Food of Penang – Part Two

“Really?..” “wow, you really….??”

I said, “yes, yes…,” “and, why not?”

Locals think I am a nut case. I mean..really, is there anything wrong with taking a bus or walk? In Penang, everyone drives, even if it is in the next block, which takes 5-10 minutes to walk. Only people that has no car or motorbike will take the bus or walk. Otherwise, you are looked upon as “crazy”. Locals don’t walk anywhere further than a few hundred metres.

For me, when I travel especially in a town like Penang, I prefer to walk and walk. That is the only way I get to see the beautiful architecture of buildings and discover great eating places and small old “kopitiam” that has only one stall and sell only one type of food.

Yes, the heat may be a problem for most people. It can be quite unbearable. In the first two weeks I was in Penang, that was the case. The tempearature reached 38 degree Celsius and it didn’t drop much in the evening. The worse time is between noon and 5 pm. That is the time to hit the shopping mall to cool down. That is the local favourite “thing to do” on a weekend and evening. After the second week in Penang, the temperature cool down a bit with some rain. It was very pleasant in the evening and morning with temperature around low to mid-twenties, and reached a high twenties on a few days but mostly no more than 32 degree Celsius. So, if you ask me – the best time to visit is, in my opinion, before the start of a rainy season (which is about now) or after the rainy season from October to maybe December and early January.

I am taking you on part two of my discovery of Penang streets – food and architecture of buildings that I managed to capture as I walked around town in search of whatever I find interesting. Unfortunately, as I said in part one of an earlier post, I was not able to take as many photos as I wanted. I left my camera battery charger at home.

Hock Seng Choon in Penang Road, George Town. This old open-air Chinese restaurant or “kopitiam” sells roast chicken rice. Most chicken rice stall sells a variety of roast meats. I ordered a plate of roast chicken with chinese sausage, “lap cheong” and blanched bean sprouts sprinkled with lots of fried shallots and finely crunched dried fish. I added a side order from the kopitiam – a nyonya dish, “Otak Otak” which is a blended fish, eggs with spices wrapped in banana leaf and then steamed. An off-street Indian vendor walked to my table. Asked if I like to buy his curry puff. How can I resist it? Indian curry puff is different from Chinese curry puff. It is usually bigger in size and serve with pickled onions and chilies. Off-street vendor is fairly common in inner city George Town. Patrons may encounter off-street vendor walking to each table to sell something, including lottery ticket! I am glad this culture is alive.

The traditional shop signage in front of the kopitiam

My lunch – roast chicken rice with lap cheong, otak-otak, bean sprout and barley drink

Roast meats combination – chicken, lap cheong with slices of cucumber

Simple, yet delicious – crunchy and juicy bean sprouts

Off-street vendor – Indian curry puff with pickled shallots

As I walked the streets of George Town in Penang, I came across an art deco terrace shop houses with a corner coffee shop or kopitiam. A fine example of a prewar period building (before WWII).

Then, I came across an old shop that sells only fresh coconut juice in Abu Siti Lane. This has been around as long as I can remember. Daily, the shop will have a new supply of freshly plucked coconuts. Local walks up. Make the order. The Indian man picks a fresh coconut from the metal cage with one hand. His other hand firmly gripped onto a sharp “parang”, which is typically used in a Malaysian plantation. It has an extremely sharp long curvy blade with wooden handle. Almost like a machete, but a Malaysian version. With one hand, he swiftly slice the husk off one face of the coconut. Flip the coconut using his other palm and slice again. After three, four more slices, he slices the top off exposing a gap of 3-4 inches. With a straw, the customer drinks the fresh juice through the small gap. When it is finished, the empty coconut husk is handed to the Indian man. Again, with his parang, he slices a bigger gap and slice a small triangular pointed scoop from the husk. The friendly, organic scoop from the husk is used to scrap the coconut flesh off the inside. Everything is so theatrical and interesting to watch. I wished I had my iPOD Nano to film at the time.

I had to try the coconut, juice and flesh. I ordered a young one. It was refreshing and sweet. Not too rich. The flesh was soft and had a beautiful texture and flavour.

Coconut stall – nothing but fresh coconuts only

Star of the show – the coconut man!

They look very fierce. No smile. I was very careful not to cross them, since they have a sharp machete in their hands. I think this coconut street vendor is a competitor to the other shop. Gave me a stern look! 😦

After a nice, refreshing coconut juice, I continue to walk and explore the streets. Came to my old primary school – Wellesley Primary School. The building has the shape of an aircraft, if viewed from the sky. Fortunately, the building was not bombed by the Japanese during WWII.

On a different day, I stopped the bus at Dato Keramat Road in George Town. Walked to an open air food court in “Padang Brown”, which is bordered by three main busy roads – Dato Keramat Road, Perak Road and Anson Road. Padang Brown is very well known among the foodies in Malaysia and Singapore. People flock there to eat at the many different famous street stalls – the most popular are Char Keow Teow, Asam Laksa, Popiah, Pasembur and Loh Bak. This place has been around since I was a child. I have not been there for over 20 years! So, the trip there was a memorable one. I had the Asam Laksa and Popiah. It was very busy. The Chinese stalls are only opened in the afternoon. In the evening and night, other stalls (mostly Malay) are opened.

Almost a local institution – open air food court in Padang Brown.

Asam Laksa – is a must for anyone visiting Penang. This street food is originally created in Penang.

Another invention of Penang – Popiah, a nyonya style fresh spring roll.

When I am in Penang, the top ten must eat street food for me are:

1. Char Koay Teow

2. Char Koay Kak

3. Asam Laksa

4. Hokkien Mee

5. Loh Mee

6. Popiah

7. Wanton Mee

8. Curry Mee

9. Koay Teow Teng, and

10. Nasi Lemak.

25 responses to “Food of Penang – Part Two

  1. Hi There

    Love the blog, I am also an old boy from Wellesley (63-69).

    From your picture, the school looks so different from our old days. I always remember having to line up when the bell rang (by an old Indian man) on the badminton courts, the aviary – feeding the rabbits etc and of course the smelly toilets which I was told was haunted.

    The other recollection is the water pipe that was at the side of the toilets which had holes spaced evenly across it for I presumed us kids to wash our feet/hands.

    The canteen also brings back nostalgic memories, having to collect the starch for art classes as well as trying to eat more than a more bowl of whatever was on that day without the adults catching us. At the back of the canteen, gandong and fried Indian mee. mmmmmmm!

    Trying to remember the teachers I had, the only one I can recall with any claruty was Miss Daisy Chuach and the master who took pictures for the annual publication. Happy memories of my time there. Playing marbles, going in on Saturdays to watch a film for 15cents and buying ice cream from the vendor, where one had the chance to double the amount by spinning the lucky wheel outside at Argyll Road. Not forgetting the outside toilet which the trishaw men used for their constitutions and daily baths etc! Ha!Ha!

    Boy, I am showing my age. I miss Penang but not the heat. Have lived in the UK for the past 40 years. Penang has changed so much, for the worst in my opinion but thats progress for you! With a wife and 3 kids, going home is an expensive hoilday. Wife loves the heat, beach but digsappointed by the “dirty sea”. Not clear and clean like in the East Coast. No. 1 son loves Penang especially the food. Daughter hates the heat and dust, youngest son too young to care.

    Keep blogging, if I cannot be in Penang at least I can read about it from your blog.

    • Hi Eric – thanks for writing and sharing your memory of our old school. When I wrote this post, I didn’t expect to meet someone from my old school. I am glad that I did, and found someone as far away as UK! That is awesome. 🙂

      At first I only have faint memory, but things are coming back after I read your nostalgic memories at Wellesley. The aviary – feeding the rabbits and whistling to the canaries. The chartered trishaw peddlers waiting to take the kids home (like me, for one year). Oh, yes the ice cream vendor with the spinning “wheel of goodies” (the game show must have taken the idea off our ice cream vendor!). I remember buying the ice cream cake with 2 crispy wafers between a vanilla or strawberry ice cream block. I wish I can still buy that in Penang. I also remember wearing a tiny navy blue shorts and white short sleeves shirt as the school uniform, with white socks pulled almost knee high. LOL!

  2. Bean sprout & barley drink! You must have been thirsty! Too healthy pour moi!
    Thanks for your top 10 must-eat street food venues. We must visit them all when we come to Penang…

  3. Dishes not venues!

  4. LOL, Mary. I usually order a barley drink at the kopitiam. If not, “leng teh” which is herbal tea – brewed each morning by the shop.

  5. It all looks delicious, especially the popiah

    • Bri – if you are in Penang, remember to try the popiah. The best stall is the one in Padang Brown. That stall has been there like forever! But, my mum still makes the best. Unfortunately, she only makes them during Chinese New Year.

  6. Even though my mum has been in Australia a long time, she still does the Penang thing of driving everywhere. When I make her walk more than 100m, she complains!

    When I go to Penang, I usually go about now – I agree it is the nicer time to go, and also it means I can escape the Australia winter cold!

    Welcome back to blogging. 🙂

    • Hi Steph – thanks. LOL, I don’t blame her. Probably too hot and humid. My mum only does her morning wet market, a few hundred metres. But, no walking in the street after 10am! Too hot. So, I have been taking her to the shopping mall for a long walk a few times I was back last. She enjoys it and get to window shop, like the other locals. Ha ha.

  7. Yum. Yum. Yum. It all looks so delicious. I love your top ten Victor – Char Koay Teow is one of my all time favourites too.

  8. AIYAH … making my mouth water one lah!!! lol

    • SQ – plenty of good food around where you live lah, and Toh’s in Milson’s Point or North Hobart for Sar Hor Fun and Har Mee (if still there).

  9. Wow- it’s great to have you back Victor. What a shame about the battery charger! When I pack now for travel half of my suitcase is taken up with chargers for phones, cameras, video cameras, laptops!
    The food looks amazing- you’re not planning on taking tours are you? 🙂
    Now I’m really hungry!

    • Thanks, Hazel. Small group tour – I would love to do that. Should be fun. But, for now, still looking for a new job. Sigh.

  10. Victor, must be a sight to capture the coconut scene in video but too bad you didn’t have anything to record, and using the organic scoop is such a great idea, I’ve never seen one made like that before.

    The food pics look delicious.

    • I know. I will make it a point to go back there again with my partner on our next trip in Nov. And, this time will take my iPOS Nano to film the art of slicing fresh coconut. 🙂

  11. Hi Victor,
    You’ll have to name the best place to try out your top 10. It will be fun to follow the food trail searching for the best food stall for each type of food. I am going back in Nov for holiday. As Penang is so small, we Penangites think nothing of driving all over the place searching for the best food !…. or in this case, get my Mum to drive me around….

    • Poay – what is your top 10 favourite hawker food in Penang?
      I have to eat at more stalls serving my top 10 favourite hawker foods before I can come up with my favourite top 10 hawker stall/location list. Hey, tell you what. We can go out hunting for them in Nov!

  12. Hi Victor

    I met Philip during formal dinner in my university college (he tells me he is your neighbour across the river in Hobart if I’m not mistaken) and he recommended me to visit your website because I love food too!

    I’m living in Brisbane at the moment but will be going back to Penang next year to start work at USM. I agree with you, Char Koay teow is definitely a must try dish that defines Penang in it’s entirety.

    Being a USM student, I found out there is a very popular spot for CKT near Bukit Jambul area (near the Sunshine supermarket) and it was the best CKT I’ve ever had…I miss Penang food so much!

    Have you tried the chicken briyani at this old nasi kandar shop next to Chowrasta? The most delicious and fragrant moghul style briyani can be found there. I think the recipe has been a closely guarded secret for several generations! I’ll closely follow your blog for more food suggestions as I’m planning a trip to Tassie soon..

    • Oh Hi Shu – thanks for visiting. Which part of Penang are you from? My partner and I are going back in 5 weeks time! Really looking forward to the trip. We will be in Queensbay area, but didn’t know about the CKT in BJ. Must asked my sister to take me there. The closest CKT in Queensbay for me to eat, if I’ve the urge is at the kopitiam in Jerjak.
      No, have not tried the briyani next to Chowrasta market. Where exactly is it?
      Let me know if you need some tips on Hobart eating places. Send me an email. Otherwise, a good guide is my fellow friend and blogger’s site, Rita’s Bite. You can find the link under BLOGROLL on my homepage. Her site is all about food and reviews in Tasmania, and she has some very passionate followers.

  13. Hi Victor,

    Nice blog you have there. I just finished sending an email to an old classmate in Perth reminiscing about our schooldays in WPS (1964-1968) when I opened up your blog and staring in front of me was the exact details of Eric Ng’s descriptions of our old school that my friend was discussing about a couple of minutes ago! How uncanny.
    In Food of Penang part 1,you mentioned that your mum stays in a 2 bedroom flat (Block 6?)near to a huge foodcourt and judging by the background of the Hokkien mee stall, I would presume the place is Lip Sin Gardens. Cos that’s where I reside too LoL

    Keep up the good work, really enjoyed yourarticles,especially the one on Penang. Perhaps we can meet up one day when you’re back here again.

    • How bizarre is that, Feddy? LOL! When I posted the photo of our old school, I never expected to hear from any ex-WPS. I think my year was 67 – 72. Even more bizarre is that you live near mum’s place in Lip Sin.

      My partner and I are coming back this week! During the Easter long weekend. It is a short visit – 1 week. Maybe we can catch up for breakfast at Lip Sin’s food court. If not, I am sure I will be back again towards end of year for a longer trip.

  14. Hi there Victor, Glad to hear you’ll be back in Penang again! I’ll be in Penang this weekend too and then it’s back to KL for the weekdays ( grinding the wheel in KL..sigh)

    Actually, you don’t have to go far from your mum’s to enjoy good Penang food…

    For a light breakfast I’d suggest you try the penang style chee cheong fun by a husband n wife team across the street from the old Lip Sin market. It has into it’s usual sauce a dollop of peanut butter to add to the extra creamy zing.The stall is a simple setup consisting of a table on the sidewalk.

    For the classic mouthwatering CKT with banana leaf, try Happy Cafe. It’s the corner coffee shop across the street opposite the old Lip Sin Market, just a stone’s throw away from the chee cheong fun stall.

    • Thanks for the tips on those 2 stalls. CKT and CCF are two of my favourites Penang street food. I must try them on this coming trip. 🙂

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