Penang is a foodie’s ultimate paradise so you can bet your bottom dollar that when we were planning our 4 weeks Asia extravaganza we made sure we’d be spending some time in Penang. There’s a huge hawker stall scene in Penang, with the food being a delicious mix of Chinese, Indian and traditional Malay cuisine. I’ve been to China and India, and was impressed with the food there, so combining these two cuisines with Malay – my god I could feel my waist band tightening just at the thought.
After discovering roti canai at the start of our trip in Kuala Lumpur, I was most looking forward to checking out Roti Canai Transfer Road – an Indian breakfast stall on the side of Transfer Road. Took us a bit of navigating to find, in 35 degree heat and ultimate humidity but we were welcomed, seated and had a tea tarik ice all within a few minutes of arriving. We ordered roti with chicken in curry sauce. I very untraditional western breakfast but the place was full of locals eating just that. The locals were on to something – the roti and curry were absolutely delicious. The chicken was tender, the curry sauce was flavoursome and the roti was flaky, buttery goodness. Although the set up resembled a bit of a shambles, we were so impressed with the fast and friendly service and the amazing food that we went back the following day and had roti with mutton curry. Again, delicious.
Mark Wiens has a few recommendations for Penang so naturally we took him up on his recommendation for Lebuh Acheh Wantan Mee, a tiny street stall selling egg noodles in sauce with pork, dumplings and choi sum. Again, this place was difficult to find without being able to rely on google maps. By the time we sat down we were starving, sweaty and slightly cranky with each other – hangry? By way of hand gestures, pointing and my terrible attempt at speaking mandarin, we ordered their standard wantan mee with fresh egg noodles (as opposed to fried). The stall owners appeared to be a husband and wife duo and despite us not speaking the same language they were so friendly and welcoming. The wantan mee was a simple and light dish that filled us up but didn’t weigh us down in the heat. I’d highly recommend finding Lebuh Acheh Wantan Mee if you’re ever in Penang.
The Boyf had been doing his research on the best asam laksa (a sour fish and tamarind based soup with noodles) and found Joo Hooi café on Penang Road. This little hole in the wall restaurant was absolutely jam packed with locals so we knew we were on to a winner when we sat down. We ordered the assam laksa, deep fried chicken skin and char kway teow. Everything was amazing but the fried chicken skin was out of this world and required a second helping. We left with full and satisfied stomachs ready to tackle the afternoon.
Our hotel was close to a night market so we stopped by one evening for dinner just as it was opening. There wasn’t much of a crowd so it was easy to get around to each stall. At this market you order and then let the stall owner know your table number. They bring you your food and you pay upon receipt. Thankfully as it was early on in the night, there were plenty of seats to choose from. We ordered tea Tarik ice and roast pork on rice. The Boyf also ordered a rice cake dish with sesame seeds, black sauce and chilli sauce. It was a nice appetizer but I’m not sure I’d get it again. A bit plain for my liking. The roast pork on the other hand, wow. This meal cost us around $5 AUD for both of us, with drinks. Amazing.
Other memorable meals we had in Penang were dim sum, tandoori chicken and naan and plenty of ice chendol to help keep cool. We definitely over did it with the tea Tarik ice drinks – averaging three to five per day most days. The food in Penang is so cheap (at least the places we ate at) and although the hygiene levels certainly differ from those in Australia, we made calculated choices about what we ate and where from. We tried to stick to food that was made to order and served hot and fresh. We ate at busy places as there is more likely to be a higher turnover of food and therefore the food is less likely to be sitting around for long periods. Ultimately though, you just don’t know how your stomach will react to new cuisines. We were lucky enough to not get full on food poisoning on our four-week trip, although there were a couple of times I had to make a mad dash for the loo but nothing was long lasting.
To me, traveling is all about experiencing local food and Penang definitely offers plenty of that but we found the activities side of Penang to be quite dull. We stayed three nights so had almost four full days to explore Penang. We were bored on the second day. We did the hop on hop off bus as that was a great way to escape the heat and still see the city. We also spent time looking around malls, anything to get out of the sun and humidity. Georgetown is the hub of all street food but the resorts and beach areas a further out, so it was a catch 22 when booking our accommodation. We decided to stay in Georgetown as we were there to eat but definitely missed the resort facilities as a form of entertainment. My advice when visiting Penang would be to do your research on the location you stay. Have activities in mind for when you arrive and be prepared for the heat.