Still ravenous after our pricey portion of char kway teow at Ah Leng Char Koay Teow, I was hoping for some sort of redemption. “Shall we take a drive to Balik Pulau, Penang for this very unique dish— Char Hor Fun at Ah Huat Pek Balik Pulau?” my colleague suggested. I crossed my fingers hoping this would be the one that would tide the hungry calls of my unappeased stomach.
After a 40 minute drive zipping through hilly roads (and trying not to be carsick), I found myself crossing a bridge to the stall located right next to the fishermen’s boats. As we placed our order of Char Hor Fun, I eyed the juicy- looking plate of fried chicken that was sitting on the counter top. The subtle whiff of belacan— could it be? I wondered. Was that my all-time favourite belacan fried chicken? It couldn’t hurt to order a plate. And so I did.
What I tried at Ah Huat Pek Balik Pulau
Tummies rumbling, it was a sight for sore eyes when the plate of Char Hor Fun (RM6.50) and freshly fried Belacan Fried Chicken (RM16) arrived on the table.
As the name suggests, instead of regular thick noodles, the tua pan koay teow in Char Hor Fun are deep-fried till the noodles bubbled up and crisped. It is then placed onto a bed of eggy braised pork-shrimp gravy. And nestled comfortably amongst the fried hor fun are two large fresh prawns, slices of pork and leafy greens.
I eagerly picked up my chopsticks and decided to try the deep fried hor fun (before it absorbed the gravy). The texture was smooth on the outside and had a good crunch as I bit into it. To the person who thought of deep frying hor fun… you’re an absolute genius. I felt that this should probably be packaged and even sold separately as a snack. My colleague, Alice, agreed with me.
Naively thinking that the deep fried hor fun was tasty enough on its own, I wondered how it could get any better with the gravy. Well, it was an explosion of textures, that’s what it was!. With the silky gravy coating the crunchy hor fun, it offered a slight crunch and added another dimension to the dish. The pork slices, meanwhile, were soft and tender, and the prawns fresh.
“This is the best hor fun gravy I’ve had. Nothing like what I’ve had in KL,” Alice mumbled under bites of noodles. I couldn’t agree more.
So if you grew up in Penang, you would be familiar with belacan fried chicken. Having resided in Kuala Lumpur for six years, it is extremely tough to get my hands on this dish. Even colleagues and friends were apprehensive when I tried to explain the beautiful amalgamation that is belacan fried chicken.
I took a bite of the drumstick and well, to put it simply, it was love at first bite. So we all know how delicious fried chicken can be but the pungent belacan adds a layer of savoury umami-ness which simply seals the deal.
And no it’s not overwhelming (not like the scent of durian, have faith in me), it’s subtle. The skin was so crispy and juicy and the meat tender with the faint aftertaste of belacan. I wept on the inside with joy. Fun fact, belacan chicken is best enjoyed when it’s right out of the fryer so that you can appreciate the crispiness.
After what felt like an eternity in heaven, I looked up to Alice who was busy munching the chicken clean right to its bone.
“Why is this not sold in KL?” she grumbled. I chuckled. The magic of belacan fried chicken! And I have to say Ah Huat Pek makes a really mean one.
Under Penang’s infamous sweltering heat, there I was— content. I felt truly at home. It has been a while since I’ve felt the calling of my island in any of the restaurants back in Kuala Lumpur.
I implore you to take the drive to Balik Pulau (Penangites, if you haven’t eaten here, I bid you to follow suit) and dine at Ah Huat Pek Balik Pulau. I know the drive and traffic can be exhausting but it’s worth every ringgit. My colleague will vouch on this (she’s planning a trip back just for this meal again).
Expected damage: RM8 – RM20 per pax