Tuesday, 22 September 2015

penang eats: some of my favourites!

Chinese fried breads for breakfast! Yeah!

For me, a trip back to Malaysia would not feel complete without a visit to Penang. My parents are originally from mainland Penang, and most of our relatives still reside there. I used to spend many childhood holidays in Penang, playing with my cousins, and I have many happy memories associated with this part of Malaysia. And, let's face it. The food. You've got to go to Penang for the food, if nothing else.

So after driving up the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, it only makes sense that our road trip then takes a turn to the west coast. We spent about a week in Penang, and we pretty much just ate... and ate... and ate. I don't remember how many times I had asam laksa in Penang. I could eat that stuff everyday, and I think I did for that week. Good times. Amazing times.

Here's a sample of what we had the evening we arrived in Penang.

Char koay teow, smoky wok-fried flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, egg and shrimp.

Char koay teow - wok-fried flat rice noodles.

Wantan mee, thin egg noodles with petite dumplings and barbecued pork slices. You can get the "soup" version, which comes in a bowl with a generous amount of light broth. This is the "dry" version, which isn't really that dry, as you can see - you get a small amount of rich dark soy sauce broth, and it is excellent.

Wantan mee, the "dry" version.

Char hor fun, thick flat rice noodles in an egg gravy.

Char hor fun, also known as wat dan hor.

In the mornings, we like to have steamed Teochew-style vegetable dumplings for breakfast. These dumplings have a homely rotund appearance and thin, tender, translucent skins. Don't expect them to be vegetarian, though - while it is mostly vegetable, they typically also contain dried shrimp in the filling. The green ones, which we call "gu chai kueh", are the ones with chopped garlic chives...

Gu chai kueh - steamed garlic chive dumplings.

While the yellow ones, which we call "mangkuang kueh", are filled with the goodness of shredded jicama, a turnip-like root vegetable.

Mang kuang kueh - steamed jicama dumplings.

Other than fried koay teow, you can also get koay teow t'ng, in which the flat rice noodles are boiled and served in a light and savoury broth, with accompaniments such as fish balls and pork.

Koay teow t'ng - flat rice noodles in a clear broth.

As I've mentioned, I ate asam laksa as often as I could. I believe there were days when I had it for lunch AND dinner. This dish features lovely round rice noodles in a broth of tamarind and shredded Indian mackerel (we call this fish "kembung") with bits of onion, chilli, lettuce, cucumber and mint. The intriguing kick of pink torch ginger flower (bunga kantan) tops it all off with panache. According to my parents, the torch ginger flower is a bit scarce these days, and not all vendors include much of it, if any. Here, we received a very nice sprinkling. It probably helps that my parents are on friendly terms with the stall owner!

Penang assam laksa.

You can get sea coconut beverage most places in Malaysia if you know where to look (hint: night markets), and to be honest this particular one I had in Penang probably wasn't the best example of it, but it was still nice and thirst-quenching. And sea coconut is always awesome - it has a gentle flavour and a chewy, crunchy texture that I find very appealing.

Sea coconut drink.

Last but not least, dessert. Throw some green jelly noodles and red beans into a cold coconut soup sweetened with palm sugar, and you have this lovely concoction called "cendol".

Cendol dessert.

And... yeah, in case you were wondering, writing this post is making me miss Malaysian food in a big way. I might have to go back again next year!


  1. It all looks fabulous! Is Malaysian food more noodle-centric than rice focused, or is it just how you like to eat?

    1. These are mostly from hawker stalls, where noodle dishes tend to feature, especially in Penang. You can still get some rice dishes at hawker stalls (e.g. fried rice, nasi lemak, chicken rice, roast meats with rice), or if we go to a proper restaurant, then we do often have rice with various meat and vegetable dishes. :)

  2. Awww man! So jealous!! My parents are from Penang too and your post made me sooo homesick!


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