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King of Noodles

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Food-loving Malaysians have been known to debate the best local food spots for hours. Tan Chooi Hong, hunched over a blazing hot wok, hadn’t broken a sweat. Flames from the charcoal sparked and danced up the side of the wok, crackling as he added the ingredients one by one, just as his father taught him almost 60 years ago. Char kway teow, Malaysia’s most famous street food, is a simple rice noodle dish made with soy sauce, eggs, cockles, bean sprouts, Chinese sausage and a couple of shrimp. It’s common throughout the country – devoured at roadside stalls or feasted on at hawker centres – but there is only one “king” of char kway teow, and he’s in Penang. Uncle Tan, as he’s known, is a sturdy 79-year-old with a shock of white hair and an all-knowing glimmer in his eye. He’s been cooking this single dish from a wok-cart attached to a bicycle and pushed into place on the side of Siam Road in central George Town for decades. “I don’t remember how old I was when I started. But char kway teow is all I know,” said Uncle Tan.

Uncle Tan’s unlikely fame began in 2012 when he was interviewed by a local who put the story on Facebook. His decades of cooking experience, combined with layered flavours of smoky-unctuous noodles perfectly balanced with the salty-sweet Chinese sausage, quickly got the younger generation of foodies salivating. Nothing is better than a simple noodle dish with an interesting backstory, and young Penangites ate it up. The article went viral and people began flying to the island just to taste his dish.

In 2015, celebrity chef Martin Yan, known for his Yan Can Cook TV show, visited the stall for his TV show Taste of Malaysia. If that fame didn’t cement Uncle Tan’s title as king, placing 14th (out of 50) at the World Street Food Congress in 2017 certainly did. Today, his roadside wok-cart is a fixture in the food scene and he’s widely revered as serving up the most delicious, flavoursome char kway teow in Malaysia, churning out hundreds of plates a day with people waiting in line for hours.

Uncle Tan is unfazed by his fame and prefers to keep a low profile. Humble and shy, he can’t understand what all the fuss is about and doesn’t think his version is any better than anoyone else’s.

“My dad didn’t go to school to learn any skills. It wasn’t an option. He had to work for his father, so he worked by his side cooking char kway teow every day,” his daughter, Tan Evelyn, told . “And he’s never stopped.”

The ingredients of char kway teow are so simple that it takes a lot of skill to get it right. The main ingredient is flat rice noodles. No self-respecting char kway teow stall would use dried noodles, so Uncle Tan gets bags of the fresh, chewy goodness delivered by scooter regularly.

I watched as he skillfully added one ingredient at a time, just by feel and sight. He threw a large handful of slippery noodles in the blisteringly hot wok and used a wide metal spatula to spin them around in the garlic and lard waiting for them. After pushing the noodles up the side of the pan, he expertly cracked an egg into the middle, breaking it with the spatula to let the yolk ooze into the noodles.

A few soy sauce dashes, a spoonful of chilli sauce and a little water created a silky sauce that the noodles absorbed. Then Uncle Tan tossed in a couple of shrimp and a few slices of sweet lap cheong, or Chinese sausage. Finally, a smattering of cockles got a spin in the wok. He topped it all with a handful of crunchy bean sprouts, chives and small homemade croutons made of crispy pork fat.

He eyed the steaming noodles for the perfect consistency and then scooped them onto a melamine plate and started all over again. The whole process was lightning fast – less than two minutes – and Uncle Tan made it look effortless.

While many stalls use gas, Uncle Tan cooks on charcoal, frying one order at a time for maximum flavour and wok hei, which translates to “breath of the wok”. Wok hei is the smoky depth of flavour that charcoal adds to the dish and is expertly created by cooking the right portion over the right temperature. It’s something that gas heat cannot achieve.

Some people say that charcoal is the secret to Uncle Tan’s success, but, “they like my father’s char kway teow better than others because he’s perfected it over 60 years,” said Evelyn. “Other stalls use charcoal and the same ingredients, but no-one has his skill. Not even my brother Kean Huat who learned from him.”

Others try to attribute Uncle’s success to a secret sauce. “I promise. There is no secret sauce; it’s his wok skill,” said Evelyn. “I also cannot fry as my brother or dad. My brother has been working for years learning from my dad, and his skills are still improving. It takes a lifetime. Just ask my dad.”

“If I give you the same ingredients, you cannot make the same taste as me,” agreed Uncle Tan.

Even though char kway teow has become synonymous with Penang street food, its origins lie in China. In the 19th Century, the Chinese diaspora brought over Teochew and Hokkien people from Guangdong and Fujian provinces on China’s south-eastern coast. During that same time, Penang grew under British rule and it became a bustling entrepot providing greater employment opportunites. The Hokkien people came to work in the rubber plantations and as traders and merchants, while the Teochew found jobs in the tin mines and as fisherman. With them came some of their kitchen staples like soy sauce, bean curd and noodles called kway teow.

In Hokkien, the word char means “stir-fried”, and kway teow means “rice cake strips”, referring to the noodles. What had begun in China’s south-eastern provinces as a simple noodle dish with pork, fish sauce and soy sauce was transformed into a seafood delight once it hit the island’s shores. Initially, it was sold at night by fisherman and cockle gatherers trying to make an extra buck. Instead of the traditional ingredients, they used what was plentiful to create a revised version of the dish. It was a poor man’s food and the other Chinese immigrants devoured it as something fast, cheap and tasty to sustain them for hours under the hot sun. The dish became a labourer’s staple.

“When the waves of Teochew and Hokkien immigrants came from China, they came alone, leaving their wives and families behind. Since there was no-one to cook for them, they survived on cheap street food,” said Nazlina Hussin, a Penangite culinary specialist and author. “From wok to plate, char kway teow takes no time. These men could stop for lunch, eat and be back to work within a few minutes.”

To this day, most of the Chinese in Penang are of Hokkien and Teochew descent. It’s the only place in Malaysia where Hokkien is commonly spoken, which is why char kway teow has remained so closely linked to Penang. And although you can find the dish outside of Penang, locals say it’s not as good unless a Hokkien or Teochew makes it. That’s why people fly here from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and wait in line for hours, in the hot sun, to try Uncle Tan’s char kway teow.

It’s that good.

Plus, he’s one of the oldest char kway teow legends in Malaysia. There is a reverence in that. “Most customers come here for my dad. People say he’s a char kway teow idol. So, if he’s not cooking, they keep on driving,” said Evelyn.

In 2018, for the first time in nearly 60 years, Uncle Tan took a break. On doctor’s orders after cataract surgery, he closed his shop for six months, and his devotees, like those of any idol or guru, went berserk. The whole island almost had a breakdown, with stories in local media lamenting his sudden overnight retirement. “Today we’ve had to endure the greatest loss of mankind,” wrote culinary website Penang Foodie. “Siam Road Char Koay Teow is believed to be closed down for go

Uncle Tan’s son took over for a brief moment and locals weren’t kind to him; Penangites are loyal foodies and they wanted the master’s char kway teow. After six months of ever-more grandiose gossip, “We had to find a place; we couldn’t let the people down,” declared Evelyn. Instead of going back to his original roadside spot, they decided to find a premises on the same street. Today Uncle Tan still cooks from a bike pushcart with a wok attached; it’s just parked in front of his shop.

He’s widely revered as serving up the most delicious, flavoursome char kway teow in Malaysia

“Now, my son and I can take turns cooking. When I get tired, I can sit down and watch Kean Huat try to perfect my dish,” he said with a wink. “It isn’t easy. But he’s a third-generation char kway teow cook, and even though he didn’t start as young as I did, he’ll be able to perfect his skills one day too.”

Uncle Tan’s char kway teow is not only Penang’s history on a plate; it’s his family’s history as well. Hopefully, Kean Huat will live up to his father’s reputation and teach future generations how to follow in the king’s footsteps.

But until then, “I have no plans to retire. As long as I can still stand and cook over the wok, I’ll be here on Jalan Siam,” laughed Uncle Tan.–BBC

 

 



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Life style

Opening of Colombo Art Gallery

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by Zanita Careem

Colombo Art Gallery is a space created for authentic engagement, enabling community enrichment through a shared spaceColombo Art Gallery is the result of Dian Gomes’ long-standing passion for art, consisting of his private collection from across the globe with a fine curation of renowned local artists. A treasure trove for art enthusiasts, Colombo Art Gallery is a space created for authentic engagement, enabling community enrichment through a shared space of integrity and collaboration.

Colombo Art Galler

y is located down Sri Lanka’s only art street, Gandhara street, the history of which goes back to 2004, and the inception of lifestyle store Gandhara, housing unique pieces of furniture, art, and artefacts. Over the last 15 years, Gandhara Street has become a one-stop destination for retail and cafe culture, with the creation of a horizontal mall of over 30 art, retail, and lifestyle businesses. 

Speaking at the opening, Gandhara Founder Dian Gomes shared that the vision of Gandhara Street was one that he had held dear ever since first opening Gandhara,  

. “Representational art has not been very popular the last 10 years,” Gomes shared. “Abstract is preferred. The whole idea of Colombo Art Gallery is to show representational art, but this doesn’t preclude other artists with different styles from showcasing. Every month, we’re hoping to have exhibitions and have varying artists showcase their talents. As the owner, my job is to promote them all and take the opportunity to show Sri Lankan art and push it to the international arena.”

Dian Gomes has a long-standing passion for Art, consisting of his private globally sourced collection along with a fine curation of renowned local artistes.

The location of the Gallery is of equal importance to the Art space in Sri Lanka, as it is situated down Sri Lanka’s on

ly Art Street. The history of the street goes back to the inception of Gandhara in 2004, a lifestyle store that houses unique pieces of furniture, art and artifacts. Today Gandhara Street is Colombo’s go-to destination for one stop retail and café culture; creating a horizontal mall with over 30 offerings from multiple vendors. The curated mix of brands belonging to 

categories such as Fashion, Lifestyle, Wellness, Dining and Art- bring to life the first dynamic ‘art street’ in the island. It is a haven for art and design lovers, boasting an incredible array of creative talents; yet until now there has not been a Gallery dedicated to Art.

The Colombo Art Gallery which was meant to open doors to the public last year, postponed its preparations due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. The Opening Ceremony took place recently and its first ever exhibition was held at the Gallery named ‘Odyssey’. The exhibition was orjanised by the 2020 Group, a group of senior artists belonging to different disciplines; practicing distinctive individual styles including Realism, Impressionism, idealism, Stylization and Figurative Art. They have come together in the hope of shifting the spotlight back to Representational Art and raising the bar for local art, which would eventually construct an even playing field in the global arena. ‘Odyssey’ is a collaboration between 2020 Group and Colombo Art Gallery, an exhibition that hopes to inspire audiences and artists alike to engage in representational work, and gain an understanding on the recognition in this particular sphere of art. As a country rich in both history and talent,it was necessay to showcase talent and creativity said Dian

The exhibition was held adhering to health and safety guidelines issued by the Government, and the space itself has been designed keeping international standards and highest quality in mind.

Colombo Art Gallery houses Dian Gomes’s collection of art, acquired during his many travels abroad. This space is a treasure trove for art enthusiasts, containing art from Argentina, Spain, countries in Africa and the world over. Apart from the global selection, the local paintings and sculptures are a tribute to some talented Sri Lankan artists. Dian’s attention to detail is exhibited perfectly within the bright and airy gallery, which provides respite from the hustle and bustle outside. The fact that the space is next to some great coffee, food and a stunning courtyard is just a bonus.

Pix by Kamal Wanniarachchi

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A dynamic duo

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by Zanita Careem

Advertising is something that creates a certain illusion and image, and public relation is something that manages crowd control of different categories of people. In this interview Chris Wijekoon and Azad Hassan share thier professional insight into advertising and public relations .

Leadership by definition lies in the action of leading to reach a goal. For both of us what define a great leader is someone who leads by example and successful leaders are known by the influence and impact they have on many not on one said Chris and Azad, the two veterans in the field of advertising and event management.

We learnt by experience that communication isn’t merely a supporting component for business to succeed; it is the key factor for success for every leader, for every business and even in our personal life competition is what make us to excel in our career. Both of them are extremely passionate about thier role and responsibilities.

Well organised, articulate, positive and full. of positive energy. Chris and Azad . are the running thread that keeps the bond between all PR players and firms alive We are both directors of this organisation ‘Planning Paradise’ Both of us have an understanding of dynamics of industry and business. We work relentlessly to built the agency, through hard work and commitment to give a professional dimension to PR campaigns organised by the ‘The Planning Paradise’.

What made you to start an event management agency?

We both are professional with many years of experience and come from two very different professions. Azad holds a Masters in Business Administration and Chris comes from a professional background holding an ACIS (UK) qualifications. Over a period of time, we observed how events were organised and observed how many were successful.

Tell us about the campaigns and events you have worked on.

When ” Planning Paradise” ventured out in a post-COVID arena, the norms were strictly adhered. We , our team has covered milestone birthday parties, exclusive private dinners and cocktails, the ABBA Ladies Night as well as karaoke and sing-along gatherings. However, during pre-covid our team handled corporate events in collaboration with some of the leading corporates in the country. We always strictly adhered to safety measures and followed government regulations.

We always created a memorable impression and left an indelible mark on the minds of our clients. This is especially important in many events, attendees were first time visitors . We always looked into minor details and created a unique ambience. Even when outdoor events, are organised we are always ready with tents and canopies on standby. The venue is a reflection of the event as a whole. We always make a grand statement and get people talking.

How do you integrate social media with event management?

The aim of incorporating social media into our event management was to create an awareness among clients across the country At present our team is running a Facebook page and also an Instagram account, and we do update our followers with what we have done and what we plan to do. We also plan to open a linkedin page in the near future,

Earning trust and establishing valuable relationships and building branding awareness are necessary to run our business smoothly. A PR event is all about building publicity.

How does ‘Planning Paradise’ is different from other event management companies?

Our team endeavours to go above and beyond in our request for client satisfaction and happiness, making our company stand out from others.. Our team gives priority to our customers’ ideas . Our aim is to make customers happy and give them the edge to decide what they want.

The promotion of events doesn’t begin and end at an event. For example recently we organised an Abba night . Those attended had a great experience. gets everybody in good spirit . Most people who attends our events uploads images on instagram using our event hashtag.

What are the trends in

event management?

With reference to the American Express 2021 Global Meetings and Event Forecast, hybrid events take precedence over others in the future globally.

In the new normal we are slowly adapting to organise open-air events which will be COVID- friendly. . We have to keep in mind that life goes on within the parameters of health guidelines.

What are your key factors of success?

At “The Planning Paradise”, we follow the axiom customer is King! and work as a flexible team. We always work within the personalized budgets of our individual clients. The world as we know has been changed by the epidemic that has reached every corner of the globe. The way we think, live and work will now have to be modified to the new normal.

We have varied professional backgrounds, so we in our events have genuinely brought joy or value so far.

Attention, activity, are some of our key words. The ‘Planning Paradise’ is flexible young and creative Our secret is consistency on all events we organised . We work as a team. We stand behind each other and supports one another.

planningparadisesl@gmail.com

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Confessions of a global gypsy

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Providing hospitality to Prince Philip  

by Dr. Chandana

(Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc.

Consulting, Canada Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

Today, instead of chronologically narrating another episode of the story of my career, I will write about a customer I met and provided hospitality services twice, in the UK in 1984 and in Jamaica in 1998. Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg was born nearly 100 years ago (on 10 June 1921) in Greece into Greek and Danish royal families. He had a non-English, but a rich continental European mix – German, Greek, Danish, Hungarian, French, Swiss, Bohemian, Lithuanian, Russian, Swedish, Belgian, and Dutch. His family was exiled from Greece when he was an infant. After being educated in France, Germany and the United Kingdom (UK), he joined the British Royal Navy as an officer in 1939. He became a British subject in 1947, changed his family name to Mountbatten and married Princess Elizabeth, who became the Queen of the United Kingdom in 1952. Having made a British Prince in 1957, and over the years many other titles and honours were bestowed to him, but I will refer to him as Prince Philip, who was unique in that he was the longest-lived male member ever in the British royal family.

 

Two VIP visitors from UK

 

From 1995 to 1998 I was the General Manager of the largest hotel in the capital city of Jamaica – Kingston. Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus Hotel (Pegasus) was operated by the largest British hotel company at that time – Forte PLC, and I represented that company in Jamaica. Along with two sister hotels – Guyana Pegasus Hotel and Pegasus Reef Hotel in Sri Lanka, Jamaica Pegasus was planned and developed in late 1960s and early 1970s by British Overseas Airways Corporation or BOAC (now British Airways) and Trust House Forte (later Forte PLC). Because of the hotel’s British connections, we had a large percentage of British travellers coming to Kingston staying at the Pegasus. Thirty rooms of the Pegasus were booked on back-to-back basis for the crews of British Airways over many years. The English cricket team stayed at the Pegasus, during all their matches played in Jamaica.

The British High Commissioner in Jamaica at that time had become a friend of mine. One day in early 1998, while attending a private party at my apartment at the Pegasus with his wife, the High Commissioner gave me heads up about two separate visits by two VIPs from the UK – Former (1990-1997) Prime Minister John Major (now Sir John) and Prince Philip. I lived in the UK when John Major became the surprise successor of Margret Thatcher in 1990, after the famous cabinet revolt. I was glued to the TV every evening in my London home, wondering how a person with such humble beginnings became the most powerful person in the UK. I became an admirer of John Major, and was excited about the opportunity to meet and greet him. On the other hand, having read and heard about Prince Philip’s greatest legacy (apart from his marathon marriage to Elizabeth II) – a lifetime of controversial, cringeworthy and sometimes outright appalling comments or insensitive jokes, I was not an admirer of Prince Philip. However, I was happy that he would be staying at the Pegasus for two days.

 

Arrival in Jamaica

 

Prince Philip arrived at the Pegasus in the evening of 23rd March 1998. He was accompanied by the British High Commissioner and a male travelling companion, who had a variety of roles such as Secretary, Butler and Valet. Given his reputation, my expectations were not high. However, I was pleasantly surprised about the jovial mood and politeness of Prince Philip that evening. He looked fit and athletic, and did not look 76, which was his age at that time. For someone who just arrived in the Caribbean after a cross-Atlantic flight, he appeared to be fresh. His suite and the adjoining room for his Secretary were on the 15th floor furthest from the elevators. While walking towards his suite he told me jokingly, “Hotels forget that I am an old man when they always allocate me a suite which requires the longest walk from the lift.” When I apologised, he said: “That is alright, I need the exercise.”

 

Chat about the past

 

The next day, during his breakfast at the suite, I met Prince Philip again. I checked how his first night at the Pegasus was, and he was happy with all arrangements. He looked well rested. We chatted briefly about the weather and his previous visits to Jamaica, as well as about his stay with Queen Elizabeth at Guyana Pegasus Hotel a few years ago and visits to Sri Lanka. Then I walked with him, on his way out to a meeting scheduled at the British High Commission. While walking he surprised me by asking: “have we met before?” Assuming that this is his dry sense of humour he is famous for, I replied, “Yes, Your Royal Highness, we met last evening.” He laughed and said, “No, no, I mean before, years ago. I remember your face and your afro hair style.” I then said, “I served you once at the Dorchester Hotel, but that was 14 years ago, when I was a Banquet Waiter, I cannot imagine you remembering all Waiters who served you at numerous royal banquets, Sir.” Prince Philip looked straight at my eyes for a few seconds and said, “I think that I remember you from the Dorchester.”

A royal banquet at the Dorchester, London in 1984

When I was a graduate student at the University of Surrey, UK in 1983 and 1984, to make sufficient money to pay the rent, I worked at the Dorchester in Park Lane, London, as a part-time Banquet Waiter. Although it was the best hotel in the UK at that time, most Waiters who served in banquets were part-time employees. Traditionally most royal banquets in London were held at the Buckingham Palace or at a historic hotel with long-standing connections with royalty that have led to it sometimes being referred to as an annexe to the Buckingham Palace – The Claridge’s in Mayfair, London. In early 1984, after many efforts by the top management team, the Dorchester secured a prestigious booking for the first royal banquet ever to be held at the Dorchester, since its opening in 1931.

As this banquet would enhance the image of the Dorchester, the management decided to re-train the full banquet service team of full-time and part-time employees. It was a two week fully-paid special training. We were told by the Banquet Manager that the five waiters who perform the best in the practical test and the exam at the end of the special training session, will be given the opportunity of serving the 27 VIPs who would sit at the head table. These VIPs included the Queen and Prince Philip, King of Bahrain, The Lord Chancellor of the UK and the Prime Minister of the UK (Margret Thatcher). Thanks to my practical training I received by German and Swiss food and beverage service experts at the Ceylon Hotel School in the early 1970s, I managed to do well at this training session and become one of the best five waiters. I was chosen to serve the Queen and Prince Philip and the King of Bahrain at the royal banquet held on 12th April 1984. I was one of the two non-white waiters among a service brigade of 50 who worked at that royal banquet. Perhaps that may be a reason for Prince Philip to remember me after 14 long years.

A fundraiser private dinner in Kingston in 1998

In 1998, the Chairman of the Pegasus Board and the individual shareholder with the largest percentage of shares, was Mr. John Issa. He was also the Chairman of his family-owned resort chain – SuperClubs. Mr. Issa’s family were the pioneers of tourism in Jamaica for a few generations. His wife, son and twin daughters were all well-qualified and held senior positions within the family business. I was very close to the Issa family. Towards the end of 1997, Mr. Issa had a chat with me and said that he and his family will need two suites at the Pegasus for six months, as their beautiful house in a posh area of Kingston will be fully renovated to host an important event. As their house was already well-appointed and well-maintained, to me it sounded strange, but I did not ask too many questions from the Chairman of the Board.

A few days before the visit of Prince Philip to Jamaica, the Issa family returned to their upgraded house. At that point Mr. Issa informed me that his family would be hosting Prince Philip for a private dinner in their house, the day after Prince Philip’s arrival. As it was a fundraiser event the invitees for the dinner were rich and famous Jamaicans. Mr. Issa disliked wearing the tie and jacket and therefore, the dress code was informal. A six-course menu with matching wines were planned. Pegasus was asked to look after some of the logistics, while SuperClubs looked after catering.

 

The event was a success in terms of quality, satisfaction and fundraising. It was like musical chairs, when those invitees who sat next to and in front of Prince Philip, were rotated from course to course. After the event was over, jokingly I asked Mr. Issa: “Would there be an opportunity for me to address you as SIR JOHN in the near future?” He laughed and said: “Chandi, I need to do much more than one fundraiser to earn a title such as that”. I think that I read Mr. Issa’s mind, correctly.

 

Goodbye

 

The next morning, I handled Prince Philip’s departure from Pegasus. When he saw me at his suite, he asked, “You, again?” By then I have gotten used to his dry sense of humour. I think that he joked often with an intention to put people at ease, but at times was misunderstood as being sarcastic. After a firm hand shake and exchange of smiles, I said goodbye and bon voyage to Prince Philip.

Years later when I watched four seasons of the award-winning Netflix series ‘The Crown’ with my wife, I realized how complex and at times, difficult it was for him to play a supportive ceremonial role for 69 years from the time his wife became the Queen of the UK and the Commonwealth in 1952. He was fully dedicated to the institution and had a deep sense of duty, perhaps stemmed from his naval officer training and distinguished military career. He was a reliable husband for 73 long years.

Prince Philip served as a patron, president, or member of over 780 organisations, and his key legacy will be his work as the Chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a self-improvement program for young people aged 14 to 24 founded by Prince Philip in the UK in 1956 and expanded to 144 nations, over the decades. He was a good man. “Goodnight Sweet Prince!”

chandij@sympatico.ca

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