Welcome to George town, Penang- A Food Tour Day 1
Have you ever been to Penang, an island on the west coast of Malaysia? There are beaches and mountains, monkeys, food and more food in this friendly enchanting city.
The capital George town is a melting pot of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cultures with a food scene that is like no where else in the world. It is varied and cheap and here in this part of Malaysia is also the perfect place to sample Nyonya cuisine described as a mixture of Malay/Chinese with some Thai influences thrown in. That means coconut milk, chilli, turmeric, ginger and all the good things. This trip was purely a food related tour so there will be no further side trips for culture. Penang is hot and unless you are here for the nightlife it is advisable to get up early and start eating before the sun takes it’s toll. George town is a very managable place to walk around and when you are sick of it…go to the beach, an hours bus ride away. There are hotels for absolutely every budget from a $20 back packers up to the sky, but my advice is try and find one with a pool. They come in handy half way through the day. Here’s some of the places you can try Penang food.
First stop to start your day should be Toh Soon cafe, a Penang institution. This small alfresco cafe in an alleyway off Lebuh Campbell (off Jalan Penang ) has been pumping out 1/2 boiled eggs, Kaya ( coconut jam) toast cooked on a charcoal grill and local coffee for around 50 years. It’s packed every day with local workers and tourists alike and tables are at at premium. Don’t be afraid to wait or share a table you might end up talking to some interesting locals like we did. Try an iced coffee ( kopi bang) or a hot sweet local coffee (condensed milk fuelled) Kopi when you finally nab a table. There is one work station and a drum holding charcoal charcoal, where the bread is grilled painstakingly, from a crouched position while the water boils on the top for coffee and those half done eggs. The whole cafe packs away at the end of the day. Don’t over think just enjoy the atmosphere .
Toh Soon Cafe After breakfast a walk across Lebuh Campbell and onto Jalan Kuala Kangsar will take you to a smallish city market selling fruit and all kinds of meat and poultry. This market is on the verge of extinction, there is so much change in Penang. Buildings are being demolished and staff moved on, as the government tries to “change” and “clean up” the markets. For now the market goes on regardless of the upheaval and mess.
There’s a special section in the market for pickled vegetables a dazzling coloured affair where I met a salesman that would be good in any language, and I bought pickled & candied nutmeg
Back out on the street we head for Joo Hooi Cafe on corner of Lebuh Keng Kwee at 475 Penang Rd. Here you will find some of Penang’s favourite dishes. Assam Laksa, Char Kway Teow and Popiah. Small serves for tasting in a busy forward cafe….street side fun. Outside is one hellishly popular Chendol stall .Think ice, fruit, noodles, coconut & lining up
A bit of a walk to Larong Lumut a quiet laneway off Lebuh Carnarvan will reward you with Thosai, fermented rice flour pancake a North Indian breakfast dish.
This is a quiet and really interesting part of town with lots of little Boutique hotels and heritage buildings. After the crispy delicious Thosai we headed further down Larong Lumut where we encountered a convincing traveling salesman. This is how it went…around the corner to Larong Lumut is a long lane way. Just as we were walking down the lane…
Along came a salesman.
Delicious sweet coconut buns. He suggested we buy 3 not one…. who could resist?
After a walk back along Jalan Carnarvon for sweets we retired to the pool to cool down and dream about dinner. ( Yes, I know)
Weld Quay Restaurant (or Tree Shade) down along Weld Quay opposite the ferry terminal is the place for seafood, or in our case Crabs. I was happy to indulge Birdy (my fearless eating travel companion) her need for as much Crab as she could eat in one sitting. This Chinese restaurant is rumoured to have been here for 30 years. It is busy with families and locals who are not as amazed at what’s growing over the walls in the back room as we were. It’s almost like a garage out the back with no ceiling and as you look up you see the tree that dominates the restaurant growing up through the walls. It’s almost like dining at one of the Cambodian temples in Siem Riep. Choose from the fresh seafood near the kitchen. Check the prices as you go and watch your catch being weighed. They will discuss cooking methods and accompaniments with you before whipping it up in a jiffy. There is no air-conditioning due to the natural state of the building but I didn’t mind, that’s why they have large ( 750ml) Tiger beers! A very large ginger and garlic steamed fish and well over a kg of crab along with vegetables and beer came in at 93 Ringgit ($ 31.00)
After all that crab the only thing we could do was lay down…ah holidays…. Would you like to see what happened the next day?……. come back see a little more.
Thanks to Robyn Eckhardt (eating Asia)who showed us some of these places.