油炸鬼 or “Yaw Char Kwai”, the traditional Cantonese name for this snack literally means oil-fried ghost. Perhaps the name is associated to how sinful you will feel after consuming this tasty snack that is often dripping in oil.
The origin of the recipe has never been determined but various versions exist throughout the Chinese culture. In China, it is referred to as “You Tiao”. In Taiwan and in Penang where the Minnan or Hokkien community is predominant, it is referred to as “Yu Char Koay” which loosely translates to oil-fried pastry.
There is no question that the Malaysian “improved” version deserves its own respect although some may argue over the authenticity of its taste. As foodies and consumers, most of us are only concerned about the quality and taste of the final product. When it comes to food, Penang-ites are spoilt for choice so I will be sharing one of my selected stalls in this post.
This food stall is operated by two brothers who learned the trade from their father. From here on, we will refer to their father as Mr. Oily Ghost. 20 years ago Mr. Oily Ghost worked as an apprentice to a local hawker in Taiping, where he learned the recipe. I am uncertain if adaptations have been made to the recipe since then, but I can tell that the stall is a hit with locals. Every morning, long lines of customers can be seen crowding the store for fresh “Yu Char Koay”. The second-generation Oily Ghost brothers are from Bukit Mertajam. Their well-patronized stall is located at Perai and opens at 6am every day (closed only on public holidays).
Malaysians love variety and we can see that being reflected in our language, culture and most importantly, FOOD. The “Yu Char Koay” traditionally shaped into long strips has evolved and taken on creative shapes with a combination of fillings to appeal to the locals.
A quick word with the brothers revealed that they are happy with how well their business is doing but they have no desire to expand their business. What a heartwarming feeling to hear how contented they are! Of course I was also happy to learn that this means I will be able to continue to get my traditional twin-strip “Yu Char Koay” without worrying too much about paying for “branding”. My family and I happen to think that this stall has the better recipe, better dough texture and taste compared to many others we have tried. The plain strip “Yu Char Koay” goes well with either Porridge/Congee or over a hot cup of local black coffee.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Food Quality: 4/5