used in their trades. This made the taste of their respective food unique only to them.

In contrast, many hawkers nowadays buy ready-made ingredients such as chili paste, noodles and even deep-fried shallots to cut down on preparation time and cost. That special touch in making the taste unique is lost. The ingredients used by one hawker is used by a few others who get their supplies from the same wholesaler. Mass production in the name of economy of scale is slowly killing what Penang has been famous for.

Once in a while, I still pine for the hokkien mee that the uncle sporting a crew cut hawked beside the bus stop opposite the PBA (Pihak Berkuasa Air) in Rifle Range. The spicy prawn and pork bone-based soup was simply delicious. Thinly sliced prawns and pork were generously added into the noodles. That was when I was still in primary school. Those were the days when hawkers went the extra mile to ensure that they put in only the best ingredients. How I miss those times.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Penang Hawker Food Slowly Losing Its Unique Tastes”

  1. Boric acid in noodles, plastic in shallots,hormones in pork,msg to the max,pork lard to the hilt,pesticides in vegetables, carcinogenic belachan,drugs in chicken- no wonder cancer is on the rise.If your internal plumbing system clogs up or you start growing breasts, then its time to lay off hawker food.
    The motto of the hawker is ,as long as it tastes good and sells well, who cares if it kills you, the customer.I avoid eating out too often nowadays, there’s no stringent checks on food quality here.

    Don’t forget also the urban legend of using tissue paper or chicken feed to thicken the laksa gravy. I am laying off hawker food reluctantly not because my boobs are the size of a country and western singer’s but because my kidneys can’t take anymore abuse. Still, I curi makan sometimes lar. How to resist?

  2. Talking about the hokkien mee seller in pak cheng por, i think he used to ply his food around our area in his cart.That time a bowl of noodles was 20cents!! 50cents would get you char hor fun packed in leaf.Factory workers were paid $50/- a month.I being the lazy sort (make that lepak king) would dream of winning the readers digest contest at that time of $50/- a month for life and live a life of ease. Think I’ll be on the streets today!! Tok tok mee was the same.Assam laksa was the cheapest food at that time.During my primary school days, the school canteen in SXBS sold mee rebus for 10cents.One cent coins were square in shape.When they issued the first malaysian coins to replace the straits settlement coins, we’d invert the parliament stamped on one side and said that it was james bond’s gun!!

    It was 20sen to 30sen per bowl during my time. When I started eating his hokkien mee, he was already permanently stationed at the bus stop. He stayed in one of those double storey houses nearby. I also remember and Indian chap selling asam laksa who could speak Cantonese. We would call him keling kuai kor. I really miss those days.

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