Penang has and always been a food haven for both Malaysians and foreigners alike. Penangites pride themselves over their tasty street food while cafes with their delectable treats are mushrooming around town. My latest visit to the island was during the Chinese New Year holidays and the focus was to try as many food as time and tummy allow us to consume. These seven dishes are but a small percentage of all the “must-try” foods there so rest assured that more food trips up north will be in the pipeline.
1. Shrimp Noodles – Ayu Mee Udang
Prawn noodles are basically noodles with some shrimp and veggie all in a thick broth. But what really makes the prawn noodles at Ayu’s stands out from the rest is the freshness of the shrimps (not surprising since the restaurant is by a fishing village) and the tastiness of the broth. The broth is made of shrimp stock so you have that double-whammy shrimp flavor but it gets nicely toned down with the inclusion chili that also gives the red color. Believe me, once the shrimp and noodles are long gone you’ll be slurping the broth down to the last drop.
Ayu Mee Udang
1:00 pm – 11:00 pm, Daily
936B, Lengkok Kampung Masjid Satu, Teluk Kumbar
2. Nasi Kandar – Restoran Deen
“Forget the overrated Line Clear and Beratur. If you want the local’s nasi kandar, go to Deen.” Wise words from my wife’s cousin when we meet up during Hari Raya last year. A visit to Deen in the neighborhood of Jelutong would necessitate you queuing up even at midnight. The mixed curries flooding the rice are well-balanced texture and taste wise while the free range fried chicken is seasoned to perfection. Veggie dishes at a nasi kandar joint are non-existent so be grateful if you can get two boiled okras to go with the rice.
Restoran Deen Nasi Kandar Istimewa
24 hours, Daily
Jalan Jelutong (beside Pos Malaysia), Jelutong
3. Roti Canai & Chicken Curry – Roti Canai Transfer Road
Another crowd favorite is the roti canai for breakfast. To tell you the truth, the roti canai at this (literally) road side stall is not the best in George Town but the chicken curry handsomely compensates its deficiencies. The chicken is first steamed with its skin before being thrown in the cauldron of curry and it comes out as a well-cooked piece of meat. The curry has a tinge of sweetness to the default spicy taste so you could enjoy both the curry and the chicken at one go. Also don’t forget to order the half-boiled egg on thick toast to see out your big breakfast.
Roti Canai Transfer Road
6:30 – 11:30 am, Daily
56, Jalan Transfer, George Town
4. Squid Fried Noodles – Hameed ‘Pata’ Mee Goreng
Mee Goreng Mamak is another Penang staple best eaten during tea time – it’s fried noodles cooked with a distinctive seasoning by the Indian Muslims that sets it apart from the Malay or Chinese fried noodles. Hameed ‘Pata’ has been a mainstay at the Padang Kota Lama food court serving up their mee goreng with a dollop of squid. The mildly spicy noodles is complemented by the sweet squid gravy to give you an end product of perfectly balanced zeal only your taste buds could describe. Pair this up with a glass of coconut milkshake from the neighboring stall.
Hameed ‘Pata’ Mee Goreng
11:30 am – 8:00 pm, Daily except Sundays
Kota Selera Padang Kota Lama, Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town
5. Char Kuey Teow & Oyster Omelet – Gurney Drive Hawker Center
Almost all Penangites would trump for their neighborhood hawker center when asked which is the best one and more often than not their claims are true. The hawker center at Gurney Drive won’t be one of them but it’s the best bet for a decent night out. If you must, head to stall #71 for a solid plate of char kuey teow fried with duck egg and share a generous portion of oyster omelet. Most stalls offer good oyster omelet but when in doubt, try searching for the stall with the longest queue.
Char Kuey Teow (Stall #71) & Oyster Omelet (one with the longest line)
6:30 pm – 11:00 pm, Daily
1 Persiaran Gurney, George Town
6. Nasi Lemuni & Chicken Curry – Jawi House Cafe Gallery
While a lot of people have encountered Cina Peranakan cooking in Penang, Melaka and Singapore, much is left to be said about the Jawi Peranakan. Spawned by Arab traders marrying Malay locals, the Jawi Peranakan infuses Middle Eastern spices and seasonings to the Malay cooked lauk (meals). Nasi Lemuni is a rice cooked with a good dose of Lemuni leaves (Simpleleaf chastetree) to give that herbal purple-grey color and eaten with a bowl of home-cooked chicken curry. You know it’s momma-made when the taste goes well and beyond the ones at a Mamak shop.
Jawi House Cafe Gallery
12:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Daily except Tuesdays
85, Armenian Street, George Town
7. Laksa Buyung – Yusoff Laksa Stadium
This is perhaps the most underrated laksa in Penang. The word “Buyung” comes from the clay pitcher used to cook and heat the laksa broth which helps maintain the strong taste of the laksa. The broth surprisingly does not taste too sour or too fishy as the flavors seem to hold their own fort by not overpowering each other. It’s also interesting to note that laksa sometimes differ in what garnishing is used – in this case, the main additions were basil leaves and ginger flower.
Yusoff Laksa Stadium
11:00 am – 10:00 pm, Daily
Lilitan Stadium, Stadium Bandaraya, George Town
I hope this gives some insight on the familiar and not-so-familiar food haunts in Penang. If you have any other suggestions or would like to throw a taste challenge (my friends did for the Roti Canai Transfer Road v Jalan Argyll), drop a line below!