It looks alike chai tow kway aka fried carrot cake but it is not. The Penang char koay kak is something that you can only find in Penang even though some hawkers in other states try to cook it. But like many other Penang hawker food, it is not easy to replicate.
It is often mistaken as chai tau koay (radish cakes) but the char koay kak here is mostly made from rice cakes, not radish cakes, and prepared differently from the Teochew-style snack. Char Koay kak is a popular Penang breakfast or supper street food usually served in small portions.
Its preparation is almost like Penang’s iconic char koay teow and in fact, instead of using flat rice noodles, the char koay kak uses koay kak which literally means squares of rice cake.
The preparation of the char koay kak seems simple enough as steamed rice cakes, cut into small bite-sized squares, are first fried with lard and a mixture of dark and light soy sauces in a flat frying pan.
Then, in comes the ingredients that gives it additional layers of flavours and textures to make it distinctly different from the char koay teow, a bit of pickled vegetables are added to make it an interesting crunchy texture to an otherwise soft dish.
Next are the bean sprouts that give it a bite of fresh sweetness to balance out the saltiness of the combined sauces and pickled vegetables.
Finally, in goes the egg to add more texture and another layer of flavour, giving it an altogether different aroma. Chicken egg is often used but some customers prefer to have a duck egg instead as it further enhanced the flavour of the Char koay kak. Char koay kak also have Chinese chives (koo chai) for some greens and bits of crunchy fragrant bak eu phok (deep fried lard) in it.
There are variations as different hawkers add different ingredients to set their offering apart from others. Some stalls does offer seafood into the Char koay kak, such as squid, prawn and oyster with additional charges. It gives a taste of seafood to the dish by adding of seafood the Char koay kak which some may like it and some may not.
One good Char koay kak will have plenty of wok hei. The aroma from the stir-frying will be enough to excite your palate.
Here are some of the stalls in George Town to try out,
Roadside stall @ Lorong Macalister (8am—noon)
Roadside stall @ Lebuh Kimberley (7.30am—11am)
Roadside stall in front of Union primary school @ Jalan Burmah (7pm—11pm)