The Penang Lor Mee (槟城滷面) may not be as famous as its peers like Hokkien Prawn Mee, Assam Laksa or Char Koay Teow, but it is a unique hawker fare that has its roots in Mainland China but has been reinvented in Penang. In Fujian Province of Mainland China the Hokkiens do have their tradition of eating Lor Mee (滷面) but in the form of stir-fried noodles, Chinese cabbage and meats with thick starchy gravy minus five spice powder and the dark/black appearance.
Penang Lor Mee (a.k.a stewed gravy noodles) has had many interpretations but the common ones revolve around the Hainanese version which has been in existence since the early 1950′s or even earlier, which our research have led us to believe. But after decades of evolution and dilution in the hawker food sector, many other Chinese dialects have also begun to sell this once synonymous to the Hainese ethnic group noodle dish. Currently Lor Mee can be found sold standalone or a compliment to Penang’s famous Hokkien Prawn Mee.
Penang Lor Mee or the Hainanese Lor Mee is specifically prepared by preparing of a soup stock that is made from the boiling of leg bones of a pig, skin of the pig, pork, Chinese Five Spice and good soy sauce. After the flavours have been extracted through the braising process, starch is added to thicken the soup stock, and beaten eggs introduced to further enhance the taste and also the visual beauty of having strands of egg floating in the thick, savoury and sweet gravy.
There are various brands of Chinese Five Spice which each has their unique combination of spices to balance the flavours of the dishes. The most common spice combination used for producing Chinese Five Spice powder are star anise (bajiao), cloves, ground fennel seeds, Sichuan pepper ( huajiao) and cinnamon or “Chinese cinnamon” (rougui, the bark of the cassia tree). Thus, it is important to find the best combination of spices or brand that suits to ones taste preference.
Accompanying toppings and condiments for an usual Penang Lor Mee includes braised firm and springy pork skin, moist and tender pork (be it lean, belly or ham meat), fragrant and savoury hardboiled then braised duck or chicken egg, sweet caramelized fried shallots, tangy sweet garlic puree, spicy chilli paste and sometimes sweet Chinese black vinegar. Then there are some businesses that also prepare and provide more exotic toppings like rich pig offal and braised tender off bone chicken feet with the bowl of blenched crisp bean sprouts, firm strands of yellow noodles and sweet earthy rice vermicelli.
Enough said about what Penang Lor Mee (Hainanese) was and is, and its heritage significance to Penangites and the hawker food evolution, we now explore what are some of the popular Penang Hainanese Lor Mee that we have encountered, those that have been operated through the decades of change and also some new underdogs that strives to deliver a good bowl of thick sweet and savoury goodness.
Hai Beng Hainanese Lor Mee, previously operated in Meng Kee Kopitiam at the junction of Malay Street and Carnavon Street, on Stewart Lane just beside the century old Goddess of Mercy temple have been operating from the current location since 1957 until the present. This Hai Beng Lor Mee is currently being operated by its 2nd and 3rd generation direct descendants. Their Lor Mee gravy has a predominantly sweet, savoury, meaty and mellow creamy taste. Their toppings include pork liver, braised chicken feet, pig skin, lean pork slices and chicken eggs. Though they are Hainanese, but they have made some changes to their original recipe which explains the murkier gravy.Hai Beng Kopitiam Address: Stewart Lane, 10200 Penang Business Hours: Daily. 7am to 7pm.
GPS: 5.418358, 100.338548
Another old time favourite spot for Hainanese Lor Mee is at Lean Thye Coffee Shop on Ah Quee Street. The stall is currently being operated by a young chap who has a line of family members in the food business, Calvin Lim. He took over the stall a few years back from “Ah Keng” who in turn took over from the original proprietor of the stall that learnt his trade from one of the earliest vendors of Penang’s Lor Mee. We were told by Calvin that he tries to prepare the Lor Mee gravy to as near as possible to the standards of the original proprietor but with some improvement. The gravy has a translucent black colour with a rich savoury sweet taste. He also continues to provide hard boiled duck eggs with his Lor Mee.Ah Quee Street Lor Mee
Address: Lean Thye Coffee Shop. Ah Quee Street, George Town, Penang.
Business Hour: Daily. Breakfast from 7am till 10am (or even earlier). Close on Sundays. GPS: 5.415538,100.338886
Malay Street Lor Mee at Ping Hooi Coffee Shop has been operating for about 50 years. The current family that operates this stall took over the business from the founder of Hai Beng Lor Mee, thus the similarity of the gravy, toppings except that they continue to use duck eggs instead of chicken eggs. They also continue the tradition of providing Chinese black vinegar.Malay Street Lor Mee
Address: Ping Hooi Coffee Shop. Malay Street, George Town, Penang.
Business Hour: Daily. Breakfast from 7am till finish. Close on . GPS: 5.414726,100.334229
Seng Thor Lor Mee, was established before the 1950′s but is now being operated by a different proprietor that has no direct or family relation to the founder of this Hainanese Lor Mee stall. Although they have “inherited” the business, it seems that there is still some difference in the taste of their Lor Mee and also the braised hard boiled duck eggs. Their flavours are now bland and lacking although they still continue the tradition of mixing the fried shallots with deep fried pork lard, but adding their chilli and garlic the is enhanced though. One highlight of this stall is that their gravy does not turn watery like others do, which could be explained by the “thickener” that they use.Seng Thor Lor Mee Adress: 160, Lebuh Carnarvon, Penang, Malaysia. GPS: 5.354004,100.363002 Business Hours: Daily from 7:30am till 12:00pm.
An underdog in the Lor Mee business is Wendy. Although she sells a good bowl of Penang Hokkien Prawn Mee with rich prawny flavours and sweet meaty taste as the core item, her Lor Mee is also as good and is sold off quite fast. The gravy at Wendy’s has a sweeter in taste with a touch Chinese Black Vinegar to balance the taste, and home-made fried shallots that have a much caramel sweet taste. The stall is housed in Long Beach Food Court in Batu Ferringghi and only operates from the evening until everything all sold off.
Wendy’s Penang Hokkien Prawn Mee & Lor Mee
Address: Long Beach Food Court, Batu Ferringghi, Penang, Malaysia
Business Hour: Daily. Dinner from 6:30pm till 11pm. Closed on .
Wendy’s mom, Aunty Bee, also sells the same Lor Mee in Teluk Bahang at shack just opposite the Caltex petrol station but it is sold in the morning.Aunty Bee’s Lor Mee
Address: Jalan Teluk Bahang, Penang, Malaysia. (Under a big tree, Opposite Caltex petrol station)
Business Hour: Breakfast from 7:00pm till 11am (or so). GPS: 5.458752,100.215654
If you are ever in Penang, do take some time to try out not only those already well known hawker fares like Char Koay Teow, Hokkien Prawn Mee, Mee Goreng, etc. May be this sweet and savoury, thick silky and smooth Lor Mee that is also part of Penang’s intangible heritage could appeal to your taste buds.