The Trinity of Hokkien Cuisine: Hokkien Mee, Lor Bak, Otak-otak

Hokkien Cuisine, originally called as Fujian Cuisine, is a native cooking style from China’s Fujian Province. It is known to be subtle yet full of flavor, soft and tender and is widely known to have a particular umami emphasis on its taste. This cuisine is known for bringing out the original flavor of the ingredients making it the star of the dish instead of masking them out with the other ingredients, keeping it real and strong from its roots.

Coming from a coastal area from China, Hokkien Cuisine emphasizes on seafood, river fish, and shrimp. The most characteristic aspect of this cuisine is emphasis of soup but that aside, Hokkien Cuisine is like this: it is a perfect marriage of the mountains and the seas. The cuisine is widely known to get exotic ingredients from the mountains such as wild foods, wild herbs, varieties of mushrooms, bamboos, century eggs, etc.

While they get their main dishes from the rivers and seas, regardless of how broad and exotic the combinations are, the marriage of these two will not give you a powerful punch of clashing flavors but instead it will give you a calm and light taste surprisingly complementing each other.

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Stating the obvious, Hokkien Cuisine made its way to other parts of Asia. From cooking techniques to their sought-out dishes, the ancient cuisine became a staple to some Asian countries while others add their own twists to make it as if it was their own. Nevertheless we would love to thank the people of Fujian Province for their ancestral cooking style’s strong impact to the culinary world. *bows*

As I journeyed along Penang, a local CouchSurfer took me to the Old Green House Restaurant, a local food stall that operates the odd yet notable hours, known as the hunger hour: catering to the dinner crowds and late-night snackers. 

Eating my way through Asia, I believed that there is a Holy Trinity of cooking techniques that you would commonly find in every cuisine in Asia which are: boiling, frying, and steaming. Lucky for me I was able to encounter and indulge in three Hokkien dishes from the Old Green House Restaurant that were executed with the trinity of cooking techniques. Old Green House Restaurant has been around since 1989, serving at least 500 bowls of their famous Prawn Mee and other dishes a night, so the owners must really know what they’re doing!

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BOIL: HOKKIEN MEE

Penang Hokkien Mee can be easily be distinguished from its other variants; locally called as Prawn Mee, this dish, aside from its soft and chewy egg noodles, definitely highlights its star: the spicy prawn broth. The soup brings out the brine and sweetness of the prawns, building up the mild yet flavorful stock base from the shells and prawn heads. Pork bones are also used in the stock to add depth and slight meatiness to it without overshadowing gentle flavor of the humble prawn.

Their Hokkien Mee is traditionally served with prawns, fish cakes, a boiled egg (or century egg if you’re feeling quite adventurous), water spinach, and sliced lean pork garnished with fried shallots and a spoonful of sambal. Not only does Old Green House Restaurant gives out one of the best hokkien mees but they also offer various additional toppings of choice from roast pork, meatballs, fishballs, Chinese sausage, braised egg, intestines, chicken feet, and many more.

 

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FRY: LOR BAK

I swear, sometimes anything deep-fried that will maintain or enhance its flavor regardless of the oiliness is therefore a god-tier kind of food. Lor Bak, originally called as Ngo Hiang, is a unique dish from the Hokkien and Teochew Cuisines widely adopted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

The aroma of the Chinese Five Spice bursts out when you take a bite of the dish. Lor bak is a chinese pork roll consisting of marinated  pork (or sometimes prawns or fish) in Chinese five spice along with some vegetables and water chestnuts snugly rolled and wrapped freshly in a bean curd sheet and deep fried til crispy and golden brown. This is traditionally sold as finger food and a Penang street food favorite perfect for a light entree to eat along with other dishes. Make sure to slather your lor bak with cinnamon and soy sauce or chili sauce dip for a perfect crescendo.

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STEAM: OTAK-OTAK

Otak-otak is originally grilled fish cake made from ground fish meat (modern versions also use other alternatives like crab and prawn meat) mixed with tapioca starch and spices. Traditionally served fresh and wrapped inside a banana leaf, this dish is widely known across Southeast Asian countries Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

The word “otak” translates to the word ‘brain’ in Indonesian and Malay (Fun Fact: otak/utak also translates to brain in Filipino). The name of the dish was thought of because it resembles a brain for being grey, soft and slightly squishy. Malaysian and Singaporean otak-otak has a reddish/yellowish color from spices like chili, turmeric and curry powder while Indonesian otak-otak remains white.

Penang likes to be different you see, so instead of grilling the fish cake, they come up with the idea of steaming their otak-otak in a banana leaf for a moist texture instead of a dry one while still maintaining the aroma of the fish. It was definitely weird for me when I first tried it because the texture is so soft, it really felt like an “otak”. I am pretty squeamish and with quite a wild and vivid imagination, I didn’t enjoy it 100% BUT it was definitely tasty. 

The Old Green House Restaurant really serves up to its expectations while also giving you a full-blown experience of the boiled, the deep-fried, and the steamed Hokkien dishes while maintaining the touch of Penang.
Location: 223, Jalan Burma, George Town, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia