Adam Liaw and the quest for perfect char kway teow


I grew up in Malaysia and the smoky aroma of char kway teow is a favourite childhood memory. I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since but I’ve never managed, despite many tries and many versions. But Adam Liaw’s recipe has helped me get close….really close. I’ve made a few changes of my own, so if you love tasty, sticky, fried noodles, read on.

But first…the great wok debate

Adam recommends a thin, stainless steel wok. Here’s where I depart from his wisdom. Home kitchens don’t have a strong gas flame so when you put ingredients into a thin wok, it cools down. You can cook your dish portion by portion but that means standing there all night…no thank you!

My solution was to buy an outside gas burner with a bigger flame. No good. The stainless-steel wok still didn’t do the business. According to my research, I was missing the elusive ‘wok hei’, or breath of the wok. I tried a cast iron wok next and now I think I’m getting there. It takes longer to heat up but it sizzles and keeps on sizzling. Which is what you want. I haven’t quite got the charred taste, but that might not be possible for the home chef.

Finding Asian ingredients in Toowoomba

Sadly, Toowoomba doesn’t have a Chinatown. But it does have 13 Asian Food Market, at 475 Tor Street. This place has an excellent range and is as good as any Asian shop in bigger cities. You will find everything you need to cook this recipe here. Along with plenty of other delights, from laksa paste to pandan-flavoured soy milk.

Handy tip: the fresh rice noodles come up from Brisbane on Friday night, which means Saturday is the perfect char kway teow cooking day.

Now, to business

Warning – get set up first. This is a quick dish and you can’t run around the kitchen looking for lost bean sprouts.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 tbsp light oil (not extra virgin olive oil)
  • A handful of prawns, peeled and with heads separated
  • 4 pieces of deep-fried tofu puffs, sliced diagonally in half
  • 4 (or more, if you love them) fishcakes
  • Chinese greens, chopped
  • 2 spring onions, sliced in 4 cm lengths
  • ½ packet of fresh, wide, rice noodles*
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Big handful of bean sprouts
  • 1 tbsp fried shallots

*you can buy fresh rice noodles in all sorts of shapes and sizes, sliced or in a block. Choose the wide sliced ones, which are about 2cm across.


  1. A crushed garlic clove
  2. 1 tsp of chilli sauce
  3. 2 tsp light soy sauce
  4. 2 tsp Cheong Chan caramel sauce
  5. 2 tbsp stock

Mix the sauce ingredients together and put them in a little bowl by the wok, with a teaspoon.

Let the wok get really hot, then fry off the prawn heads with a splash of oil. Remove/bin them, then add the prawns, fish cake slices and tofu pieces. Stir fry for about 2 minutes, with a little sauce, then remove them to a plate. (Note, you can push them to one side but if you’re using a cast iron wok they may burn).

Fry off the greens, remove them from the wok and add to the seafood.

Add a little more oil, then the noodles. Now is the time to add the rest of the sauce so it coats them.

Add the beaten eggs after about a minute and swirl them around.

Add the other ingredients back and stir through to reheat. Add the beansprouts just before you finish cooking.

Serve with fresh coriander, a squeeze of lemon and crunchy fried shallots.

That’s it!

If you want to try the real thing, you can find char kway teow at Pappa Rich, Eats of Asia, Koon Hong and the Noodle Hut, all of them at Grand Central.

And one more thing: Adam Liaw is gracing the Garden City during Carnival of Flowers. You can see him at the Heritage Bank Festival of Food and Wine.

Who knows? He might even cook char kway teow!

Penny is an environmental educator, copywriter and passionate plant person. She loves experimenting with local ingredients and discovering new and interesting uses for backyard plants. From tinctures to infusions, petals to powders, she’ll give it a try. Follow her kitchen and garden adventures on Instagram @createyourowneden