Today, let’s talk about food in Penang! If you are planning a visit to South East Asia, don’t forget to drop Malaysia a visit. While you can get good food pretty much anywhere you go in Malaysia, Penang is probably, as many Malaysians would agree, the food capital of the country. Situated up north on the west coast of the Malaysian Peninsula, it is an island that is filled with history and culture.
We started our journey early in the morning with a good ol’ bowl of White Curry Laksa by the famous sisters. Why famous? They are so popular that they have been on local television a couple of times already. The sisters are now probably in their 80s or 90s and they have been selling the same thing for the past few decades. Both are very friendly and lively, you will be impressed by their energy at that age. The location might not be your typical restaurant and you might feel a little uncomfortable with the surroundings, but I can assure you that you will not regret eating that bowl (or bowls) of laksa. And hey, you need to eat like a local to feel like a local, am I right? 🙂 After all, that’s what travelling is all about!! Situated at the opposite corner of the road from the Air Itam’s wet market, they are open from 7:30am – 1pm daily. And yes, eating a bowl of noodles for breakfast is common practice in asian countries. Note: Air Itam is sometimes spelled as Ayer Itam. In Malay, they are both pronounced similarly. Ayer was old Malay spelling.
Now that we’ve filled up our tummies, we can explore the Air Itam area a little bit more. The Sisters’ stall is located within walking distance to the Kek Lok Si temple. It is one of the most well known Buddhist temple on the island and is definitely worth a visit if you haven’t done so. As I’ve already been to the temple many times before, we have decided to move on with another food adventure, located right at the foot of Kek Lok Si temple (and hence, very near the sisters’ curry laksa stall too) the Air Itam Penang Laksa. Wait, another laksa? Allow me to explain a little more. While the sisters are selling “curry” laksa, which is a curry based chicken soup noodle, penang laksa (or what we call Assam Laksa in Kuala Lumpur) is a sour-ish fish broth noodle and the dish was first created in Penang, hence the name. What makes the sour taste in assam laksa is of course, Assam (or, tamarind). This stall in Air Itam has been in business for decades and so far many has claimed it to be the best Assam Laksa stall, ever. The noodles are slightly different from your typical vermicelli or yellow noodles, it’s a very chewy white noodle that goes very well with the broth. I should warn you however, that if you are not a very fish person, this dish might be a little bit too much for you.
Aside from the Laksa stalls, there are also many different types of food stalls around and you can order them and eat them on the same table. This is very common in Malaysian markets and especially in Penang. The Penang’s Chee Cheong Fun caught our eye and we ordered a plate to share. I named it “Penang” because the sauce tasted slightly different from the ones we get in KL. While they looked exactly the same, the sauce from KL tastes a bit more like a mixture of hoisin sauce and sweet bean sauce (tian mian jiang in mandarin). However, the Penang version tasted like they have also added sesame paste or peanut paste on top of the regular sauce giving it a more nutty taste. What is Chee Cheong Fun you ask? It’s probably adapted from the HK dimsum “Cheong fun” which are steamed rice noodle rolls. However, the Malaysian version doesn’t serve it with soy sauce, but the sauces I’ve mentioned earlier. Some stalls also have another option where you can add curry soup instead and the Malaysian versions are also usually sold with the rolls chopped up for easy consumption.
As if these are not enough to fill our tummies, we headed to Lebuh Keng Kwee for their famous Cendul. Cendul is a refreshing drink consisting of shaved ice topped with coconut milk, palm sugar, green jelly noodles and sweetened red beans or kidney beans. The stall in Lebuh Keng Kwee has been a local favourite for years and it started out as a small cart stall in a little alley. Next to the stall is a kopitiam (local “coffee” shop) that sells many local hawker favourites as well and we couldn’t help but to order some. Char Kuey Tiaw (Fried rice noodles) and Orh Chien (Oyster Omelettes) are local favourites. Penang has hands down the best oyster omelettes. They are very generous with their oysters and you get easily 10-15 oysters in them. The ones in KL are a bit sad… once I had only 3 oysters at the same price! On top of that we also ordered some kuih muih (bite size desserts -occasionally savoury, usually made of glutinous rice flour and steamed), popiah which are Fujian styled fresh spring rolls, and rojak (vegetable and fruit salad). Again, you can order all and eat on the same table, and that’s exactly what we did.
We ended our food adventure with a bit of durian, yes that spiky stinky fruit. It was actually off season at the time we were in penang but the Hubs was really craving for it and we happened to found a stall. Because it’s off season, it was slightly pricier than normal but then again, Durian has always been on the more expensive side when it comes to fruits. I personally don’t like to eat durian very much. Not so much of the smell or taste or texture… I actually do enjoy a few genus, yes there’s a few of them. But, I don’t enjoy it because it’s a very “heaty” fruit and if you don’t drink enough water, you will definitely get a sore throat or fever. I also don’t like the burps after that because no matter what you ate after your durian feast, your burps will still smell like durian for at least the rest of the day. As I haven’t been spending a lot of my recent years in Malaysia, much less eating durian, I was quite surprised by their “travel packing” containers given by the durian stalls if you were to pack your durian home. I’m assuming those are “air tight” and so the smell will not “leak”.
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this post as much as I do. I am really hungry right now and missing all the good food in Malaysia. Til the next post, keep experimenting!
If you would like to know the exact locations on where to find these places, let me know and I’ll try to find the addresses for you. 🙂