A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.

Eating Penang

Posted date:  March 1, 2006
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Spent the last few days in Penang, Malaysia. An interesting place, if it’s your first time, but I’ve been there three times already, and wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. Luckily though, there’s the food. Georgetown (Penang is actually the name of the entire island) is essentially a Chinese town, but there are lots of Indians, and some malaysians, which makes for an interesting culinary mix. Although I’ve been before, most of my culinary experiences were quite random, and I owe a lot to Robyn of EatingAsia for her helpful information. All in all, I’d have to say that Georgetown is probably the single best city for eating authentic asian food anywhere in Asia–at least of all the places I’ve been.

Georgetown is especially known for its hawker food, which means there are lots of people selling food from carts like this:

And since the food is on the street, you also eat on the street, like this:

or this:

Here’s a guy selling Chinese-style herbal drinks on the street:

And the street-food mirth doesn’t stop at night:

But actually, the thing I liked the most are the numerous old-school cafes, where several different vendors congregate and a variety of food and drink is available. Most of these are Chinese, and serve a variety of largely noodle-based dishes. Here’s an example:

That handsome looking dish in the foreground was char kway teow. Here it is being made:

In all honesty, virtually everything Chinese in Georgetown seemed to revolve around noodles. They were good, but dishes often seemed quite similar to each other and usually made every effort to distance themselves from vegetables.

My personal favorite was the Indian places. They are almost exclusively southern Indian in origin, which means you’re getting great banana-leaf veggie meals and treats such as thosai and idli. This stuff is somewhat expensive and hard to find here in Bangkok, so I had about four thosai every day to make up for lost time! Here are some thosai (“pancakes” of fermented rice flour) being made:

These deliciously sour and cripy treats are fried on one side (as shown) and served up on a banana leaf with dal (lentil curry) and a coconut-garlic and a tomato-based sauce.

Virtually all eats in Penang, regardless of origin, are washed down with a sweet teh tarik (literally, “pulled tea”, so named to describe how the tea is poured from a great distance to create a frothy head):

On my last night I visited an outdoor hawker center at the end of Gurney Drive and experienced my best meal (thanks Robyn!). I started with rojak, a “salad” of assorted fruit with a shrimp paste/sugar/tamarind dressing:

This is a dish of Indonesian/Malay origin, and can also be found in Singapore.

I followed this assam laksa (also known as Penang laksa), a noodle dish (of course) with a slightly sour fish-based broth:

This was good, a lot like Thai khanom jeen except with udon noodles! The broth had some fresh herbs and pineapple, which I thought was nice.

But the best I had that night was chicken claypot, a ceramic urn holding rice cooked in chicken broth, a few pieces of chicken, a huge slabba ginger, chinese sausage and topped with an egg (why don’t people combine chicken and egg more often?):

Damn, this was good. The rice was crispy and fragrant, and the claypot was served with a black pepper-inudated broth that could (I imagine) be poured over the rice, or taken seperately.

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