Must Try Foods in Penang, Malaysia
To say I ate my way through Penang is an understatement. Man Vs. Food would have had a hard time keeping up with all the dishes I sampled (devoured). Food, for me, is THE best way to connect with local culture. Let's be real, food is an awesome conversation starter. People love to talk about food. I know many strangers who have probably regretted asking me about my favorite restaurant because 1. I have 700, and, 2. I like to go into explicit detail regarding their rotating food and drink menu.
Besides the occasional crazy person (me), I have found myself in the most awesome conversations with shop owners, bartenders, Uber drivers, explaining where their favorite restaurants were and what I needed to try. I will absolutely bail on my Trip Adviser destination (no offense Trip Advisor, I use you all the time and love you) to follow up on a local tip.
Georgetown is so cool, because most of the restaurants have outdoor seating that spills out into the street. Like a total food stalker, I would walk through the tables eyeing dishes and then discretely (probably not) try to order what other people were eating. Chinese, Malay, and Indian are the main cultures represented in a wonderfully diverse, Georgetown. So you can only imagine the fusion of flavors in these local dishes, that many times represent an aspect from all three of these cultures.
When I was in Penang, I was volunteering for LRTT and working in schools with teachers. These were the top dishes recommended to me by students, teachers, locals and strangers I met along the way. I am literally drooling right now as I revisit some of my favorite meals.
This spicy noodle dish is a common staple found in restaurants all over Penang. I fell in love with it and tried different laksa recipes at many places around Penang. However, my two favorites were the one pictured here, which I ate at the Gurney Drive Hawker Stalls.
My other favorite was actually a spicy crab laksa from Chulia Court. It was so incredible and they proudly boast that they make the only crab laksa in Penang. (No clue if that is accurate, but it was insane, so I'll roll with it!)
THE breakfast staple that I was most eager to try was Nasi Lemak. One of the students at a school I visited explained that while it is considered a breakfast food, many people eat it for all meals. It can be found all over the street stalls and in many restaurants. The rice, spicy red sauce, crunchy, dried sardines, and egg, are usually wrapped in a banana leaf. While those ingredients are fairly common, Nasi Lemak changes depending on who is making it. This was my favorite breakfast and was provided by a school I visited.
Fish Head Curry
This is so embarrassing, but I never tried fish head curry. I'm still sad about it and I will be back. However, Nasi Kandar Line Clear, where I took this picture, was so fun and lively. The guys working there were so excited for us to try food. I didn't even tell them what I wanted, but let them pick what I should have. You'll get a glimpse of the dish they put together for me below.
GUYS. Having ventured down several sketchy alleys in my day, I can truly say that this restaurant was the best outcome I've ever had. This is the dish the fellows at Nasi Kandar Line Clear put together for me. Nasi Kandar is a flavorful rice, accompanied by EVERYTHING THAT IS WONDERFUL. They piled on some chicken, okra, cucumbers, green beans, veggie pancake and sprouts. This. was. amazing.
Chapati and Dip
These crispy chapati chips, were the perfect crunchy afternoon snack. The sauces were a play on classic Indian dishes, were super fresh with excellent flavor. This cafe was just off the main street in Little India. It was the perfect place to take in the hustle and bustle and listen to the music, without it blasting right in your ear (Did I just become old?).
Think shave ice on crack. There are three main types of Cendol, but the most popular is a coconut shave ice with red beans and bright green noodles. This is a dish people either love or hate, and lucky for me, everyone at my table hated it so I got to eat all three! Huzzah! Cendol toppings can also include, jackfruit, something bright pink, creamed corn, coca cola, gummies galore, beans, and jelly. It might not be your favorite dish, but it is worth trying for sure!
I learned that Mee, means noodles, which makes helps the menus make so much more sense! This particular dish was picked out for us to try by one of the teachers we were working with. This dish is technically considered a soup based version of prawn noodles, while it's other counterpart has less liquid. I'm glad we tried this version because the broth was so flavorful, I would literally just drink it out of a water bottle.
Chicken Dumplings from the Gurney Drive Hawker Stalls. Again, variations of this can be found all over town. I would highly recommend these, they were nice and salty, packed with chicken and came out piping hot.
Wantan Mee and Chicken Satay
That dish that is covered by the Hokkein Mee, is Wantan Mee. Ours was loaded with pork, some sort of crazy delicious brown sauce and shrimp. This one was from our obviously epic foodie adventure at Gurney Drive. There was a super famous place to grab Wantan Mee, right in Georgetown. I saw this guy out there almost every night, with a huge line of people in front of his stall and recently found out that Anthony Bourdain visited his stall. He can be found in front of the Mugshot Cafe, most nights.
The chicken satay is the the skewer dish, pictured at the bottom. A good satay has a nice char and is usually accompanied by a to die for peanut sauce.
The duck dishes here are amazing! This is a picture from one of my favorite dinners at this restaurant called, What the Duck. Yes, I obviously went there because I loved the name, but stayed for the food, heyyooo! This restaurant was located in a super funky part of Georgetown, so I would plan to stay for drinks at surrounding bars after, or even set yourself up on a food walk.
This particular version of Roti Gala happened with be vegetarian. It was loaded with perfectly cooked potato, pumpkin, and carrots and was extra spicy. The bread has the consistency of a crepe and the lightness of injera.
Living in a densely packed area, like Georgetown, with such funky city vibes, I kept forgetting I was on an island. Venture outside of Georgetown and head to the beach. There are great restaurants that will grill up fresh fresh right in front of you. This meal will cost more than the Hawker Stall visits, but is absolutely delicious and so worth it.