Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Penang - Food Tour

I am forever in love with Penang, be it the palm trees, white fluffy clouds against blue sky, Penang-hokkien accent, sweltering heat or horrific traffic jam, there's just something about my hometown that makes my heart ache when I leave it for too long. What Penang is known for, besides its interesting heritage, is the fantastic food. On my Christmas trip back to Penang in 2009, I took a bunch of my non-Penang friends to sample some of Penang's finest. Here are my list of "must-eat":

Perut Rumah Nyonya Restaurant is a fairly new restaurant along Kelawai Road that my friend Min introduced me to. Nyonya food, sometimes called peranakan food, is typically a fusion of chinese ingredients with Malay herbs & spices. In the case of Penang nyonya food, it is also heavily influenced by our neighbor in the north, Thailand. Peranakan culture is the result of marriage between chinese immigrants and locals in Malaysia back in the 15th/16th century, and is unique in the early British Straits Settlements of Malaya. Perut Rumah serves traditional nyonya food such as roti babi (minced pork stuffed in bread and then deep fried), nasi ulam (fried rice with local herbs), belacan fried chicken, lobak (sliced pork wrapped in beancurd skin marinated with five spice powder and then deep fried)...the list goes on and on. The restaurant is situated in a spacious and well-preserved old bungalow, and the restaurant is beautifully decorated with traditional peranakan tsotskis such as old irons, tiffin carriers and china sets.

Usually when Penangites say "let's go eat mee sotong", you'll know instantly that they are referring to the Fort Cornwalis food court mee sotong (Indian style cuttlefish fried noodle). This stall in located in a somewhat run-down food court (if you can even call it that), and for Penang standard this noodle dish isn't that cheap (about RM4.50/USD1.30) but it's worth every penny. The mee sotong here is slightly sweeter than traditional Indian mee goreng because of the sotong gravy they use. The highlight is they also pour a heap of cuttle fish & spicy sauce on top of the noodles. The best compliment for this spicy & tongue-numbing mee sotong is the delicious vanilla ice-cream coconut shake. It is the perfect thirst quencher & also the best cure on a hot day, which is most days in Penang.

Penang Road teochew cendol is another hot-day savior. It's been in a small lane off Penang Road (Lebuh Keng Kwee) for as long as I remember. Cendol is a typical Malaysian cold dessert made with shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar, red beans & green glutinous jelly (flavored with pandan leaves). This is, in my opinion, the best cendol in Penang, and there's something about standing by the roadside, inhaling the fumes from cars & buses while devouring a bowl of cendol that is so undoubtedly satisfying.

If you ask any visitors what they want to try in Penang, most will say Char Kuey Teow (fried flat rice noodle). One of the most famous Penang char kuey teow is the Lorong Selamat char kuey teow. I am personally a little turned-off by this place because the line is always ridiculously long & sometimes you get yelled at if you want the Lady Goggle (note: not related to Lady Gaga whatsoever) to "customize" your char kuey teow. If you have time and don't mind waiting for at least half an hour for a plate of char kuey teow, then by all means. Otherwise my advice is to go during the midday lull. The lady who's been cooking char kuey teow at this stall is famous for her red beret, yellow goggles, and unfriendly attitude. That said, hoardes of locals and tourists keep coming back for more because it is indeed THAT good. The char kuey teow is fried with a well-season wok, with chunks of crispy lard, chives, cockles & big prawns. Yummy-ness comes with the price tag of RM6.00/USD1.75 (for the smallest plate), which is ridiculously expensive for Penang standard but it's life-changing, in a good way, unless you have to cholesterol issue.

Genting coffee shop is a personal favorite because there is a great variety of food stalls here so it's a one-stop food hunting. The duck egg char kuey teow is good, the laksa is super sour but delicious, and they serve my favorite chee-cheong funn (rice noodle role topped with various sauces). Two doors down from Genting coffee shop is my favorite taufufa 豆腐花 (soy bean custard) store. The version of taufufa here is unique because it it typically served warm, and comes with the sweet & fragrant palm sugar.

Perut Rumah Nyonya Restaurant (11am to 10.30pm)
17, Jalan Kelawei, 10250 Georgetown, Penang.
Tel: +604-227 9917

Hameed Pata (open for lunch only)
Food court next to Fort Cornwalis.

Famous Teochew Cendol (12pm to 7pm)
Lebuh Keng Kwee (off Penang Road).

Kafe Keng Huat Char Kuey Teow
Lorong Selamat, just look for Lady Goggles.

Genting Coffee Shop
Lorong Delima 6 and Lorong Delima 3. Opposite the Hamid Khan School.

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