Every meal of the day is an important one when in Penang and this attitude has fuelled the popularity of its street food for decades.
There isn’t much that doesn’t centre round food in Penang, this is true. Just as much as breakfast punctuates the start of a day, lunch, tea and dinner are sociable pauses from work, school or a daily routine for most Penangites. They are reasons to delight in the plethora of flavours readily available at almost all hours and at such inexpensive prices too. In short, when in Penang, you don’t need an excuse to indulge. You simply just do. So, to minimise the hard work of choosing from the dizzying array of street food, here are a few favourites one should try while visiting Penang. Breakfast
Nasi Lemak – small triangular packets of rice cooked in coconut milk accompanied by a dollop of sambal, hard-boiled egg and crispy fried anchovies are ubiquitous. Where to try:
Watch out for little stalls on street corners for them or pyramids of these packets atop tables at most coffee shops.
Roti Canai – outside any self-respecting Indian eatery that opens for breakfast is usually a large flat pan and a man deftly kneading dough before flattening and folding it into a little circle. It is fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside when cooked, and dipped into mild dahl or spicier curry. Where to try
: A roadside stall on Transfer Road and Indian eateries in Little India, George Town.
Thosai – at the same places where you can find roti canai, you’ll find this spongy or papery-textured roti with a slight sour flavour that goes well with curry or dahl. Made on the same flat pan but of a thin flour and water mix, it’s often folded or rolled when served. Where to try:
Indian eateries in Little India, George Town.
Roti Bakar – thick but light slices of roti benggali
which is basically crust-less white bread are toasted on an open grill slabbed with margarine and kaya
or egg-coconut sweet jam. To enhance the eating experience, order a cup of milky local coffee, dip the toast and savour. There’s nothing quite like it. Or have the toast with half-boiled eggs. Where to try
: Toh Soon Café or most Chinese coffee shop.
Wantan Mee – thin and curly eggy noodles are blanched and served dry or soupy, accompanied by a few handmade wantan
with minced pork filling. The dry version has its noodles tossed in thick black sauce and a splash of lard. Slices of pickled green chilli add to its flavour with a tangy-spicy punch. Where to try
: At most coffee shops and food courts. Lunch
Hokkien Mee – vermicelli and egg noodles steeping in spicy-sweet cloudy broth tinged with red, garnished with kangkung leaves, bean sprouts thin slices of shrimps, sliced hard-boiled egg and strips of pork. Also a good one as a breakfast choice. Where to
try: Jalan Carnarvon, Lebuh Armenian and Jalan Gurdwara.
Pan Mee – handmade flat noodles served either dry coated with thick dark sauce or drowned in a bowl of clear soup. Garnished with crispy fried anchovies, minced pork and sliced black fungus, it’s best to add a bit of sambal belacan
and a squirt of lime to the soupy version. Also good as a breakfast choice. Where to try
: Sri Weld food court on Lebuh Pantai or order it up at daytime food courts.
Malay Rice – cooked rice and three or four ready-cooked dishes are heaped onto one plate. There are normally more than 20 dishes from which to choose such as assam pedas
, stir-fried or blanched vegetables, fresh herbs served raw or mixed as a salad called kerabu
and deep-fried marinated fish or chicken. Where to try
: Just off Jalan Tanjung Bungah, up a slight hill and across the road from the floating mosque in Tanjung Bungah.
Pasembur – a smogarsboard of deep-fried fritters, tofu, a boiled egg and julienned vegetables smothered in spicy-sweet peanut sauce. Where to try
: The little shack on Lebuh Union, George Town.
Mee Mamak – Indian moist stir-fried yellow egg noodles in special spicy-sweet gravy or blanched noodles in the same gravy. Where to try
: The mobile stall at the corner of Armenian Street, The Esplanade Park food court, Sri Weld food court and within a coffeeshop on Bangkok Lane. Tea
Banana fritters – where they sell these deep-fried slices of bananas dipped in batter is also where you’ll find fried sweet potato and yam pieces dipped in batter. They are also good as snacks when on the go and to stave of hunger before dinner time. Where to try
: Watch out for a mobile van parked at a T-junction before reaching the floating mosque on Jalan Tanjung Bungah.
Kuih – these are Malay or Nyonya sweets. They are normally rice flour based with coconut milk, steamed or baked and are very colourful. Some contain glutinous rice, palm sugar and additional flavours are derived from natural sources such as pandan leaves. Where to try
: The stall on Jalan Jones, off Jalan Kelawei, has an array of Malay kuih. As for Nyonya kuih, go to Moh Teng Pheow on Jalan Masjid, off Lebuh Chulia. Dinner
Street Food Galore – head over to Lebuh Kimberly in George Town for choices of hawker favourites such as koay chap
, char koay teow
fried chicken. Also try Lebuh Chulia in George Town and Jalan Raja Uda in Butterworth for choices of noodles right up to desserts such as apom
Seafood – baked, grilled, fried, steamed or boiling in curry, seafood taste pretty good, regardless of the style in which they are prepared. A platter of crabs, prawns or fish goes well with a plate of rice, char bee hoon
and stir-fried vegetables. Most seafood restaurants serve crispy deep-fried spring chicken and spring rolls as well. It’s best to share the meal with a group. Where to try
: Ong Cheng Huat at Bagan Lallang in Seberang Perai for an early dinner. Or, Sea Pearl Lagoon restaurant at Tua Pek Kong temple in Tanjung Tokong for salt-crusted charcoal-grilled seafood.
Chu Char Meal – a Chinese meal comprising of rice with a few prepared on the spot wok-fried dishes such as pork, chicken, seafood, tofu and vegetables. Where to try
: Tek Sen restaurant on Lebuh Carnarvon and Heng Kee on Lebuh China.