SO everyone says that the best food comes from Penang. I beg to differ; the best food comes from my momma’s kitchen. Without. A. Doubt.
But that’s not the point of this post.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that all Penang food is good. But I’ll give it credit for a few things which you’d be hard-pressed to find in KL or other states simply because it lacks that certain ‘Penang personality’, such as char kuay teow, curry mee and nasi kandar, to name a few.
Some time ago, we headed up North to give our minds and bodies a much-needed rest, and our appetites a nice jumpstart. It was time for a rejuvenation of sorts. Clothes: check. Eager and excited stomachs: check. High expectations: check. Food Bible (a.k.a The Star’s street food guide): check.
Our assignment was simple and specific and we only wanted to hit a few hawker joints, hence the 3C/2K strategy a. No point wasting time zipping all over town, right? Which was why we checked in to a hotel smack in the heart of town just to be close to the hawker-riddled streets of Georgetown.
Char Kuay Teow
The best char kuay teow in the world comes from Penang, no questions asked. You could try and pay me to change my mind but, nope, not gonna happen. I suppose this is the result of some kind of indoctrination from when I was a kid. Almost every char kuay teow stall in KL and Ipoh where I grew up claims to be from Penang.
The Star’s street food guide — our food bible — has many entries on char kuay teow. We decided to hit four stalls: 1) somewhere on Penang Road 2) Kimberley Street 3) Macalister Road 4) Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa opposite the Pulau Tikus police station. Pretty ambitious for a two-night trip, I admit.
The winner, according to this panel of judges is the char kuay teow stall on Kimberley Street. Cooked with duck egg and mantis prawn, the dish is moist and tasty, unlike the over-fried versions at stalls (1) and (4). I had fun watching the cook too, particularly how he expertly worked his way around the burst of sparks surrounding the wok. Whoa! What gusto!
Coming in a close second is the famous sister’s char kuay teow at Macalister Road. My apologies to all char kuay teow connoisseurs out there who disagree, but this is, after all, merely my humble opinion.
I must say that what adds (very indirectly) to the allure of our winning number is its location. Kimberley Street is walking distance from where we stayed at the Traders Hotel and has a whole lot of food to offer. Kinda like Macalister Street, only nearer. I enjoyed the lin chee kang from the little tong sui store as well as the belacan fried chicken down the road.
Duck Meat Kway Chap
But across the road from the char kuay teow stall on Kimberley Street is this busy little stall selling duck meat kway chap. Apparently, the dude has been plying his trade at the same place for the past three decades, and makes the ‘kway’ (the rice sheets) himself. Read more about it here.
Traditionally, kway chap is a teochew dish of rice sheets served with pig offal, tofu derivatives and boiled eggs in dark soy soup. This was my first time trying the dish, and the swarm of people surrounding the stall boded well for a non-initiate like me.
I wasn’t too disappointed. The dish was generously laden with pork offal, duck meat and all the trimmings that go with it in a flavourful broth. My only concern was that it tasted a mite too porky, but that is easily dealt with as long as you eat it piping hot. Still, I enjoyed it enough and would try it again. My greedy sidekick, however, wasn’t too impressed. Well, to each his own.
While going about our exploration on foot, we’d pass the cendol stall on Penang Road ever so often. There’s always a queue at this stall; people tell me that it sells the best cendol in Penang. Now, I have always maintained that the best cendol in the world comes from my sister-in-law’s aunt’s stall in Malacca, but there’s always no harm in trying other stalls out.
Verdict? Yep. The best cendol in the world still comes from my sister-in-law’s aunt’s stall in Malacca. But we’ll leave that for another day and another post.
To satiate my constant craving for all things spicy, we made a stop at the curry mee stall at Lorong Seratus Tahun. This is, by far, the best curry mee dish ever for me because it isn’t thickened by artery-clogging coconut milk like the ones found in KL.
The broth — served with pieces of shrimp, bean sprouts, tofu, cockles, cuttle fish and pig blood (not my cup of tea, so I refrained from having it) — was quite clear, yet full of flavour, and made spicy with a topping of chili paste. The chili was definitely the star; it was fragrant and tasty and the dish would not be quite the same without it. Greedy Sidekick loved the dish and slurped down half of it in no time. Should’ve ordered my own portion, but that’d mean limited space in my stomach for the rest of our char kuay teow expedition.
I remember the days when I was a poor student in Penang. During the fasting month, my pals Julia, Jaime and Goh would sometimes make the long trek with me from our university (USM) to Gelugor just so we can get nasi kandar served with the dude’s famous tujuh kuah campur. Saving money on bus fare meant we could spend more on nasi kandar. It seemed like a very feasible (literally) option at the time, so we walked. Nevermind the heat, the undulating terrain, the dust and sweat…Goh always had an umbrella to shield her from the sun. And then there was Abu Nasi Kandar near my apartment, which I could sniff out even before the stall is sighted, thanks to the aroma of Abu’s chicken being deep-fried. I’d order white rice flooded with curry, no vegetables and two pieces of fried chicken. And I’d be the happiest girl in the world.
Greedy Sidekick brought these memories to surface when he insisted that we try Line Clear Nasi Kandar, one of the oldest nasi kandar establishments in Penang. This joint is located in an alley on Chulia Street and is quite easy to miss if you don’t pay close enough attention. When we got there at 10am, there were patrons already queuing for food. Nasi kandar for breakfast? Incredible. I decided to just stick with a roti kosong (not great; Raju’s in PJ remains my top choice). I can’t remember much about it, though. I’d have to go back there for another try, although I do remember that whatever rice and curry I had that time tasted pretty good. I’d vouch that one of the reasons why the place is so popular is because of its amazing variety of food.
All in all, a pretty good trip. Next time on the menu would be orr chien, mee mamak and kuay teow th’ng.