Penang was mildly trying at first. We didn't have our bearings or any sense of distance. Knowing the trouble with S.E. Asian taxi drivers and their awareness of street names (street names aren't even posted on street corners, which is incredibly frustrating and time wasting) and how buildings aren't always numbered at all or in any logical sequence, we took a cab from the hotel straight down Penang Rd. to KOMTAR, a landmark we figured couldn't be messed up. From a map we had it looked like Sisters was two blocks or so from KOMTAR on an off shooting street named Macalister.
Of course the roads weren't labeled so it was impossible to deduce which was Macalister without walking down one until you found out otherwise. We finally got on track and began a trek that was definitely more than two blocks. We wearily continued our journey for supposedly the best char kway teow in Penang (if not all of Malaysia, and hence the world) looking for Jalan Perak, the cross street. It took a good 25 minutes before we finally found our roadside stand. And then the ordering trauma began.
Do you order up front where the old lady is cooking like a hawker stall? Do you sit down at a table and hope that your order gets taken. It all makes sense after you've done it once and get accustomed to the drill but this was our first meal in Malaysia and we did it all out of order. We kept waiting to be acknowledged up front at the stove, but it was frenzied and didn't feel right. English didn't seem to help things along much either. We told a male staff member next to the cooking area that we wanted two large orders of noodles and then looked for a place to sit. The restaurant was packed, we squeezed into the last available mini table way in the back near the sink where old men kept coming and hacking loogies.
After a coma inducing wait (I began to recall reviews I'd read about slow service. Oh, and how expensive Sisters is. Maybe in comparison to the norm of Penang, but $1 a plate wont invoke any cries from New Yorkers) we figured out the routine and that we'd mangled it. It was very simple. You find a seat, sit down, and a waitress will come take your order and the food will arrive quite some time later. I actually think they forgot our order because we hadn't done it right in the first place. It took nearly an hour to get two plates of noodles
But the char kway teow was really freaking good and became our benchmark for the rest of the trip (none surpassed it). If ordering wasn't such an ordeal I swear we'd have had seconds. It was spicy and a little sweet, the ingredients were charred around the edges not soggy like many renditions. And yes, this is a greasy dish, the serving swatch of banana leaf was slicked with orange oil. But hot and oily is a good thing. Others we tried were more sweet and wet.
I didn't encounter any CKT in Singapore or Malaysia that contained Chinese sausage, which I always thought was typical. Apparently its not. Bean sprouts, shrimp, broad noodles, dark soy, egg are all basics. Lard is traditional, though I'm not sure what Sisters used because we were scared the cook was going to throw rotten cockles or something at us if we got too close and bugged her again.
Now were like old hands, total char kway teow experts (ok, not really—but these people are) We could find Sisters in a pinch. The problem is when will we ever get back to Penang? We really need Star Trek style holoports to make world dining more practical. Ok, I swear thats the last food geeky thing Ill write…but you have to admit it would be pretty cool to pop up in Penang for lunch, then get back to your midtown office unnoticed.
Sister's * Jalan Macalister near Jalan Perak, Penang, Malaysia