Laksa mania. Home of the nonya dishes by the Straits-Chinese in Malaysia, featuring beautiful fusion Asian flavours. Served with rice, noodles and drowning in curry.
Asia’s Greatest Food Cities
Friends, countrymen, makan kaki, lend me your ears. I shall show you the way to paradise. Food paradise, that is. Loosen your belt and get your ENO ready, for we are about to journey through Asia’s Greatest Food Cities and mark out the treasures the great food gods have laid on the table.
In this series highlights the best food to try in each city, as recommended by locals who have lived & tasted it. Read on to find out the most popular local dishes and the best places you should go to try them.
Best Food in Penang, Malaysia
Laksa mania. Home of the nonya dishes by the Straits-Chinese in Malaysia, featuring beautiful fusion Asian flavours
Must Eat in Penang #1: Nasi Kandar
Aromatic white rice with curry ladled over it, and lots of ingredients on the side. Nasi means rice, and kandar means balance – a reference to the old days when hawkers would balance a pole over their shoulders, with containers at either end holding rice meals.
(Photo CC2.0; Krista)
Penang is famous for the full flavours of the hearty Nasi Kandar, which has Indian roots. Deep-fried chicken, sliced beef, fish roe, vegetables in sauce, brinjal, okra (ladies’ finger) are some of the usual suspects you will have with your rice. You should heap this onto the rice for banjir (flooding). Flooding your rice is how you get a nice rich flavor and a good mix of your favourite ingredients.
Best Nasi Kandar in Penang:
When you get to Penang, make a beeline for Merlin Nasi Kandar in George Town. It’s a standalone Nasi Kandar restaurant in the coffeeshop of Merlin Hotel, at the corner of Union Street and Penang Street. The locals love it, so you know it’s the real deal.
The usual fish, beef and chicken curries deliver the promise of spiciness. The only tasty exception is the hard-boiled egg curry, which is a little sweet. Try those and toss in some brinjal and other vegetables. Have some icy cold drinks ready to wash down the heat dancing on your tongue.
(Photo CC2.0: amrufm)
Alternatively, head to one of the oldest Nasi Kandar stalls. Line Clear Nasi Kandar is an authentic Malaysian-style street stall, located near Chulia Street. It runs 24 hours a day.
Merlin Nasi Kandar
Merlin Hotel, 10200 Pulau Pinang
Merlin Hotel, Lebuh Union
+60 4-264 2826
Nasi Kandar Line Clear
Jalan Penang, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
+60 4-261 4440
Must Eat in Penang #2: Asam Laksa
Oh Laksa. One of the shining stars of food in Southeast Asia. Penang Laksa is a sour, fish-based variation, quite different from the laksa you would find in Singapore. Penang’s asam (sour) laksa involves spicy soup, noodles and a mix of Chinese-Malayan ingredients. Hollywood actor Mel Gibson once named Laksa as his favourite food in the world.
There is a certain home-cooked goodness to laksa, particularly at the street stalls and humble family-run restaurants in Penang. Shrimp, shallots, garlic are some of the staples that go with the fish broth.
Best Asam Laksa in Penang:
Air Itam Asam Laksa
Air Itam Market Pasar Road (Beside the Air Itam Market)
11500 Air Itam Penang
Must Eat in Penang #3: Char Koay Teow
An iconic street food in Penang, its name literally means “stir-fried rice cake strips”. This flat rice noodle dish is accompanied with shrimps, assorted seafood and duck eggs. No char koay teow is complete without deep-fried, crispy pork lard.
An authentic char koay teow is fried skilfully in pork fat and soy sauce, chili and belachan (fermented shrimp paste) on charcoal stoves skillfully to create a distinctive ‘wok-hei’ taste – with a hint of smoky and caramelised flavour. In Penang, it’s not uncommon to find your char koay teow served on a piece of banana leaf.
Best Char Koay Teow in Penang:
A household name for serving some of the most famous char koay teows in Penang, opt for Duck Egg when you at Ah Leng Char Koay Teow. It has a special creaminess in the duck yolks that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Prawns are served generously, and each plate is fried individually so the ‘wok hei’ aroma is not scrimped.
Ah Leng Char Koay Teow
Jalan Dato Keramat, Kampung Makam, 10150 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
+60 12-498 3962
Must Eat in Penang #4: Fried Oyster Omelette (Oh Chien)
While Singapore has our own rendition of Fried Oyster Omelette, Penang’s oh chien is still one of a kind. The dish is made with potato starch fried with eggs and oysters that produces a lighter and crispier finish. The oh chien is accompanied either with spicy chilli sauce or chilli garlic sauce. This is one guilty pleasure you cannot miss when you are in Penang.
Best Oh Chien in Penang: Kedai Kopi Lam Ah
Kedai Kopi Lam Ah’s oh chien are decidedly crispier than most. The generous portions of fresh oysters adds to the texture of this street side dish!
Kedai Kopi Lam Ah
194, Lebuh Pantai, Off Chulia Street, 10300, George Town, Penang
10:30am-4:30pm, closed on Sundays
Must Eat in Penang #5: Cendol
You can’t complete a Penang food trail without sampling Penang’s signature dessert. Cendol is a mishmash of green jelly ‘noodles’ in shaved ice mixed with coconut milk, gula melaka, and red beans. It could sometimes also include glutinous rice, grass jelly, and creamed corn.
Best Oh Chien in Penang: Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul
This family-run business attracts both locals and tourists alike throughout their opening hours. Because it is a small makeshift stall, customers are willing to even stand around the stall just to have a taste of this cold, milky and caramelised chendol.
Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul
27 & 29 Lebuh Keng Kwee, George Town, 10100
+60 4-262 6002
Mon-Fri – 10:30am – 7pm | Sat-Sun – 10am – 7:30pm