The food capital of Malaysia, Penang island was filled with good eats. So naturally, we did more food-eating than sight-seeing. There was plenty for our tummies just in the city of George Town, and we loved walking around, passing many food stalls and restaurants.
The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and while en route to our food adventures, we passed by a few of the town’s sites.
One of the most prominent religious constructions in George Town, the Kapitan Keling mosque was a beautiful sight at sunset. The Indian-influenced Islamic style shaped its golden-glowing domes to perfection and the single white minaret added to the composition.
Not far from the mosque was the star-shaped Fort Cornwallis. Even though not much is left of it besides the outer walls and massive cannons, the fort was an important establishment. Back in the 1700s, Captain Light ordered its construction to lure trade to Penang island.
Right beside the fort, we strolled through the nice open park, where many locals brought their kids to admire the ongoing street art exhibition. In this case, they had replicas of Transformers favorites, Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. We too stopped to admire them for a bit before briefly passing by the final sight, the city hall.
We kept our sightseeing to a minimum in George Town and Penang in general, since the focus was most definitely on eating.
Char Kway Teow
This has to be the most famous Penang food export of all time. Char Kway Teow consists of flat rice noodles stir-fried with ingredients such as eggs, prawns, bean sprouts and chives. It doesn’t have a very distinctive flavour the way padthai does, for example, but it’s meant to have a bit of a charred, burnt taste.
Kafe Heng Huat is the most famous Char Kway Teow stall, so we stopped by for a taste of the best. The lady cooking is almost as famous as the food itself – she wears a beret and is known for her constantly grumpy disposition. It was more expensive than the average Char Kway Teow dish elsewhere in George Town, but such is the price of a brand. Char Kway Teow is such an institution in Penang that it’s a must-try.
At first I thought laksa across Malaysia varied only slightly; it turns out Penang is known for its own form of laksa – the Assam Laksa, as opposed to the Curry Laksa found in the rest of Malaysia. Assam laksa consists of noodles with shredded mackerel fish in a mackerel soup base. This definitely gives it a fishy taste, while the tamarind adds the sourness.
Finely sliced vegetables and other garnishes add splashes of both colour and flavour. Cucumbers, onions, red chilies, even pineapple pieces! A side of sweet shrimp paste completes the bowl, that was actually served in the soup spoon. Though I think we both prefer Curry Laksa, I enjoyed the bursts of bold flavours eating Penang’s Assam Laksa.
Oh Chien (Fried Oyster Omelette)
I would not have known to try this if not for our Malaysian friend’s recommendation (thanks Nicole!), so it goes to show that the best way to know what to eat is to consult a local. As the name suggests, Oh Chien is a deep-fried omelette with oysters embedded in the egg.
The go-to stall for fried oyster omelette is housed within a cafe that is also home to a beef noodle soup stall. Since the Oh Chien is more of a snack than a full meal, this worked out really well. The omelette was crispy with just the right balance of oyster and egg.
For dessert or just a snack to cool down, cendol was wildly popular. We went to the famous Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul. Shaved ice, with coconut milk poured on top, along with green jelly noodles, palm sugar, and even red beans, grass jelly, etc. piled high in a bowl. In many ways this was yet another version of the desserts we have seen throughout Asia.
We also took this opportunity to savour other Asian foods before we leave this area of the world for good. This ranged from authentic Chinese dim sum where older ladies pushed metal carts around to all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ to sushi. Needless to say, our week in Penang was an extended feast, an absolute food haven.
For more pictures from Penang, please visit the gallery!