Wednesday, March 04, 2009

3 Day Food Tour - First Stop: Penang

Food in Malaysia is synonymous to breathing; it is an important part of the culture and way of life. Food here can be found in the usual places, restaurants, cafes, and the not so common such as car parks, obscure alleyways and the side of a busy street. It can often be daunting when faced with a decision on where to eat with so many places to choose from. How do you weed out the stalls claiming to have the best dishes to find the actual best?

With only three days and nine meals in three foodie towns (Penang, Ipoh, Melaka) I was determined to do my research to find some of the top places to indulge in.

Penang has some of the tastiest dishes throughout Malaysia which is why it has become a popular spot for weekend ‘makan’ outings. Makan in Malay means to eat and this is precisely what I was looking to do on my day out in Penang.

Breakfast – Lam Heng Café
Although most people go to Lam Heng Café to eat the famous Sister’s Char Kway Teow, I was lucky to arrive early enough to sample the Chee Cheong Fan which is a lesser known delight. Chee Cheong Fan is a smooth type of kway teow served with a combination of two sauces; ha kou which is a prawn paste and dim cheong a sweet paste. It’s a very simple yet tasty dish that is often eaten for breakfast. This was my first time trying this dish made by the popular Sister’s stall and I must say it was executed perfectly. There was just enough sauce to ensure that the kway teow had a delicious tang with each bite.

If you get a chance you must also try the Char Kway Teow here as the Sister’s have a legion of die hard fans. While I personally have not tried it, many claim that their version has just the right amount of chilli, soy sauce, bean sprouts and a whiff of wok hei, a Cantonese term referring to the flavour, taste, and ‘essence’ transferred to the food by a hot wok.

Lam Heng Café
Sister’s Char Kway Teow
Mc Allister Road
Open daily

Lunch – Hameediyah
If you’re looking for good traditional Indian Muslim food, Hameediyah is a household name in Penang. Established in the early 1900s, this restaurant just celebrated its 101st anniversary last September, making it one of the island’s oldest restaurants. As Penangites, this is a restaurant that my grandfather, my father and I have been going to for years; we swear by their fried chicken and briyani. The fried chicken has the ideal combination of savoury tasty crunch on the outside and tender juicy meat on the inside. The briyani is packed with spice and is pleasantly fragrant. Other specialties at Hameediyah include the Murtabak (A roti canai filled with chicken, beef, or mutton), Beef Rendang, and the fried Mee Mamak.

Apart from acquiring the shop next door to expand, Hameediyah has not changed since my childhood days. The lure here is the consistently delicious food, after all not many restaurants can claim to be over 100 years old.

164-A Campbell Street
Hours: 10am – Midnight (closed on Friday)

Dinner – Swatow Lane
Swatow Lane used to be exactly as the name suggests, a tiny lane scattered with hawker stalls serving some of the best food Penang has to offer. In recent years the hawker stalls have been moved into a hawker centre (New World Park) to maintain hygiene standards. The food is still as delicious as ever, but many believe that the cluttered lane with tiny stools and plastic tables was what made it a charming glutton square.

This is one of the last remaining areas where you can enjoy authentic Penang hawker food. Some of the stalls have been around for years and recipes are passed down from generation to generation. There used to be an 80 year old man who would stand in the hot sun daily making Chinese pancakes, unfortunately when they were moved into the hawker centre he was not happy with the ventilation and moved out shortly.

Swatow Lane’s specialties include the Ais Kacang, Rojak and a variety of noodle dishes my pick being the Curry Mee. The Ais Kacang here is served with syrup, evaporated milk, red beans, assorted jellies and fresh fruit; wonderfully refreshing on a typically hot Malaysian afternoon.
The Rojak is the made in typical Penang style, cut up fruits with cuttlefish, taupok (puffed soya bean cake) and youtiao (fried dough fritters) tossed with a dressing made up of sugar, chili, lime juice and the pungent Hae Ko (dark prawn paste). This dish is an acquired taste but if you do enjoy it no one does it as well as the stall in Swatow Lane.

New World Park Hawker Centre
Swatow Lane
Hours: Depends on each stall but most are open daily from 10am – 10pm


Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella said...

Great wrap up Alexandra! Although it just makes me want to jump on a plane and visit Malaysia now :P

Alexandra said...

Lorraine - Well if you ever make it over here I can be your food guide :)