It is probably too early to write a food review of Penang, but under the guidance of a foodie friend from Bangkok, “BKKFatty“, we have been eating very well. While I feel like I’ve only had a few Malaysian dishes, Penang marketing calls it a “Food Paradise of Asia” and so far, we’ve been to some interesting restaurants.
Local dishes –
Char Koay Teow –
A local restaurant owner confirmed that our Char Koay Teow vendors were not the best and recommended we go to one who makes one plate at a time over charcoal, the only way to have it apparently. So there is hope for this dish. Otherwise, it is just a plate full of noodles, bean sprouts, egg, few shrimp, and sauce. While I could use that same sentence to describe Pad Thai, this dish misses the crunch of the peanuts and the sweet and sour of the tamarin and dried shrimp. I’ve tried it twice, once at a food court and another from a food stall, and each time it has tasted greasy rather than saucy. I will hold out judgement until I’ve had it from the master though.
Lok Lok –
Perhaps more a style of eating, it consists of various “meats” or vegetables on skews. Not unlike fondu, you cook or reheat the item in a boiling pot, then dress with sauce, as desired. Our table was decorated with various plates full of hotdog-like items, tofu, seafood, vegetables and sauces…and raw liver. :/ When an item ran low, an attendant brought more.
Always an adventurous eater (not quite), I stuck primarily to broccoli and cheese tofu, but did try a bite of jellyfish. The best part of dinner was when the attendant came to tally the meal, based on the color-coded sticks. He counted in a local dialect and the way he pointed each stick to count it, made it a bit like a performance. We were all enthralled by it and asked him to recheck (so we could watch again) but he said “Forget it!”
We ate this at a “restaurant” of food carts but this is found throughout Malaysia on one-off food carts, so items vary by locations.
Unusual Chinese desserts –
Dragon fruit Sago –
A tiny mountain of shaved ice, decorated with dragon fruit, tapioca and a bit of magic. It was surprisingly good. Similar to the Malaysian’s Ice kacang (I’m told).
Almond sago –
A similar name but this had less ice and was a bit more soupy with tapiocas swimming in an almond flavored liquid. It had a strong sweet aftertaste, that triggered a memory of the smell of urinal cakes for our friend, an awesome endorsement if I’ve ever heard one! (Unlikely to try this one again.)
As an introduction, BKKFatty took us to the well-known Kapitan’s within the inner city. Recommended was the Tandoori and Briyani. James loved it, I was ambivalent.
THEN we went to Sri Ananda Bahwan (out towards the beach) and once again my love for Indian food was restored. There, we sampled many fantastic Indian dishes like dosas filled with cheese or vegetables, briyani, vindaloo and others I can no longer name. The piece de resistance was the Tandoori though. I was no longer indifferent to this brightly colored meat. Here it was juicy and full of flavor, arriving in red, green and yellow and something I would return for. I would say pass on the Briyani but try the Vegetable Tila (sp?) as there were many great flavors in that also.
The restaurant is near the Flamingo Hotel and close to an International school so there were a lot of expats there and the other half appeared to be locals.
Western food amazement!
Waffle buns at Piknik
There are cafes a plenty in Penang, with a large population serving more Western Food. With another BKKFatty recommendation, we were off to Piknik which serves great waffles, has a relaxed cafe atmosphere and random art decorating the walls. James tried their waffle burger. A mountain of two waffles sandwiching a hamburger patty, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion and special sauce. His verdict was very good although a bit too much sauce. I was again non-adventurous and tried a waffle decorated with egg, cheese and bacon (also very good). Fries were also purchased to round out the meal and while good, not as great as the next place.
My most favorite – Pit Stop no. 12
In a word – potato wedges (ok 2 words). One might think potato wedges would not be noteworthy but then they probably never went here. Each was perfectly cooked and dressed with a bit of seasoning. Ketchup or chili sauces was also provided for further enhancement. They were heaven.
Another BKKFatty recommendation, we’d stopped in to avoid the heat and grab a snack. Our group of 4 ended up sitting at the large table in the back and speaking with the two owners. The owners were incredibly nice and this probably added to why Pit Stop no. 12 was so loved. The cool ambiance and back story of the building, its owner (they lease from a 94 year old woman) and more tips on the area, made the the cafe an instant favorite that we will definitely be returning to. It is also worth mentioning that their milkshakes actually had ice cream in them, something unseen in Thailand (usually it really is just milk and flavoring). Their warmed carrot cake, served with ice cream, is also awesome, for the record.
So that’s a sampling of the some of the wonderful food to date. At the airport, I also picked up a guide to “Penang Street Food” so we have our map of dishes to experience. Here’s to yummy new foods (and old favorites done incredibly well!)
Side note: We’ve discovered that the Internet plans here in Malaysia are quite steep so I’m trying Asam Laksa, another local dish, while we borrow the Internet from this restaurant. The dish is a soup, quite fishy, and sadly, another miss for me but at least I can send this post! Win!