GEORGE TOWN: A char koay teow “crisis” has struck Penang after a sifu quietly hung up his wok and spatula for good.
Many locals and tourists are suffering from withdrawal symptoms because the one stall where people flocked to and were willing to wait for up to an hour to lap up its plates of stir-fried wonder – Siam Road Char Koay Teow – has doused its charcoal stove.
Without a word, the pushcart stall has not been seen for the last four months or so.
It wasn’t the first time char koay teow master Tan Chooi Hong, 77, and his helper son Kean Huat, 53, had taken a break, as they were known to be away for up to 10 days at a stretch previously.
But this time, Chooi Hong does not seem to be coming back to reignite his stove, the very spot where platefuls of steaming, aromatic fried noodles that were churned out brought it international fame.
Last year, the stall was ranked 14th in the top 50 list of the World Street Food Congress 2017 held in Manila.
The owner of the coffee shop opposite the roadside stall confirmed Tan senior’s retirement.
“So many of his customers came in the first two months after he stopped. When I told them the char koay teow was no more, they left looking crestfallen,” said the man who declined to be named.
No one is sure how many decades Chooi Hong had been operating in Siam Road, but everyone knew that if they wanted it, they had to wait for it, even for the titled set, Datuks and Datuks Seri included.
Chooi Hong did not welcome the attention on his stall, which saw even longer lines after it was highlighted as one of the world’s best.
Pressmen were shooed away as he rejected further publicity.
According to the coffee shop owner, Kean Huat might start another char koay teow stall with his father’s recipe but he would not return to Siam Road.
“He doesn’t want to step into his father’s shoes and he won’t tell us where he plans to do it,” he said.
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