Eating our way in Penang I

An essential part of any journey for us is the culinary side of life. So here we were.

Being in Georgetown without one’s own transport meant that we could not get around easily unless we booked a Grab or Uber ride.

British Malaya circa 1922
Federated and non federated Malaya states in the 1930s. See red spots?

But then the distances aren’t that large really, and it would probably take more time waiting than walking! In the sense that one can also work up an appetite you see.

So we walked.

You might wonder, why does appear to be known as a place to go not just for touristic activities but also for the food? Here is the reason in our view. As you might have read in our other piece on world heritage Penang (here), the settlements along the coast of Malaya were the only truly directly administered territories of the British.

Street hawkers

Alright, enough with history and political talk. Serious things to look into from here on.

Cintra street noodle stall
This could be almost anywhere in southeast Asia

Folks from around the world should know about street food in Asia. There is probably extensive literature on this subject in the web. Now we are not sure about other cultures, but the southern Chinese seem to greet each other habitually with “吃饱没”? Literally translated, it means ‘are you full’ gastronomically. This is opposed to the direct translation of “吃了吗” – ie have you eaten. They are suppose to both mean the same and as a form of greeting in addition to the ‘how are you’.

Seow Fong Lye - carrot cake stall
Street carts pop up anywhere!

This story is not to debate the origins or authenticity of the above expressions. Rather, we want to point to the centrality of food. Imagine greeting people with that. Wouldn’t that convey to you the importance food and sustenance in a culture?

Anyhow.

While street markets can be found in most if not all cities and towns of southeast Asia, For folks like us, a very integral part of any journey is the food that we obtain to nourish us. Plus the enjoyment through the sense of taste. On this journey, we were at two streets in Georgetown that could potentially qualify as to housing street hawkers.

Restoran Kimberly
Gets busy in the evening in Kimberly

Kimberly street was one such place we frequented.

In the day it is just like any other street with road traffic. And the food businesses are all within the shop houses. But come in the evening and the lights turned on, the street bustles with hawkers setting up. Well sort of. It was more like the restaurants in the shop houses extending into the street at night. But nevertheless there is a street atmosphere here.

On the other hand, New Lane or in local language lorong baru street market is just off Macalister road

Lorong Baru food scene 1
A long queue to the right for this stall!

and right at the doorstep of Sunway hotel where we stayed for three nights. They have the usual shop houses, but outside along the street the hawkers come a cycling with their stalls to set up shop late in the afternoon close to 5pm onwards.

This is all rather organized. The side of the street actually have taps for running water, and tables with umbrellas are laid out every evening (except Wednesdays). If you dine there you need to order a drink or a sweet dessert… sort of like a cover charge. It was a place we came almost every night (well we only had 4), to savor the char kway teow, oyster omelet and loh bak… now we would not say it is cheap, but in comparison to home it is well affordable.

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Local Kopitiams & restaurants

Like Taiwan, many of the small family run restaurant businesses are located in the shop houses. Perhaps they own the premises from which they operate, or they could be renting. Whichever way does not matter because some of them are known to be really gems when it comes to the food served.

So as we headed off walking in the heritage zones of Georgetown (read more here), we made regular pit stops for brunch, lunch and snacks. Because you simply must. That’s why we determined to walk instead of taking trishaws or hailing grab/uber rides. As you work off the calories from the last stop, you are ready to take the next instalment.

Along Kimberly street we had porridge, pig offal generously served. While at Chulia street we ate chicken and roasted pork rice at the busy Wai Kee. Quite a lot of people in both places… so go early. But what was most delightful was to have brunch at Yong Ping, dim sum if you will. Or in Cantonese speak ‘yumcha’. Yong Pin Dim sum

Still serving these not so little and dainty ‘morsels’, one can get pretty full quickly. Order a pot of pu’er tea and top up the pot with hot water yourself whenever you run out. Let the food digest slowly as you sit and observe the locals minding their business. Blend in with the way locals enjoy a slow morning meal.

And who can miss out on the so-called famous Penang Chendol while on the island? Well, some might contest this, but actually it is the famous Penang road chendol… see this is one of the ways information can become misconstrued or deviously changed… but to be honest the chendol tasted so-so though you have to give credit to the serving associates who enthusiastically ask if you would like another bowl. Perhaps they thought you might grow to like it more with additional servings.

For those not into what we’ve been describing so far, there are many many little cafes and western styled restaurants too. Ming Xiang Tai biscuitsFor example if you fancy some 3D coffee foam art over your cuppa, or traditional snacks from chain outlets… what we did not cover on this journey was Indian and Malay cuisines which are definitely on our radar. We surely promise ourselves to dive deep into nasi kandar, Penang’s mee goreng, nasi lemak… the list will go on and on.Coffee on the table 3D art

In our opinion, Penang is a destination one can make multiple if not regular journeys to for the culinary fix. Our only hope is that this remains and will not be bulldozed into the annals of history in the name of development.

This piece penned from our April 2018 journey

PS for those who love Durians or at least dare venture to try it, there are many many varieties of the fruit here. Exotic and wry names are given to each to describe its smell, taste and aesthetic looks…

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