Rustic, humble yet magnificent in the way every component comes together, the food native to Penang is unrivalled in all aspects. Whether it’s stir-fried and brimming with heady aromas of wok hei, soupy or saucy, there really isn’t anything quite like it
This is nothing like the hawker fare we’re used to, we assure you. From the iconic char koay teow to the humble nasi kandar, we bring you some of our personal favourites whenever we visit this island off the mainland of Malaysia. Disclaimer, we’re well aware that we missed out on a few but then again, we only had 2 days.
A tad sourish and a lot less creamy than the laksa we’re used to, Assam laksa is made by stewing poached mackerel along with tamarind juice—which is what gives it its distinct sourish undertone. The broth is full-bodied, usually thick, fragrant and slightly sweet.
CHAR KOAY KAK
Similar to our fried carrot cake sans the sweet, sticky dark soy glaze, this version has a much deeper wok hei flavour and is more savoury than sweet. Bean sprouts are often added towards the end to give the dish an added crunch.
CHAR KOAY TEOW
Out of the many famous dishes synonymous to Penang, few come close to char koay teow. This dish comprises flat rice noodles, stir-fried over charcoal in a wok along with prawns, cockles, egg, bean sprouts and slices of fish cake. The smoky, wok hei flavour in this dish is immense, and the absence of sweet sauce makes this version considerably more savoury.
There are some versions that do without pork lard, making them Muslim-friendly, but seriously, char koay teow isn’t char koay teow without it. Period.
The best and most accurate way to describe the taste of Hokkien char is our fried Hokkien mee but with a darker, more robust flavour. The flavour of prawn is considerably more pungent in this and the wok hei is much more pronounced. Have it along with fresh sambal belacan and you’ve basically entered heaven.
KOAY TEOW THNG
A common noodle soup dish comprising bits of fish cake, fish balls, flat rice noodles and minced pork. This dish is nothing unusual, however, the one that we tried was heavily accented with fried garlic which gave the soup a much headier aroma and a more savoury flavour.
MEE GORENG SOTONG
The classic suppertime favourite, mee goreng is given a breath of new life in this version. Instead of serving it dry, their variation is much wetter with a saucier consistency. The addition of sotong is what makes this Penang favourite stand out as it gives the dish a nice chewy texture. This unique mee goreng may not tickle everyone’s fancy, but it’s sure worth trying.
Hugely popular and something that can be had at literally any point in the day is nasi kandar. Essentially the Indian version of cai fan or economical mixed rice, what we always look forward to is ogling at stacks upon stacks of trays loaded with an assortment of flavourful curries, chicken, prawns, sotong, beef and so much more.
DUCK KOAY TEOW THNG
Not much different from regular koay teow thng, some versions tend to throw in duck meat instead of fishballs and the likes. This alternative is a whole lot meatier in flavour and features all sorts of edible goodies. Think duck meat, duck innards and for good measure, duck meatballs.
Roti canal is not much different from roti prata, except that it is fluffed by hand right before serving. The curries that go along are typically made using mutton which boasts a deeper, more robust flavour. Feeling peckish? Add on an egg or even cheese too!
All photos are credited to @alvatronix.