UNESCO World Cultural Heritage City Georgetown might be famous for their beautiful street art murals and historic infrastructures, but the Malaysian city’s biggest draw is hands down its wealth of mouthwatering street food. Hawker fare is truly a way of life for Penangites; roadside hawkers can be seen cooking up a storm in their pushcarts at almost every nook and cranny.
Queuing up for street food has also long become a cultural norm in Penang, and waiting an hour for a bowl of noodles is deemed acceptable. Street food is taken so seriously here that as of 2016, foreigners are banned from being the main cooks to uphold the high standards of Penang’s authentic hawker culture. Yes, only locals will cook your Assam Laksa.
Penang’s numerous ethnic groups have largely influenced its local cuisine, and today, locals and visitors get to indulge in an amazing plethora of multicultural delicacies considered uniquely Penang. From Assam Laksa to Char Kway Teow, here are 10 Must-Try Local Dishes in Penang.
The world-famous Assam Laksa encapsulates an interesting myriad of contrasting flavours; each mouthful of the tangy broth packs a punch of sweetness, sourness and even spiciness!
Many ingredients – such as chilli, cucumber, mint leaves, onion, pineapple, prawn paste, poached mackerel, shallots and tamarind – are used to create this complex noodle dish.
#2 BAK KU TEH
Bak Ku Teh might not be as well-known as its other Malaysian counterpart dishes, but it is still a beloved staple amongst the Penang Hokkien natives. The direct translation of this Chinese dish means Pork Bone Soup and it is prepared with succulent pork ribs and Chinese medicinal ingredients.
The herbal pork broth is more often than not not spicy, and is best eaten with rice and fried dough fritters on the side.
#3 CHAR KOAY TEOW
Char Koay Teow is an aromatic plate of flat rice noodles that has been stir-fried over high heat with bean sprouts, belachan chilli, de-shelled blood cockles, (duck) egg, pork lard, prawns and soy sauce.
Needless to say, Char Koay Teow is far from healthy with its high saturated fat content, but it will be one of the best dishes you will ever eat in your entire lifetime.
Chendul (also spelt as chendol) is inherently a bowl of shaved ice dessert drenched in coconut milk and gula melaka. The refreshing treat is topped with kidney beans and pandan worm-shaped rice flour jellies.
Chendul can be commonly found in roadside vendors across Penang.
#5 CURRY MEE
Noodles are considered a key staple in Penang and the Curry Mee is another popular curry-based noodle. The primary ingredients used in the preparation of this dish are coconut milk, coagulated pig’s blood, fresh mint leaves, deep fried tofu, lemongrass and sambal paste.
#6 HOKKIEN MEE
Penang’s Hokkien Mee is different when compared to Singapore’s rendition, but one would find its broth awfully similar to the Prawn Mee in Singapore.
Originating from Fujian, China, this soup-based noodle dish boasts a rich seafood stock and chicken slices, fish cakes and prawns can be found in it. It is usually served with an egg and a dollop of sambal chilli.
#7 KOAY TEOW TH’NG
If you were wondering, Koay Teow Th’ng literally means ‘flat rice noodles soup’ when translated. The flat white noodles are served in a clear broth with an assortment of meat and seafood. Lettuce and onions are also used to give the overall dish an extra oomph.
While it is common to see handmade fish balls in your bowl, do note that recipes vary across hawkers.
#8 NASI KANDAR
Nasi Khandar is a Malaysian dish created by Penang natives. The Indian-Muslim dish is akin to Singapore’s economical rice (more affectionately known as cai fan), where one gets to select ingredients from a wide variety of curry-based meats and vegetables to go with their mildly-flavoured steamed rice.
Popiah is the equivalent of soft French crepes – except that these delicate skins are actually rolled up and filled with a generous amount of stuffings. Think eggs, shrimps, vegetable stew, sauces and more. These savoury rolls are then sliced into bite-size portions and are great for sharing as appetisers. You can always opt for less or more chilli according to your preference.
#10 WANTON MEE
Wanton Mee might be a common dish among Southeast Asians, but we reckon Penang’s interpretation is among the best. The springy noodles are either served dry or dunked in soup, where the former would be tossed in tasty oyster sauce. The dish is completed with leafy vegetables, silky stuffed wantons and char siew pork slices.
About the writer:
Hui Jun Ng is a staff writer for ladyironchef. She previously worked in the food and marketing industry. She loves traveling and enjoys exploring underrated destinations. In her free time, you will find her indulging in coffee and her all time favourite local dish – bak chor mee.