What can be a snack, an appetiser and a meal all rolled into one?
This simple dish of very few ingredients is quite popular and can be eaten in the morning, afternoon and evenings. The humble chee cheong fun of course!
There are several styles to the preparation of chee cheong fun; some serve it in curry as a substitute for noodles, some serve it steamed with shrimps and roast pork within the rolls for a savoury meal but in Penang, it must be different, naturally, as it is served as a sweet and savoury dish consisting mainly of pastes and the flat rice noodles.
In fact, this is one of the few rare snacks that is satisfying without being too heavy and strong in flavours. Chee cheong fun is usually eaten at breakfast in Penang and is available at many coffee shops and hawker centres.
The Penang-style chee cheong fun is different from the version found in other states because the sauces used to flavour the plain steamed rice flour rolls are different.
The sauce used in Penang is a concoction of thick pungent shrimp paste, sugar, soy sauce and chilli paste. The main ingredient of the sauce is shrimp paste which gives it the extra pungent, savoury flavour. Other ingredients are added to create a thick, sweet and salty concoction and the proportions used depend on the individual hawker.
So, if you happen to be in Penang, a plate of chee cheong fun means you get a plate of silky smooth steamed flat rice noodle rolls covered in a tri-colour paste of deep brownish red, black and bright red.
It may look unassuming and perhaps, even unappetizing, due to the mixture of sticky pastes it but a mouthful has a burst of flavours that more than makes up for its minimal ingredients.
Chee Cheong Fun is a dish of hand cut steamed flat rice noodle rolls without any filling. This little bites is a popular in Penang as it is simply tasty and the price is reasonably cheap.
The preparation of the chee cheong fun also seems pretty easy as the flat rice noodles need only be steamed till tender and soft before serving.
The flat rice noodles are in long soft rolls of about 10cm which will be sliced into bite-size morsels before being placed on a plate, either still rolled tightly in tiny pieces or unfurled into long silken thick strands of rice noodles.
Then comes the good stuff… the mysterious looking thick pastes.
The flat rice noodle rolls are made of rice flour so they are kind of bland and this is where it works so well with the combination of three different pastes along with a dash of oil and toasted sesame seeds.
You get a mixture of sweet, salty, spicy and rich flavours of the thick sweet sauce, fragrant sambal (chili paste) and heh koh (prawn paste).
It could be said that the whole dish actually depends a lot on the mixture of the sauces to give it the strong flavours it’s famous for.
There are many Chee Cheong Fun stalls around town, the taste and texture may vary from each outlet. The rice noodles are mostly sourced from the supplier, some with springy texture while others slightly chewy.
Although the chee cheong fun may be quite a common breakfast and snack dish, it is not as easy to find a stall selling really good flat rice noodles served in wonderfully delicious sauces that gave it its fame.
Here are some of the well-known chee cheong fun stalls that could be found in George Town.
Seow Fong Lye Cafe @ Macalister Lane (7:30am to 12:30pm)
Soon Yuen Cafe @ Kuala Kangsar Road (7:00am-11:30am)
Yan Foo Chee Cheong Fun @ Kimberly Street (7am – 11:30am)