Authored by Anitha Thanabalan
Penang is considered to be a diverse city filled with locals, expats, and travellers alike. Because of that, there are so many different types of cuisines in Penang. It’s probably one of the most famous places for the ample amounts of street food. Because of the mix of cultures, it is also possible to find restaurants and hotels all over, but you don’t really get to know the culture of the place do you?
One of my personal favourites is Hainan Chicken Rice. It is a dish that has been adapted from early Chinese immigrants from Southern China. The chicken itself is prepared by poaching the chicken in boiling temperature and the stock is skimmed off and the chicken is roasted or steamed with garlic, ginger, pandan leaves, and other seasonings to produce a delicious treat. One of my favourite places to get Chicken Rice is Goh Thew Chik Hainan Chicken Rice on Chulia Street. There are so many places to get chicken rice, but this place is amazing. They only serve chicken rice, you ask for anything else they will look at you in a very strange way.
If there is something that you must try, it’s definitely Wantan Mee from Ah Ngau, he has been selling Wantan Mee at the very same spot for over 30 years and before that his father sold the same noodles. The noodles themselves are homemade from a local noodle maker but that is the only thing that has changed over the past few years, they are flavoured with lard, light soya sauce and it is served with minced pork wantans with pickled sliced green chili with sesame oil and pepper. He is also known for his beef noodles which is not something I am even used to. It is from an old Guangzhou recipe and made with beef brisket and rather than it being a clear soup it is a dark broth and is served with the same wantan noodles but they have a very distinct taste.
Something that seems to be an acquired taste. Assam Laksa is a very famous Penang dish and it is something that most locals swear by. But, for someone who doesn’t quite enjoy the taste of anything too fishy it isn’t really something for you. The traditional dish is generally a thick broth but the broth is thinner. It is a made with poached mackerel, tamarind, lemongrass, chillies, and shrimp paste. The tamarind makes it have sour undertones and topped with rice vermicelli noodles. However, if Assam Laksa is not the thing for you, you should definitely try Curry Laksa which is a coconut-based curry soup. In Penang however, it is known as curry mee due to the different noodles that they use. However, the ingredients are the same which includes bean curd puffs, fish sticks, shrimps, cockles, and shredded chicken. Curry mee in Penang uses congealed pork blood which is a delicacy to the Malaysian Chinese community but obviously you don’t need to have that at all.
Another famous dish in Penang is the Penang Char Kway Teow. Traditionally it is made with flat rice noodles and stir fried with dark and light soy sauce with prawns, cockles, bean sprouts, and chopped chives. Every street vendor serves it differently but the concept is still the same. There are some places that serve it on banana leaf so that it absorbs the flavours. While it has a reputation of not being the healthiest dish because of its high saturated fat content, historically it was perfect because it was sold to fishermen, farmers, and cockle-gatherers because of its cheap source of energy and nutrients.
One of my favourite dishes is Nasi Lemak. It can be served as breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Translated into English, it is “Fat rice” because its rice is flavoured with coconut milk and arranged on a plate with sambal, which is a hot sauce or paste which is made out of a mixture of chili peppers such as shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, shallots, scallion, palm sugar, lime juice, and rice vinegar. It is also added with fried anchovies, peanuts, and hard-boiled eggs. As traditional as the dish is, there are other variations with can include fried chicken or chicken rendang. Which is a dish that involves meat pieces that are slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices until almost all the liquid is gone and allowing the meat to become tender and absorb the condiments.
As much as all separate dishes are incredible and you would need to walk around Georgetown to find these dishes, the mecca for street food in Georgetown is Red Garden. You can get anything that you could possibly imagine at this food court. It is also a beer garden so you can enjoy an ice cold beer while you eat your food and there is also live entertainment every day after nine in the evening.