wantanamera: penang wantan mee

wantan mee is not just wantan mee when it's penang wantan mee. pardon our rambling, but the northern version of this kopitiam staple has really got our foodie radar up, in a very good way. petite portions of springy, curly egg noodles tossed in an aromatic blend of thick soy sauce and sesame oil with crunchy (or boiled in soup) meat-filled parcels, a few strands of choy sum (usually negligible) and slices of char siew. what's not to like? here's our pick of some of george town's most satisfying plates.

note: for this review, we only tried the konlou (dry) versions

 

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34 lebuh acheh 

to quote the intimidating but very wise pierre marco white, 'keep it simple' and 'perfection is lots of little things done well'. this sidewalk breakfast stall hits the nail on the spot on both counts. you get a plate of al dente noodles with bits of crunchy lardons and char siew that is a good balance of fat and lean - a simple thing, but is so hard to find where wantan mee is concerned, they usually come in cardboard-like texture - swimming in a pool of aromatic, unctuous sauce. the unspoken rule for any konlou noodle is the blacker the sauce, the better it tastes - check. 

by default, the konlou version comes with fried wantans and such crispy delights they are. instead of pickled green chillies (it is available though, if you want) which are the wantan mee norm, here you get a spoonful of savoury, not-too-spicy sambal. this 14-year-old stall, run by a lovely elderly couple, also offers fried versions of the noodles. cooked and served the same way as the regular noodles, the fried variants provide a moreish texture that soaks up the thick, jet black soy sauce extremely well. you'd want to spoon up every last bit of the sauce. try their sui kow too, translucent parcels of well-flavoured minced pork, bouncy prawns and crunchy jicama.

altogether, it's a lovely start to the day and most importantly, mr ng is consistent in his delivery. we ate here practically every day for two weeks and every plate was flawless. wash it down with a hot cup of kopi or kopi c ping from the nearby kopitiam. the coffee is thick and fragrant and complements the wantan mee perfectly.

find it on the five foot walkway of the row of shops opposite ben's vintage toy museum opens 7.30am-1.30pm, mon-fri; 7.30am-1pm, sat-sun price starts from rm3.20 per plate 

 

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lebuh chulia (1)

a local favourite, this old-timer stall opens around 6pm each evening but by 5.30pm or so, faithful fans would have parked themselves at the tables, waiting patiently while the elderly lady and (presumably) her son who run the stall go about setting things up. once the water is hot enough and everything is ready, plates of dry or soup wantan mee (the noodles are handmade) fly out of the stall. besides the regular fine noodles, you can also order the thick mee pok-like variant. 

the soy sauce base is excellent - aromatic with strong hints of fried shallots, silky and just the right level of thickness - and the lardons are fresh tasting and crispy. the noodles, on the other hand, fell a bit flat in texture and the char siew is the typical bane of wantan mee as mentioned earlier: they tasted like cardboard shavings.

find it diagonally across from the mugshot cafe, in front of a mattress shop opens from around 6pm daily price RM3.30 per plate


lebuh chulia (2)

just steps away, another wantan mee stall makes a much more low-key presence, serving mostly regulars while tourists tend to flock to the other. at the start of business, their noodles pile cover up the entire glass cabinet that fronts the stall and moves slowly; towards the end of the night, you can still see more than half of the tiny yellow bundles stacked up. which is a start difference from the other stall, where the mountain of noodles shifts quickly, leaving the cabinet bare in no time.

but how do they compare, taste wise? we decided to check this out too and were pleasantly surprised to find that they should be giving the other stall a good run for their money. while the soya sauce mix is less fragrant, it is still a good concoction that coats the noodles evenly. more importantly, their noodles really stand out for their fine quality that are not unlike those served at popular wantan noodles restaurants in hong kong. less curly than the other wantan mee we taste tested in penang and narrower too, the texture is more akin to that of a thick vermicelli but with a silky smooth outer layer. 

between the two lebuh chulia wantan mee, our vote goes to this.

find it a few steps away from the popular wantan noodle stall, usually next to a burger stall. opens from around 5-6pm daily price RM3.30 per plate


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maria's wantan mee

at rm3 per plate, maria's is the most expensive of the stalls reviewed here and no, it doesn't come with any additional or specials. just good old wantan mee done the usual way. the noodles are the gem of this plate, ultra springy with a good bounce to every bite. unfortunately that is the only plus point we can give to maria's; everything else on the plate just didn't cut it. the sauce base was no standout, the wantans are run of the mill, and the char siew is simply negligible.  

find it golden city coffeeshop, jalan burma (next to new world park and near tune hotels) opens around 6pm daily price rm3 per plate

 

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rm2 wantan mee at cf food court

on the opposite end of the price extreme is this stall, near the clan jetties, which is also known as the rm2 wantan mee - because that is the price of each plate. and no, they don't appear to scrimp on any of the ingredients or portion. the uncle has supposedly been selling wantan mee for over four decades now (he started when he was 15) and is still strong on his feet, dishing them out as quickly as the orders come in. 

taste wise, there are no standouts on the plate but neither do we have any complaints. the presentation is a little messy compared to the rest but this hawker's food, so we're not expecting art on a plate either. all in all, a decent plate that we wouldn't mind eating again, especially at such an honest-to-goodness price. 

find it cf food court 48-58 lebuh armenian opens 5am-11am, mon-sat note the price has since been revised to rm2.20 per small plate