TnT’s Penang Food Recommendations
Thomas Holding a Bundle of Ketupat
In 2009, Penang was voted one of the New York Time’s Places to Go primarily due to its amazing cuisine. Superb Chinese, Indian, Malay and Nyonya cuisine make Penang a place to eat, eat, eat. Ken’s family knows the ropes when it comes to food and we have benefited big time from their years of experience and culinary expertise.
While not everyone will be able to find steamed stingray with ginger or fried mantis shrimp on the menu, most serious travelers will be able to locate our recommended specialties below. Many hotels and guesthouses also provide an excellent, free brochure titled “Penang Food Trail” to help gourmands find their way around town.
Assam Laksa – It looks terrible, but this spicy fish soup flavored with tamarind will knock your socks off.
Ketupat Pulut – Sticky rice with red bean wrapped in a palm leaf.
Popiah – This is the Hokkien version of a spring roll. The wrap is breadier or more pancake-like than other spring rolls.
Yam Cake – A thick, starchy, savory cake made with yam and topped with fried onions.
Tandoori Chicken with Naan – Don’t miss out on Georgetown’s spectacular Indian food. The inexpensive tandoori sets at Kapitan Restaurant on Chulia Street were our favorite!
Char Koay Teow – Sold at half the hawker stalls in Georgetown, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding this flavorful dish featuring large flat rice noodles.
Hawker Making Roti Canai at Market in Butterworth
Roti Canai – A delicious and inexpensive pastry-like bread served with a side of dhal (lentil curry).
Satay – You can’t leave Malaysia without sampling this classic dish. Good satay is getting harder and harder to find as street vendors are starting to cut corners. Malay vendors usually make better satay; however, on this visit I couldn’t find one vendor serving their satay with real nasi himpit (congealed rice cubes). Bummer!!!
Nyonya Kuih – Kuih are tasty, multicolor treats made from glutinous rice. They come in many flavors, shapes and sizes.
Keralan Banana Leaf Thali – Banana leaf thalis, simply called “banana leaf” here, are served in many places in Georgetown. Our favorite was at the Restaurant Passions of Kerala in New World Park on Jalan Burmah.
Chee Cheong Fun – This dish, thin rice-flour pancakes rolled and cut into pieces and served with a thick sweet sauce, is my absolute favorite. It’s simple, but I can eat chee cheong fun by the kilo!!!
Plate of Refreshing Cendol
Ice Kacang or Cendol – Two types of shaved ice desserts to help cool you down. Ice kacang is topped with red bean, corn, grass jelly, palm fruit and, occasionally, vanilla ice cream. Cendol is a simpler version with thick starchy green noodles.
Otak Otak – Congealed coconut curry fish paste wrapped in a banana leaf, this snack is another one of my favorites. The flavor reminds me of fish amok in Cambodia.
Samosas – These deep-fried Indian pastries filled with vegetables are already well known to many travelers. But we found street vendors here in Georgetown selling amazing samosas for as little as half a ringgit. Not quite as cheap as in India, but still a bargain here in Southeast Asia.
Hokkien Mee – Since Georgetown is filled with Hokkien Chinese, this delicious prawn noodle dish is almost a requirement.
Selection of Dim Sum
Dim Sum – We are major dim sum fans, so this is an obvious recommendation. Our favorite place was Chew Choon Restaurant in Butterworth, but dim sum is available in Georgetown as well.
Nasi Kandar (WITH A WARNING) – This local specialty is a plate of steamed rice topped with a variety of delicious Malaysian curries. BUT BUYER BEWARE, many nasi kandar stalls are scams in tempting disguise. Stall owners hand customers a plate of rice and allow them to choose their own toppings. Once the customer fills his plate, the owner demands outrageous sums of money for the toppings. If you dare to eat nasi kandar, verify the price over and over and over again. Then verify it again. Stall owners will pretend to be insulted, but they are very aware of why you are being so careful. Hopefully, the Malaysian government will crack down on this EXTREMELY UNETHICAL practice.