Penang (Malaysia) is renowned for its vast culinary fusions. It’s probably the best (if not the best) Southeast Asian destination for foodies. Honestly, I never had been one of those people who traveled to a planned with a preplanned list of all best restaurants and dishes to try. I typically wing it. But in Penang it has been different. Food has played a central role in my Penang itinerary. And for good reason.
Let me take you through my few days in Penang by showcasing the range of food I tried.
The hotel I had booked was right off famed Kimberely Street, lined with street stalls at all hours of the day/night. Of course, this was purely by luck. I had not planned to stay near this food mecca.
It ended up being the perfect spot when I arrived starving on Friday evening. I started out with classic (and safe) fried noodles, or Char Kway Teow. But I ended up trying a galore of other food after two Chinese girls sat down at my table, including: chicken feet (pictured above), a meat bun and some almond milk with fried bread pieces as a dessert.
I started off my morning early — the way I like it. But as I ventured out of my hotel, I found the Penang streets to be virtually empty. Apparently, as I was later told, this is typical “Malaysian style.”
All of the restaurants and cafes open around 9 AM. Many actually do not even open till noon. As I wandered around I did notice scattered food carts serving soups and other popular Asian breakfast fare. However, I was in no mood for spicy soup and chicken.
I ended up stumbling upon a pastry place on the corner of Armenian Street and Victoria Street. The name was Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Shop. (It is a chain.) The pastry on the left was the Trishaw Egg Tart (one of their most-known). The one on the right, I could not tell you. All I know was the filling was sweet.
I had been walking around for hours by this point and it had become so unbearably hot. I knew I wanted to try something in Little India, but I also knew I wanted AC. So instead of going to one of the street stalls I opted for an indoor, air conditioned establishment. I ended up eating a vegetarian lunch set for only 4 Ringgit. (About US$1.22)
Later I ate once again on Kimberley Street. This time, a series of food stalls further down the road towards Jalan Penang. I decided to try “Wild Boar’s Meat.” I also dove into some fried vegetable — still not sure of the name. When I asked, the response was, “Vegetable.”
To quench my thirst, I tried some Soyabean milk sweetened with a brown sugar syrup. Above you can see the cart I purchased from, which sits on the corner of Kimberley and Lebuah Cintra for most hours in the evening.
Fortunately the day before I found a little cafe, called Chin Chai Chiak, that opened at 8 AM, had WiFi and AC (yes, the perfect trifecta.) So I started my morning there. (Located right by Armenian Street near the Yap Kongsi Temple).
The menu is a bit limited for they specialize in Penang heritage food from the Peranakan Chinese. Specifically, breads. Pictured above is the Bengali Loti that was brought over by Sikhs and adapted. It was soft and delicous. You can pick from a range of fillings: I chose a chicken spread and some egg jam. And of course and Kopi C (traditional Penang Coffee). Note: later in the day the menu options become wider. Focusing on “Heritage Food”.
Since I had planning on working most of this Sunday, I soon headed to another cafe (that opened later at noon). I went to Sugar Honey on Campbell Street– another establishment with WiFi and AC. While the menu looked delicious, I was still full from my hearty breakfast. So I stuck with their natural juices. They were so good I actually ordered two.
Another night where I stuck around Kimberley Street. Looking back, I probably should have explored more areas. The nice thing though with Kimberley Street was that it was so close to my hotel. And I do hate walking around alone in the evening– so it was convenient.
In any case, the top picture is Hokkien Prawn Mee. The next is a kind of soupy dessert with ice and nuts. The way the women at the stand pronounced the dish sounded like “Seagull Soup.” Still, I am not so sure how to pronounce it. Let alone spell it. And the last photo is of yet another pastry. The inside was filled with this interesting green almond-ish paste. And then another sweet-tasting paste on the inside.
Another early morning, but this time I was heading to the Penang State Museum. On the corner of Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Carnarvon sits a row of food stalls through out the day, including early AM. I had a delicious and crisp “pancake” (more like a crepe perhaps) with a lightly chopped peanut filling.
It was not too sweet. All for the low price of for 70 sen (or cents.) Which is a tad over 20 US cents. I have to admit I am a little biased to the place– the elderly man who ran the cart thought I was 19 years old. Which really brightened my morning.
From what started off as a light breakfast turned into a heavy lunch. Very heavy. After visiting the historical Fort Cornwallis, I made way to the nearby food court to try this much talked about Mee Goreng from one of the vendors. I had seen this place mentioned a few times online so I knew it must be good.
I eventually found the place, it is the only one with newspaper clippings of good reviews. (Also, there is a sign with Mee Goreng Featured). As far as the dish goes, it was not my favorite. For my Western taste buds, it was intense. There was bits of meat and some chives and a range of sauces. I think it was just not my style.
My second lunch was had back in Little India. I had read about all these great places– but unfortunately found out they were only open at night. Nevertheless, I was on a mission to find something new to try.
I ended up at an outdoor food stand towards the outskirts of Little India on Lebuh Penang. I tried the Roti canai (bread) with some chicken curry for dipping. And ice tea. The bread was soft and flakey with lots of layers. Very far from Indian Naan I am used to. The curry was OK. The chicken was very, very tender–falling off the bone practically. And the ice tea was just like Thai ice tea: orange in color and very sweet with condensed milk.
My last stop for lunch was the famous fritters place a few blocks up from my hotel (by Kimberley Street). Fritters also referred to as yu char kuih. There is no street sign outside the home-front, but the address is 76 Cintra Street. The recipe has been passed down for three generations. And no pictures allowed of the great grandson who runs the show today.
As you can see, they are quite oily. The one I am holding was still warm from the oil. As you can imagine, I was extremely full after this intense lunch.
Nevertheless, I still forced myself to go back out that evening to Little India. I was determined to try some of the street stands I had read about online. I made it to the Chapati place I saw online, right across from the Mariamman Temple. Or so I thought. Turns out, two are right next to each other. The one I was supposed to go to was still setting up. Sigh.
The Chaptati I had was OK — but it was cooked on a stove top instead of a grill. The best thing at this place was probably the lemon juice– it was so refreshing and delicious. But I prefer the bread earlier, this Chapati was like a tortilla.
Lastly, I stopped another recommendation I saw online in Little India — Hot Puthu. Essentially coconut-like balls. And unfortunately I really did not enjoy them. Well, three of the four I tried. The one with the chewy exterior filled with a sweet paste on the inside was delicious (2nd photograph). But the other three were dry and chalky (last photograph). I actually didn’t finish.
Penang Food Conclusions
Out of all the countries and cities I have visited in Southeast Asia, Penang hands down has some of grub. It’s one of the few places on this trip I would like to visit again — without hesitation. However, it is the kind of place that would be dangerous to live — that is, dangerous to my waistline. For that reason, I am looking forward to going to KL tomorrow.