Asian Street Food
If you ever plan a trip involving a visit to Malaysia, you may come across the many vendors operating on the roadside or inside semi-open coffee shops and hawker centers.
Street food vendors, called hawkers, are by origin peddlers selling local merchandise and food native to where they were born on the roadside, you can find them everywhere in Asia, so in Malaysia.
Since Chinese migrants settled in Malaysia, there have been hawkers, without having immediate jobs many migrants resorted to sell delicacies native to the parts of China they came from. The Cantonese came from Guangzhou, Hakka’s from southern China and people from Fujian are fondly called Hokkiens after their dialect. All have their own specialties.
The earliest of hawkers placed their merchandise in two bamboo baskets, each one on the edge of a bamboo stick, the bascule was then carried on the hawkers shoulder enabling him to cover certain areas by foot. They used to announce their arrival by shouting the name of the product on offer or by clacking a stick against a wooden block. Those selling noodle soups would often click two Chinese spoons against each other.
The fare on offer was amazing and ranged from sweets to spring rolls to steaming bowls of noodle soup.
Slowly the customers became more mobile and the need for the hawkers to reach out to them became less. This opened the opportunity for the hawkers to set up road side stalls, the variety of food increased; frying could be done in a road side stall unlike for items carried around in rattan baskets.
Fried glutinous rice cakes, fried noodles and steamed delicacies entered the hawker fare. One famous type of fried flat rice noodles, Char Kuay Teow is until today a huge favorite among the many people patronizing hawker stalls.
A hawker makes the procedure of frying a plate of tasty Kuay Teow look very easy; reality is quite different when you decide to give it a try yourself.
First there are the noodles, they are made with rice flour, some wheat flour and corn starch mixed with water into a very thin batter, then ladled on a bamboo mat covered with cheese cloth and steamed. After steaming the noodles are sliced into ¼ inch strips, the noodles must be fresh, dry varieties (if any) are not suitable.
Second is the lard, without lard the final plate of noodles will not taste as it should taste, third, but not least is the sequence of cooking, together with temperature control.
Mostly prawns or shrimp and cockles are used in the dish and fried on high heat in some melted lard, then kept aside, next chopped garlic is fried for a few seconds, noodles are added, fried and seasoned with light and dark soya sauce, salt and pepper, chives are added and the noodles are pushed to the side of the wok, an egg is broken in the space created, stirred until set, then mixed with the noodles, shrimp and cockles are returned to the noodles and lastly a handful of beansprouts goes in, the hawker will stir to make sure all is well combined.
The whole process takes maybe three minutes or so, the heat changes continuously from high to low and from low to high, making it very interesting to view and whether one plate is made or fifty, the process starts over and over again, step by step.
Hawkers deserve huge respect, the weather is hot, the wok is hot, the hawker continuous every day to make a living. Pretty impressive, try it and don’t forget to look how it’s made.