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.