Penang - The Legendary Sisters' Curry Noodles of Ayer Itam
The famed octogenarian sisters of Ayer Itam purveying their legendary curry noodles near the Ayer Itam market is one of the most interesting culinary destinations in Penang.
The township of Ayer Itam (Population: 120,000) are predominantly Chinese, with a mainly Hokkien (福建人) but with a large Teochew (潮州人) populace. It's located about 3 miles east of Georgetown, nestled in the foothills near the island's central mountain range.
To locate the Curry Noodle Sisters, cross the small bridge on Jalan Ayer Hitam past the old Ayer Itam market, and turn left into the narrow pathway which leads to the Ayer Itam Chinese Methodist Church. One can't miss the tiny stall on the left side of this pathway.
The elderly sisters crouched around their bubbling cauldron of curry, ladling out bowl of their curry noodles: a mixture of blanched thick yellow Hokkien noodles (福建麵) and thin rice noodles or "bee hoon" (米粉), beansprouts, tofu puffs, strips of curried squid, and cubes of coagulated pig's blood pudding. The blend of spices used here seemed to lack the lemongrass scent, and the soup was thinner than other versions I'd tried elsewhere in Penang, as if little or no coconut milk was used in their cooking. No cockles or de-shelled shrimps (de rigeur in Penang curry noodles) nor fresh sprigs of mint leaves were used to garnish their spartan bowls of curry noodles.
I asked one of the sisters, Mdm Lim Gooi Heang, about their version, and she replied in a mixture of Teochew and Hokkien dialects (I think they are Teochew) that they "maintained the old taste" - which I take to mean that their simpler version was reflective of that cooked in 1950s Penang.
Customers can choose to sit on low stools around the sisters' cauldron, like a scene out of MacBeth, or one can choose proper tables and high stools at the spartan Tong Seng Coffee Stall right scross the pathway, where one can also order local brewed coffee or tea.
I'd come here for a taste of Penang culinary history. For better-tasting "Penang curry mee", I think I can easily find that elsewhere.
Sisters Curry Mee of Ayer Itam
Pathway to Ayer Itam Chinese Methodist Church
Off Jalan Ayer Hitam (after the bridge)
Aiyah, these 2 sisters' curry mee is too bland for me. They always say that theirs have the "old taste" but I think I prefer the "new taste" which Penang curry mee typically taste like. The sisters don't use enough lemongrass in their gravy, they also don't use much coconut santan so their soup is watery. I prefer my curry mee to be lemak, even the Lorong Seratus Tahun one is no good as they also don't use coconut santan.
The bustling Ayer Itam market, where all kinds of fresh produce are sold - fruits, meats vegetables. One can even buy freshly-salughtered wild boar meat, or live snakes or frogs - which the vendors will kill and skin in front of you - for the dinner pot :-)
I bought some fresh passionfruit and nutmeg, harvested from orchards on the foothills surrounding Ayer Itam.