They’ve gone and done the Starbucks business method of opening two locations a hundred metres away from each other. Tiger Char Koay Teow in George Town, Penang has made so many “must eat” lists that they’ve opened up another stall to handle all the demand. Their main location that everyone visits is on Lebuh Carnavon, but they have a second cart at the nearby Kafe St Loo on the same street.
They share the same name, but are their tastes the exact same too? I went to both stalls in the same morning and ordered the same dish – spicy duck egg char koay teow – to find out.
Tiger Char Koay Teow on Lebuh Carnavon
Due to its online hype, this location will probably have at least one Caucasian tourist orbiting around it, trying to figure out if they want to try it and how they order it. Their brand and prices are clearly listed. They’ve also spruced up their cart with a collection of photos, the autograph of someone important, and this weird horse art. The cooking area is open, encouraging curious eyes to watch the wok. All in all, this cart makes themselves easy to spot.
The plate of char koay teow that arrived was pale and anaemic looking. There were two fat prawns, but the noodles were white in a lot of places and there were no spring onions to give it any colour. This stall also did something with the egg that I didn’t care for: it was in one block at the bottom of the plate that I had to break apart with my chopsticks. Every other hawker I’ve been to cooks the egg and noodles together so that the egg smothers the noodles. If you get a duck egg like I did, the noodles are supposed to have a richer flavour when you cook it this way.
This was my first meal of the day. I was already very hungry, so you’d think anything would taste good at this point. Not so. Putting this into my face first thing in the morning was a big letdown. Not only was it bland tasting, but there was definitely too much “char” in this char koay teow and I could taste bitter burnt bits. I finished the plate feeling very unsatisfied, and craving something else to get the acrid taste out of my mouth. Maybe it was just a bad batch, or maybe the chef at this location just doesn’t have the time to put in quality when there are so many customers to serve.
Tiger Char Koay Teow at Kafe St Loo
The Tiger stall at this hawker centre is much more subtle. It’s on the corner and the wok is sheltered on three sides from goggling eyes. Unless it’s on this Chinese sign that I can’t understand, this stall doesn’t even mention that it’s Tiger brand. The only giveaway was that the cook was wearing the same orange shirt with “Tiger Char Koay Teow” emblazoned on the back.
Kafe St Loo is cleaner and more modern than the hawker centre that the other Tiger is in. You are required to buy a drink when you eat from any of the hawkers here, which they’ll punch into a flashy iPad. Not to worry, the drinks are as cheap as anywhere else. I would suggest tourists unfamiliar with hawker culture to come to this location. It’s like a beginners-level hawker centre. Usually, you have to already know what kind of drinks you can expect to get at a hawker centre. There frequently won’t be a list, or it will be only in one communal location that you’ll have to stand and read while getting in everyone’s way. At Kafe St Loo, you’re given a menu, which is much more familiar to western people. The wait staff, I found, were also much more welcoming here. At the other location, an auntie waved us off to chat with friends before coming up to us and asking “what you like to drink?” and barking “hot or iced?” Here at Kafe St Loo, a soft-spoken Chinese man came to our table and greeted “Hello, do you have a menu?”
This plate of char koay teow looked so much better. Spring onion made a triumphant return, and the overall dish had a much more appealing golden colour to it. This chef at Kafe St Loo used the egg method I’m more familiar with, and so the duck egg was uniformly spread throughout. Aside from that, the ingredients were the same right down to the two big prawns. The taste, however, was miles ahead of the other Tiger. Much more variety and boldness in the flavours, and with just enough char to enhance everything.
KAFE ST LOO TIGER CHAR KOAY TEOW
The plate at Kafe St Loo did take longer to come out to us, but with the difference in taste, it’s proof that you can either do it fast or do it right. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lebuh Carnavon location was trying to cook up bigger batches (and thus several plates of char koay teow at once), whereas the Tiger stall at Kafe St Loo cooks it up one plate at a time.