I only spent a weekend in Penang, but during my 3 days there, it just felt like I was eating my way through the state. From right after we checked into our room right till we boarded the plane for home, it was just non-stop gastronomical delights – or in simple terms, we just stuffed ourselves all day and all night.
We tried to sample as much of Penang’s famous street food as we could, but between the two of us we still missed out on many dishes. Besides the usual grub, we also tried some non-typical Malaysian cuisine as well with mixed results.
As with the street art, there’s an extensive map and listing that you can pick up at the airport, but Karen from our guesthouse Mango Tree Place gave us their guide to food and amenities around the area as well, so here’s what we ate and where you can find it.
APONG @ APONG GUAN
Apong is a little pancake-like food – egg, flour, coconut milk and some banana and corn bits – Uncle Guan, as the store is named for, is preparing several Apong in the picture above. He’s apparently been operating out of his little pushcart store since forever along Jalan Burmah, right at the junction of Jalan Phuah Hin Leong where our guesthouse was located, outside Union Primary School. You have to wait patiently for him to be done because it’s all freshly made, and he was a little bit cranky that we only bought 1pc each – most people go away in batches of 10 or more!
We took a long, sweltering walk down Jalan Burmah and turned off onto Lorong Selamat. Take a walk down the road and you should come to this bunch of pushcart stores all in one place which is Lorong Selamat Hawker Centre [84 Lorong Selamat]. This hawker centre seems to attract some famous people because there were a whole bunch of photos up on the wall. We sat inside Kedai Kopi Dan Ice Kacang and ordered a whole bunch of food:
CHAR KOAY TEOW @ KTG CHAR KOAY TEOW
I thought this was that famous one with the lady in the red hat who had a big attitude that everyone kept talking about, but apparently there are more than one Char Koay Teow shops here. KTG however is still quite famous, and while the noodles weren’t that cheap (8.50RM for a medium portion!), they were really quite good and my favourite dish of that lunch – very tasty and just the right amount of spiciness without being too crazy hot.
You might be familiar with Indian Rojak, but this is not quite the same thing. In my head I call this Chinese rojak because you usually get Chinese folk selling it, but more accurately, it’s a fruit rojak where various slices of fruits are coated with a thick sweet sauce and chopped peanuts. For 6 RM it was quite a sizeable dish.
CHEE CHEONG FUN
Chee Cheong Fun can be done several ways – this Penang-style Chee Cheong Fun takes thin rice sheets and rolls them up with a sweet and spicy prawn paste, and covered with a thick sweet sauce and sesame seeds. I personally like the Hong Kong style best, with super thin rice sheets and char siew or prawns – not a fan of the weird sweetness of this style!
We ordered this after our 3 dishes and it was SUCH a relief wolfing down this cold dessert on a hot day. Ice Kacang is basically a pile of shaved ice covered with syrup, condensed milk and gula melaka (this one came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream as well) and other ingredients inside the bowl are red bean, corn and atap chee? as well.
We walked around the George Town area later on and ended up in a cafe called The Dine. Not going to review the place because I was less than impressed by their poor service. Our kahlua brownie was so-so, but the worst part was that they ran out of ice or couldn’t make cold drinks for some reason, and then NEVER TOLD US so we were left waiting and wondering how come our drinks never arrived. Poor form indeed.
We headed back to the guesthouse, and later that evening when we had dinner, we walked towards Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah instead and ended up in Northam Beach Cafe [58 Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, 6-11pm daily but closed on Tues], a hawker centre located right on Penang’s coast with a pretty nice view of the sea. This time I did the ordering and here’s what we ended up with:
This dish of dry noodles is apparently the specialty of the Udang folk. It kinda feels like how an Asian version of spaghetti would be like. Quite ok, nice prawns but the taste gets a little monotonous after awhile and can be a bit much for one person to finish on their own.
HOKKIEN PRAWN MEE
Two stalls away from Mee Udang was the Hokkien Prawn Mee store. This version is their standard one and came with small shrimps and pork ribs. You have the option to upgrade some of the ingredients if you pay a little more! Fairly simple noodle soup dish but quite tasty.
Still feeling peckish, we took a cab ride over to Jalan Gurney Hawker Centre (Anjung Gurney), which is a sprawling area of hawker food stalls. Man, talk about food choice! We weren’t so hungry now so we settled for smaller food. Do take note that some of these tables are owned by specific stalls, so you have to order food or drinks from them if you want to use that table.
Muah Chee is not quite the same as its more popular cousin mochi – it is a sticky glutinous dough that’s rolled in crushed peanut sugar. Quite a yummy snack and surprisingly filling.
Fried cuttlefish when done well can be really addictive and moreish, but this one was just so-so and the sweet sauce not really to my liking.
The next morning we were all ready for more food. First we headed down to Occupy Beach Street, which is a little weekly affair where they close off a portion of Jalan Pantai / Beach Street and fill it with little stalls. Think like a mini fun-fair of sorts, it’s just a small stretch though so you can finish walking it quite quickly.
This was just something a little gimmicky and fun to eat, though it’s pretty sticky and gets everywhere and tastes… well like cotton candy!
After that we headed into Georgetown and went street art hunting, and Armenian Street was where we ended up spending a lot of our time:
ICE BALL @ 70’S ICE
This classic snack was once a mainstay in Singapore but you can’t get it anymore! It’s basically crushed ice shaped in a ball and covered with flavoured syrup which is served up in a little plastic tray and 2 satay sticks, which you slowly rotate and suck on – mine was Sarsi and Ribena flavoured, and a huge relief from the heat. Look for the little 70’s Ice stall at the junction of Lorong Soo Hong and Armenian Street in front of Street Art House.
We took a detour from Armenian Street and headed to China House along Lebuh Pantai, a refurbished old shophouse which has been converted into a rather hipster eating place and perhaps the longest cafe ever. The food there was decent though it was probably our most expensive meal in Penang (about 99RM including non-alcoholic drinks, main course approx 30+RM), you can get drinks at the bar or pop upstairs to indulge in some art, it’s a nice respite from the sweltering heat.
WESTERN FOOD @ CHINA HOUSE
We headed to Enso spa later that afternoon, and after that had dinner at the nearby Bali 77 hawker centre along Jalan Burmah.
SLICED FISH PORRIDGE
Nothing particularly revolutionary, but the porridge was tasty and a really huge portion!
Lor Bak is usually referred to as Ngoh Hiang in Singapore, minced meat in soybean skins, but in Penang’s case Lor Bak is just one of the ingredients from a whole selection that you can pick to get deep fried and dip in a sweet sauce to eat.
Later that night after visiting Kek Lok Si and Penang Bridge, our taxi driver brought us to a hawker centre along Jalan Macalister for a quick supper.
CHAR KOAY KAK
Char Koay Kak is known as Chai Tow Kuay in Singapore, or Carrot Cake. Rice cakes with radish, beansprouts, prawns, egg and topped off with chilli. You can usually find it in Singapore or Malaysia either doused in dark sauce (black) or not (white). This one was not bad.
This noodle dish is distinct because of its ‘lor’ or the dark sauce gravy that the yellow noodles are soaked in. Mix in some fried shallots, ginger and chilli and you have a yummy dish, this one was just okay.
On our last day we booked a table at the Eastern and Oriental for the high tea brunch. It’s a place that reminds me of Raffles Hotel in Singapore, after a whole weekend of hot stuffy hawker centres, being in a nice air-conditioned and quiet dining room was quite the change! classic colonial hotel that’s not particularly Penang food in any way, but for a fancy hotel tea it was quite affordable – something like this in Singapore would easily cost 2x the price (65RM per pax inc taxes).
And we brought a little bit of Penang with us – MyKuali Penang White Curry Mee is a very popular souvenir for tourists who pack back entire cartons of it because we can’t get the freshly cooked ones readily. They tend to be sold out at supermarkets so grab yours if you see them, or get them at smaller shops who have very enterprisingly stocked them and marked up the prices (usually 6.90RM, we bought ours at 8RM)!
As you can see, there’s a lot more food that I haven’t eaten yet – Penang laksa, koay teow tng, curry mee, chendol… it just means I need to go back to Penang again some time!