Melissa Cheah tells us about the best foods in Georgetown and around – and where to find the best version of them. If you don’t agree with our selections, let us know in the comments section!
The prolific amount of street food in Malaysia is one of the defining reasons for tourists to visit – and return for more. The diversity in ethnicity and race has contributed to more than just the country’s rich culture; it is also evidently displayed in the local cuisines.
Whether it is a bowl of ice-cold chendol on a sweltering day or a plate of curry-drenched nasi kandar for supper, rest assured that you’ll have no trouble finding something to munch on or indulge in at any hour of the day in this Malaysian island heralded for its mouth-watering street food.
1. Nasi Kandar at Nasi Kandar Beratur
Don’t be surprised to see huge cauldrons bubbling with curries when you arrive at any nasi kandar stall. An all-time Malaysian favourite, a plate of nasi kandar consists of a generous helping of steamed rice accompanied by assorted curry-based meat dishes and vegetables, which you get to pick and choose from.
Most Malaysians will tell you that the best nasi kandar they’ve ever had was in Penang. Coincidentally, there is no shortage of nasi kandar joints in Penang. However, this place is one for the books: the operating hours begin from 10pm onwards and you’d probably need to stand in line for about 30 minutes before getting your turn. A carefully selected choice of hand-ground spices result in creamy and flavourful curries, making it completely worth the wait.
Operating hours: 10pm till late.
Address: 98, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Penang.
2. Assam Laksa at Air Itam
This is the unofficial signature dish of Penang. A bowl of assam laksa is made up of thick rice noodles at the base with a variety of vegetables – sliced cucumber, pineapples, finely chopped onions, red chilies and mint leaves – and flaked mackerel piled on top.
A mildly spicy fish-based broth, accented by the piquant taste from tamarind juice is then poured on the condiments. Mix in the dollop of thick prawn paste (usually served on the side) for maximum satisfaction in a spoonful.
This popular stall is located next to the Air Itam Market, at the foot of Kek Lok Si Temple. You’d notice a middle-aged man ladling out portions of the aromatic soup in quick succession and he does this repeatedly so that the noodles are completely immersed in the soup.
Operating hours: 11:30am – 8pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Address: Jalan Pasar, 11500 Ayer Itam, Penang.
3. Pasembur at Padang Brown
The Chinese version of the Malay-Indian salad contains shredded jicama, cucumbers, fried bean curd, prawn fritters and springy slivers of jellyfish, topped with a slightly spicy sweet potato sauce.
Stationed at one of the older food courts in Penang, this stall’s pasembur trumps most, because of its thick gravy. The eclectic combination of flavours and textures is both interesting and satisfying.
Operating hours: 12:30pm – 6:30pm (Closed on Mondays and Thursdays)
Address: Jalan Perak, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
4. Char Koay Teow at Lorong Selamat
Thin rice noodles, bean sprouts, chives, cockles, a duck egg and fresh prawns are combined in a wok, over a ferocious fire. The result? A calorie-laden but utterly divine plate of noodles.
This is probably the single most famous CKT stall in Penang, for reasons good and bad. The lady frying the noodles is notorious for her arrogance and brusque manner, but all will be forgiven when the plate is laid before you. Once you’re done gawking over the plump prawns, dig into the noodles, distinctively tinged with a smoky flavour.
Opening hours: 11am – 6pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Address: Kafe Heng Huat, 108 Lorong Selamat, Penang.
5. Awanis Satay at Viva Food Court
Satay comprises meat, usually chicken or beef, marinated in turmeric, threaded on skewers and then, barbecued over hot coals. Be sure to coat the succulent meat in the accompanying peanut sauce before sinking your teeth into them.
Awanis Satay is the most scrumptious we’ve ever eaten for several reasons; the meat is well seasoned, tender and grilled to juicy perfection. The exquisite nutty sauce is an additional bonus.
Opening hours: 7pm – 11pm
Address: Lot 303, Jalan Tanjung Tokong, 11200, Penang.
6. Teochew Chendol at Penang Road
A bowl of finely shaved ice filled with chewy green rice flour jelly called chendol, kidney red beans, velvety coconut milk and a drizzle of gula melaka (brown sugar) syrup, makes up this sweet, cooling concoction.
This stall has been in business for over 40 years and there seems to be no waning in patronage. The owners have managed to maintain a consistent quality through the years, but bear in mind that the queue can get preposterously long during the holiday season. A decadent respite from the blistering tropical heat, this is one food highlight in Penang that you certainly do not want to miss out on.
Opening hours: 10:30am – 7pm
Address: 27 & 29 Lebuh Keng Kwee, 10100 Georgetown, Penang.
7. Rojak at GP Soon, Gurney
‘Rojak’ simply means mixture in the Malay language. Quintessentially Malaysian, this snack is a blend of tropical sliced fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, pineapples, turnips, cuttlefish and deep-fried Chinese crullers. All of it are tossed in a dark, caramel-like shrimp paste, with a sprinkle of roasted peanuts before serving.
Tucked within the renowned Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, stall No. 39 sure knows how to whip up a fantastic plate of rojak. Their secret? Thick shrimp paste and ever-crispy Chinese crullers.
Opening hours: 8pm – 12am
Address: Kompleks Makanan Persiaran Gurney, Persiaran Gurney, Penang.
8. Curry Mee at Lorong Seratus Tahun
A typical bowl of curry mee will have yellow egg noodles (mee), rice vermicelli (beehoon), bean sprouts, prawns, cockles, cuttlefish and tofu balls, doused in a sea of coconut-based curry gravy. For those with a spicier palate, stir in the accompanying chili paste for an addictive, gratifying kick.
The acclaimed curry mee at Lorong Seratus Tahun definitely lives up to its hype. The rich soup is appetizing and flavoursome on its own, although the chili paste does pack a mean punch. Best of all, you can leisurely enjoy every spoonful in a pre-war house setting.
Opening hours: 7:30 am – 2:30 pm (Closed on Thursdays)
Address: Lorong Seratus Tahun, George Town, 10400, Penang.
9. Popiah at Bee Hooi Restaurant
Popiah is made of stewed jicama, pan-fried bean curd, eggs and Chinese lettuce, all wrapped up in popiah skin (crepe made from wheat flour).
A local favourite, these rolls are delicious with the natural sweetness from the fine julienne of the jicama. This stall takes it up a notch by adding a spoonful of fragrant stir-fried mix of shallots, French beans, egg and shrimp before enveloping the ingredients in a thin crepe.
Opening hours: 7pm – 10pm
Address: 415, Jalan Burma, George Town, 10350 George Town, Penang.
10. Hokkien Mee at Old Green House
This prawn and pork based noodle dish is usually served with yellow egg noodles, rice vermicelli, bean sprouts, hard-boiled egg and shrimps.
One of the biggest drawing factors to this stall is the lush choices of additional toppings such as roasted pork slices, meat balls, braised eggs, shrimps, chicken feet and the list goes on. Topping aside, the broth is full-bodied with a delicately sweet aftertaste, without being overbearing.
Opening hours: 8pm to 4am (Closed on Sundays)
Address: 223, Jalan Burma, George Town, Penang.
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