For a small island, Penang has a lot to offer. We spent almost a week and I feel like we just scratched the surface. I probably could have spent another month there and been content. The people are friendly and or a warm welcoming feeling. This was the first place we’ve visited that I could see myself calling “home”.
So why are we on Pulau Penang?
It was recommended to us by numerous people. It’s a big tourist attraction for foreigners and Malaysians. In 2008 Georgetown was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. It also has a beautiful national park and some intriguing temples to see.
In 1776, Captain Francis Light who represented the British East India Trading Company landed on Penang Island and renamed it Prince of Wales Island and Georgetown was established. To my understanding, Penang didn’t become a part of the federation of Malaya until 1948. The information is confusing as to when the name was actually changed back to Penang or if the name “Prince of Wales Island” was ever accepted by the locals. Either way it is inhabited by Malaysians, Chinese and Indians who have all fused different elements of their cooking into the Malaysian street food.
Part 3 – Penang Street Food
Penang street food is so much more than good food. It’s part of a daily routine for the people who live here. Not only do you get to enjoy delicious food at a great price, but you support locals as they work everyday to make a living.
We were very fortunate to have met Harn who was incredible when it came to showing us the hot local spots to eat. We gave him a guildline of “not too fishy” and “not too spicy” then he went off and ordered us different dishes. The most shoking part was when it was brought to the table, Harn paid for it. I tried to offer but he refused. I feel like we didn’t express enough gratitude towards him.
He did inform us that there is a local price and a tourist price so we would naturally have to pay more. Though many of the locals think that he is a tourist because he carries a backpack and a big camera where ever he goes. However, he speaks the local dialect and gets the local price most of the time.
Some of the foods he introduced us to:
Hokkien Mee (or Prawn Mee) – A noodle based soup dish with prawns, egg, water spinach and a spoon full of chili on the side. The chili isn’t overly spicy, it just adds more flavor to the dish.
Char Kaoy Teow – Flat noodles with prawn, beansprouts, egg, soy sauce and chili all cooked up in pork lard. This was probably my favorite dish of the street food experience
Wan Tan Mee – This dish is usually served in a hot broth and is garnished with leafy vegetables, prawns, chicken or pork, pickled green chilies, spring onions and mushrooms in a black sauce. Ours also had two soft and one crunchy wanton mixed in.
Curry Mee – If you haven’t figured it out yet, “mee” means noodles. So this was a yellow curry based noodle dish that had us loving life. A touch of spice made it perfect.
Cendol – This one is weird to explain and Harn said he recieves most of his weird looks when he orders this for tourists. Cendol is a dessert but can also be a drink. Coconut milk, shaved ice, red beans, palm sugar and jelly noodles. This dish tastes like the milk at the end of your bowl of sweet cereal. My mouth is watering.
After Harn opened the door for us, we took it upon ourselves to taste other treats from random vendors in the area. It helped that we picked a hotel beside a street that flooded with vendors from 6:30-9pm every night.
Things we tried on our own included:
Nasi Lemak – Rice with chicken and some vegetables. A very basic but delicious dish that give you a little bit of everything.
Chee Cheong Fun – This translates to “pig intestine noodles” but much to everyones pleasure, there is no pork involved in this dish. The noodles are think and a little bit chewy with three different types of sauces. Texture wise this was a tough dish for me but flavor wise it was great. Harn told us it’s more of a breakfast dish.
Roti Canai – Quite possibly the best dish in the world. As I stated in my Cameron Highlands blog, I could eat roti with every meal. Little India in Georgetown did not disappoint making us some of the best roti to dip in our butter chicken (the best butter chicken we’ve ever had).
We also had numerous samosas whenever we could find someone who wasn’t sold out already.
Roti Tissu – This was not what we expected. We just saw it on a menu and tried it. They make the roti very thin and then cook it into a big crispy cone. Then they drizzle a bit of fruit sauce and condensed milk on it for a sweet flavor. This is also pretty much the only dish we took a picture of
On one day we decided to get dimsum. We found out that it is pretty much a morning thing and once lunch is done it’s very hard to find. So we went to find a place that Harn recommended to us that was good for dimsum. While near where it should have been, the rain started pouring down and we ducked into a food court where we found dim sum. Because Kristi doesn’t eat pork, options were very limited. At the end of the day, I enjoy dim sum but I like it a lot more when I have friends there that know what to order. Kristi is over dim sum.
The street food in Penang isn’t just phenominal, it’s also incredibly inexpensive. We never paid more than 20RM for enough food to feed both of us. Most of the dishes were between 3-5RM and though we were impartial to some dishes, we didn’t really dislike anything that we tried.
Penang street food really opened my eyes to how food should be made. Ignoring all of the obvious North American health code violations we were able to eat great food quickly and well within our budget. Most places even had tables set up and if you could get one then you could order at 3 or 4 vendors, go sit down and they would bring your food to you.
I wish I had saved Penang for the end of my stay in Malaysia because it will be very hard to find food up to the standards that the Georgetown street vendors have set. Thank you again to Harn for creating this experience for us and helping us get our feet wet.
Writing this blog has made me very hungry.