Clouds of smoke waft above the stall with the bbq charcoal grilled aroma which offering charcoal grilled items. The bak kua roti, which is nostalgic senses to many Penangite and Malaysian.
They used to be staples for breakfast, tea time or even the movies. Instead of popcorn, people used to buy this snack and have it while watching their favourite movie on the big screen.
Up to a decade ago, hawkers on bicycle stall or motorcycles would travel from neighbourhood to neighbourhood or stop outside schools, cinemas and coffee shops to sell their bak kua and bak hu (meat floss) buns along with grilled chicken wings, drumsticks and tails (also known as bishop’s nose).
The bak kua, a savoury dried sweet meat made from pork that is similar to jerky, is first grilled over a small charcoal grill until it is hot and slightly charred.
The soft white buns are then cut open and sometimes doused in a brown savoury and sweet sauce before the grilled bak kua is sandwiched between the two pieces of bread.
The traditional charcoal stove which consists of a barbecue compartment at the lower part and a steamer on top makes it a unique compartment of these bak kua stalls.
Whenever the pork slices are placed on top of the BBQ pit, the aroma of barbecue would fill the surrounding area.
As for bak hu buns, the buns are doused in sauce and two heaping scoops of the meat floss, made from pork, stuffed in between the buns.
The buns are so soft, it is like biting into a soft pillow while the thin slices of grilled bak kua complemented by the sauces give the plain bun a burst of sweet, meaty flavour like no other.
In Penang, the bak kua roti hawker, as they are commonly called, used to park outside old cinemas like Federal along Datuk Keramat Road, Rex along Burmah Road, Odeon along Penang Road where cinema-goers would form a long queue to buy bak kua roti and the stall’s other snacks as popcorn was still not widely available then. There are not many stalls currently that sell such classic food.
These enterprising hawkers will also offer snacks like ark ka pau, meat balls, chicken tail, chicken wings, chicken drumsticks, all skewered with bamboo sticks for convenience.
These bite-sized meaty snacks, although cooked and ready to eat, will also be grilled over the small charcoal grill to heat up and some are also doused in the sweet and savoury brown sauce before it is served on a piece of paper.
These can be eaten with chilli sauce or as it is because the sauces that come with it is enough to keep the chicken or meat balls juicy and fragrant.
These old cinemas have since closed down, the buildings converted to other uses, and the travelling bak kua roti hawkers now only stop outside some schools after school hours. They are sometimes found at popular hawker areas.
Here are few bak kua roti hawkers to try out in George Town:
Stall by the roadside @ Cintra Street (6pm-11pm)
Stall by the roadside @ Presgrave Street (6pm-11pm)