Comforting ark bak (duck meat) koay teow th'ng
Loh Kei Duck Meat Koay Teow Th’ng is located at the side wing of the State Chinese (Penang) Association's (SCPA) in Perak Road. The other wing is occupied by Ang Hoay Loh Restaurant.
Ark bak koay teow th'ng comprises silky smooth koay teow (flat rice noodles) and a clear flavourful stock served with a good amount of ingredients – shredded duck meat, two fish balls, two meatballs, topped with spring onions and golden crispy bak eu phok (fried lard). The star ingredient of the dish is of course the comforting and soothing stock made from heaps of pork and duck bones, stewed for at least 4-5 hours to draw out their natural flavours. Jicama or sengkuang is added to enhance the natural sweetness of the stock.
When placing your order, you can opt for your choice of noodles – koay teow, yellow noodles, bee hoon, mee tai bak and instant noodles – or a mixture. I like mine with koay teow mee (a mixture of koay teow and yellow noodles). Served on the side are some sliced red chillies or green cabai burung (bird's eye chilli) often drizzled with light soy sauce for dipping.
Loh Kei is run by Celine Oh and hubby Ha Hoi Suin. Although they started business at SCPA in 2016, Celine had been helping her father, Mr Oh Kim Ghee at a Pulau Tikus market stall in the evenings. Mr Oh established the stall in 1983 and through the years, it gained much popularity. Celine took over the reins in 2014 and two years later relocated at SCPA, a conducive location with an ample car park. It was indeed a wise decision. The family recipe proved successful, winning the hearts of many Penangites.
Some early risers make a bee line to Loh Kei as early as 7:30 am. However, some will casually stroll in around 9:00 am, swearing that given that extra hour or so, the stock is much more "potent". I once overheard an auntie commenting that if one were to come too early, the taste of the gravy is like "tap water". I could not help but chuckle knowing that Penangites are serious champions at exaggerating to get their point across. I have eaten here many times at 7.30 am and the stock has always been flavourful.
I would highly recommend a side order of bean sprouts and some duck meat for sharing. The bean sprouts, lightly blanched retaining their crunchiness, are flavoured with soy sauce, spring onions and crispy lard. The thinly sliced duck meat is amazingly tender sans any gamey aftertaste. Order a bowl of stewed duck's feet, a local delicacy, if they tickles your fancy.
Instead of the soupy option, you can also order the "dry" version. Dark soy sauce colours the noodles while adding its caramelised flavour. And of course, anything with bak eu pok would taste divine. For this version, a small bowl of soup with the meat and fish balls accompanies the noodles. Ask for some sambal belacan to spice up your bowl of "dry" koay teow.
Have you ever stopped to ponder who invented the silky smooth koay teow or noodles? Koay teow, falling under the rice noodles category, is made of two main ingredients – rice flour and water. Rice noodles come in a variety that ranges from hair-thin vermicelli to the wide silky rice sheets, and our much-loved koay teow. It is interesting to note that rice noodles are believed to have originated during the Qin dynasty (259–210 BC) consumed for centuries in China, eventually spreading across Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. The art of making koay teow must have arrived at the shores of Penang by the early Chinese seafarers.
Here is an intriguing trivia: Did you know that in 2005, archaeologists discovered a 4,000-year-old millet noodles at an archaeological site in Lajia in Northwest China? The beautifully preserved, long, thin yellow noodles were found inside an overturned sealed bowl. This suggests an Asian – not Italian or Arabian – origin for the staple dish.
If you have not sampled noodles at Loh Kei, join the locals and you might be in for a real treat. This is one of my favourite duck meat koay teow th’ng spots in Penang. Do not be discouraged if there is a long queue. Considerate patrons will vacate after savouring their bowl of noodles and you should be able to obtain a seat soon. Celine has hardworking workers who are highly efficient. They will get your drinks and noodles to you in a jiffy.
Besides Loh Kei, ark bak koay teow th'ng is also available at other popular hawker stalls and coffeeshops in Penang. Some even add cubes of congealed duck's blood.
PS: There are at least two other types of stocks used in koay teow th'ng – pork and chicken. Both are equally enticing.
Loh Kei Duck Meat Koay Teow Th’ng
13, Jalan Perak, 10400 George Town, Penang
Open daily from 7.30 am to 11.30 am except Thursdays
T: +6019 559 2633
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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6 September 2022