For 5 days, from breakfast till supper, we tried out the famous and not yet famous food stalls, restaurants, back lane teh tarik and kopi joints, and trendy hipster cafes all over Penang island as well as in Bukit Mertajam and Perai (across the long bridges on the mainland). Most of the time, we were far from the well beaten tourist
We tried nearly 50 stalls altogether, but I have no idea still which are the Top 10 Best Food of Penang - there must be another thousand stalls we haven't tried. Those thousands of hawkers serving a wide variety of delicious food from all communities made Lonely Planet named Penang the top food destination for foodies in 2014.
So, here it is - the list of 10 food stalls that I liked the most from my 5 day food tour. I must come back for more Penang food tours soon :D
This stall simply known to locals as Bukit Mertajam Duck Egg Char Kway Teow 大山脚鸭蛋炒粿条 is located far from the mainstream char kway teow stalls on Penang island.
The stall is located in a dark, dingy corner of industrial Bukit Mertajam but you will find it easily by looking out for the nightly fireworks.
There was not enough layers in this char kway teow's savouriness but I am swayed by the spectacle of the charcoal fireworks, the duck eggs, and the plate of piping hot fried kway teow was mined with flavour bursting bits of crackling lard crackers. The boss, Ah Heng 阿兴 is also a cool and friendly guy :D
This ordinary looking popiah or spring roll is hands down the best that I have ever tasted so far.
Everything beneath the soft popiah skin was fresh and clean tasting. I could taste the natural flavours from the turnips, bean sprouts, spring onions, lettuce, eggs, prawns, and fried garlic toppings. Everything was done spot on. A little bit of savoury-sweet sauce and chili sauce were dribbled on the moist, softly, crunchy spring rolls.
The humble popiah stall 麗光薄餅 is near the Bukit Mertajam central market. Bukit Mertajam is a bit out of the way from Georgetown, but for those die hard foodies, this is raw, authentic Penang food at it's best.
This humble popiah 麗光薄餅 is worth making a trip for.
Lok Lok is a must try when you are in Penang as it is something the locals enjoy, especially at casual family or best friends forever get-togethers.
Lok lok is great bonding food.
Lots of fresh vegetables, fish, seafood, pork, bacon, mushrooms, tofu and more to choose from here.
I am really no big fan of lok lok (or steamboat) as other than making sure the ingredients are very fresh, the cooking style is pretty generic. Just dip in hot water and eat :-p
But, Sim Corner lok lok is popular because it has a wide variety of fresh and fried items, plus each table is served with 10 different types of sauces. From super spicy hot to savoury to minty to sweet sauces - there is something for everyone.
The boss Jeff likes to play with sauces and he made us a special dip of mayonnaise with chopped torched ginger flower. Everyone was raving about the tangy, sweet flavours and floral fragrance of this sauce. Personally, I am not a fan of greasy mayonnaise :-p
If you are visiting Penang, remember to try lok lok before you return home :-p If you are in Perai, Sim Corner is the lok lok stall to look for.
The famous but not very appetising looking Juru curry fish head 柔府光隆茶室咖喱鱼头. This large grouper fish head with 4 or 5 large prawns costs RM90.
The grouper still looked quite fierce.
But, looks deceive.
It's actually very tasty :D
The very fresh grouper fish head along with wild caught large sea prawns were cooked in a thick, gritty, curry gravy of many different types of spices. The curry was just mildly spicy with savoury notes and sweetness from the fish. Not much coconut milk, relying more on ground spices.
I especially enjoyed the loads of gelatin and collagen around the grouper head, eyes, mouth and it's pectoral fins.
ok... I am disgusting :-p
Juru Curry Fish Head is in the kopitiam on the left just beside Restoran Boon Siew. Look out for the Restoran Boon Siew sign as the Juru Curry Fish Head sign cannot be seen from the road.
The second generation boss was camera shy and wasn't keen about publicity as the long established shop is already working at max capacity.
Still, if you are at Bukit Mertajam, now you know where the locals go for their curry fish head lah :D
Hokkien Mee 888 Lebuh Presgrave in Penang 三條路888福建面.
Of all the unique foods of Penang, Penang Hokkien mee is the comfort food for many Penangites. Hokkien mee stalls are everywhere and available at all hours.
We tried at least 5 different Hokkien mee stalls/ shops during our food tour. I like this 888 stall at sah beh lor (Hokkien for "third street") best because both keys to good Hokkien mee - the prawny broth and sharp chili sauce, were excellent here.
On top of that, at sah beh lor 888 stall, we can add extras like sio bak (roast belly pork), braised pork trotters, pig intestines and even large fish balls for our own luxury edition.
Here's the Halal version of Hokkien mee by Cifu Omar stall. Irene, who kindly showed me around Penang was raving about Cifu Omar, her favourite Hokkien mee stall.
Pork is replaced by chicken and duck, and everything else like sua lor prawns, kang kong, and super sharp sting chili sauce were all authentic. The prawny broth and spicy chili sauce were all excellent.
This Halal Hokkien mee is so good that this busy little stall attracts a loyal clientele of all communities.
Cifu Omar stall is in Kafe Goodall food centre just across the road from Fettes Residences high rise condo, so it is pretty easy to locate.
The Instant Penang White Curry Mee craze that began in 2013 petered out in 2014, but not before the craze went global and at least 25 instant noodle brands jumped on the bandwagon.
No one knows for sure the origins of Penang White Curry Mee but all agree that the Air Itam Sisters Curry Mee is among the pioneers.
The grand ladies have been selling curry mee for over 60 years in the same "sit on the floor" under the big tree 大樹腳 road side stall in Air Itam. (Near Kek Lok Si temple.)
The broth was light on coconut milk and mild on spices but the secret is in the chili sauce. It's the power chili sauce that turned that anaemic looking "white" curry broth into the famous tongue stinging hot dish. At the Air Itam Sisters Curry Mee, they also add pieces of dried cuttlefish and pork blood curd to the noodles.
Come here for a bit of living Penang culinary history. The two sisters are very busy but they are very nice folks who will pause to chat with customers.
The famous Air Itam Asam Laksa is a stone's throw from the Air Itam Sisters Curry Mee.
Air Itam Asam Laksa is pretty mainstream and the social media darling. Still, I found it's taste likable and I love to include it in my list :-p
The fish broth with prawn sauce which came already added was a flavourful balance of sweet, tangy, savoury, spicy. Plenty of fish mince and crunchy greens and torch ginger flower.
Remember to get some freshly fried spring rolls from the neighbour's stall. Penangites like to eat their asam laksa with fried spring rolls, so you may want to try a taste of it while in Penang. This is one of the better fried spring rolls that I have tasted. Crispy skin, non greasy and simple sweet turnip fillings. The spring roll sponged up the asam laksa broth well :D
While Air Itam asam laksa is in the major tourist belt, this laksa is tucked in a rustic village known as Kampong Valdor 华都村. This locally well known and well liked asam laksa is simply called 华都村 laksa.
The rice noodles bathed in fish broth was smothered by a heap of fish mince and shredded vegetables. The taste of the fresh vegetables was dominant until one added the savoury sweet prawn sauce which was provided in plastic squeeze bottles.
Whereas Penang islanders eat their asam laksa with spring rolls, the mainlanders prefer to have their's with crispy prawn crackers.
Penang is more than just marvellous street food. The island also boasts of other niche classics like Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine and Hainan Western.
The Hainanese (from China) were relatively late arrivals in Southeast Asia in the early 1900s. In search of a livelihood, many took on jobs in the kitchens of British homes or in British military bases in Penang. Out of this came the unique Hainanese interpretations of staple Western dishes.
I have the good fortune to taste the Hainanese Western dishes of Chef Tan Jee Yong, probably the most senior and famous Hainanese chef in Penang today.
Chef Tan is the Executive Chef of Yeng Keng Cafe & Bar which serves Hainanese Western, classic Hainanese and also local Penang favourites.
Yeng Keng's chicken chop is one of my favourites and the best I have tasted. The chicken thigh is wrapped in egg (no flour), fried till crispy golden brown while keeping the meat inside juicy, moist and tender.
The chicken chop is then flooded in a house made brown sauce naturally sweetened with carrots, potatoes, onions, green peas and so on.
Yeng Keng also serves this unique Macaroni Pie with the thick egg meringue wrapping a gently savoury-sweet stew of chicken, potatoes. carrot, onions and mushrooms.
Yeng Keng cafe is slightly upmarket but worth every penny.
Don't leave Penang without trying nutmeg juice. Genuine fresh nutmeg juice is very hard to find outside of Penang, where it costs the same as a cup of kopitiam coffee. Go for the "white nutmeg" version which is unprocessed and unsweetened.
I really hope to be back in Penang soon for another food tour for the best nasi kandar, chendol, apom, oyster omelette, seafood, Peranakan and more, more, more :D
Missing Penang already.
Restaurant name: Bukit Mertajam Duck Egg Fried Char Kway Teow 大山脚鸭蛋炒粿条
Address: Jalan Kampung Baru and Jalan Kulim Junction (opposite Caltex Petrol station), Bukit Mertajam, Penang, Malaysia
Hours: 8:00pm to 1:00am
Restaurant name: Bukit Mertajam Popiah 麗光薄餅
Address: Jalan Pasar, Bukit Mertajam
Hours: 3:00pm till evening
Restaurant name: Sim Corner Lok Lok 天天新乐乐
Address: 1-69 Lebuh Kurau 5, Taman Chai Leng, Perai, Penang, Malaysia
Hours: 5:00pm to midnight
Restaurant name: Juru Curry Fish Head 柔府光隆茶室咖喱鱼头
Address: Off Jalan Juru, Simpang Ampat, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Restaurant name: Lebuh Presgrave 888 Hokkien Mee 三條路888福建面
Address: Off Lebuh McNair, corner lot 67-A Lebuh Presgrave, Georgetown, Penang
Hours: 4:30pm to 12:00 midnight (Closed on Thurs)
Restaurant name: Cifu Omar Hokkien Mee Stall
Address: Kafe Goodall, 6, Jalan Tanjong Tokong, Tanjung Tokong, Penang
Hours: 11:00am to 2:00pm (Closed on Sat and Sun)
Restaurant name: Pasar Air Itam Laksa 亞依淡巴剎叻沙
Address: Jalan Pasar, Pekan Air Itam, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Hours: 11:15am to 7:30pm
Restaurant name: 华都村阿耀 Laksa
Address: Jalan 10, Kampung Valdor, Penang
Hours: 11:30am to 6:00pm (Closed on Thurs)
Address: Jalan 10, Kampung Valdor, Penang
Hours: 11:30am to 6:00pm (Closed on Thurs)
Restaurant name: Two Sisters Penang White Curry Mee (No Signboard)
Address: off Air Itam Market, Jalan Air Hitam, Pekan Ayer Itam, Penang
Hours: 7:30am to 1:00pm
Restaurant name: Yeng Keng Cafe & Bar
Address: 362, Lebuh Chulia, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +604 262 2177
Hours: Lunch | Dinner
No pork, no lard, no Halal cert
This pic was snapped by Irene, a talented portrait photographer. She caught me in the moment with just 1 shot. Thanks Irene.
Acknowledgement: Original Century Food Pte Ltd, maker of MyOri Penang White Curry Noodles supported my visit to Penang and my mission to "Put Every Good Hawker on the World Wide Web".
Date of visit: 24 - 28 Oct 2014.
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