Noodle challenge

Saturday December 24, 2011. The Star Publications

PENANGITES love their hawker food! Thus, it was hardly surprising when some 400 visitors thronged Penang Times Square for the Battle of Penang Hawkers Masters’ Hokkien Mee cate-gory.

With 13 of the state’s best Hokkien Mee sellers battling it out for a spot in the final tomorrow, there were endless bowls of the savoury noodle soup for visitors to taste.

When it comes to hawker fare, there is always the two schools of thought – with those liking it the authentic way in one camp, and those preferring a modified version with added ingredients, on the other side.

Judging from the crowd’s response, the latter group garnered a larger following, with 31-year-old Koay Teik Ghee’s loaded recipe scooping him the Most Popular Hawker Award with a whopping 89 votes.

The winner of this award was judged solely by the number of votes from visitors attending the event.

Koay, who had been operating his 888 Hokkien Mee stall near Sunshine Square in Bayan Baru, for the past three years, was assisted by his 60-year-old mother Tan Saw Ai.

Besides chunky prawns, their recipe featured pork, trotter and ribs, and it proved a winner with the crowd.

Signing up for the contest as a challenge to see where his dish stood among contemporaries, he was delighted to be among the three finalists and eagerly looked forward to the big showdown this weekend.

Joining him in the final is 55-year-old Yeap Poh Keng, who had been running his stall at the Perak Road market for 30 years.

Picking up the trade from his father, who used to sell Hokkien Mee for decades, he revealed that the most important ingredient of the dish was prawn heads, which gave the stock an added flavour.

“Mine had extra pork ribs and skin, a recipe passed down from my father,” Yeap added.

The last finalist is traditionalist Tan Geik Theng, 26, whose dish contained only the time-honoured, Hokkien Mee triumvirate of prawns, meat and eggs.

Helping her parents with the family business in Reservoir Gardens, Air Itam, since the age of 10, Tan said authenticity had always been a prime principle.

“We didn’t expect to get into the finals, for the other hawkers’ dishes were all equally good.

“Even though we noticed that the others incorporated many added ingredients, we decided that the original way was still the best way,” said Tan.

Among those who sampled the noodles were American Tom Snell and his Malaysian wife Evelyn Oh, who found out about the event via Facebook and decided to drop by to indulge their penchant for hawker fare.

“We look forward to trying all the 13 hawkers’ dishes, but we would probably run out of room (in out stomach) before we can complete the whole line,” Snell said after downing his first bowl.

The Hokkien Mee category also had a panel of judges, which comprised of food writer and Star2 newspaper columnist Helen Ong, Tourism Ministry’s Penang office director Jaime Yeoh, and Kwong Wah Yit Poh newspaper’s assistant chief editor Goh Hong Bee.

Ong, a traditionalist when it comes to hawker fare, said that it was a sign of the times that chunkier and new ingredients made their way into dishes.

“Hokkien Mee is a very traditional dish, and the adulteration in some ways, takes away its authenticity,” she observed.

The preliminary rounds for the satay category will resume from noon to 2pm today, with the finals tomorrow, where the top three from each category will vie for the ultimate ho-nours.

The public are advised to arrive early to purchase tickets as they are only available on a first-come, first-served basis only.

- The Star here


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