Malaysian Street Food : Banana Leaf Curry (south Indian curry spread)

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India has a long history with Malaysia, mass migration occurred during the British occupation of Malaysia when Indians emigrated for labour purposes and long before then Indians and Arabs were travelling the trade routes and settling across the South East Asian region.
Indians are the third most represented ethnic group in Malaysia and have a good diplomatic relationship – India and Malaysia have a migrant working visa arrangement similar to the one that takes thousands of young Europeans to Australia and New Zealand every year.

As such Indian food is wonderfully represented in Malaysia and one that would be most familiar to western visitors is a banana leaf curry, a popular south Indian curry dish.

Banana leaf curry devi's corner bangsar KL kuala lumpur malaysia

Banana leaf curries are a sort of buffet meal in one, usually you’ll get to choose the main attraction, usually  a chicken, fried fish or other meat (sometimes mutton) curry.   And then a server will ladle spoons of vegetable sides, rice, pickles and a poppadum onto your  big green plate.
It seems fairly standard for everything to be drenched with gravy, but often as westerners we get asked if we like any and a little is poured to the side – it’s worth asking what the sauces are as there’s often a spicy chilli one and a rasam (spicy sour) available.

Banana leaf curry devi's corner bangsar KL kuala lumpur malaysia

Banana leaf meals are traditionally eaten with the hand (typically, your right hand only although, many places will have cutlery if you ask) and to show good etiquette you should wash your hands before and after eating.

 Often you can ask for more rice and pickles at little or no extra charge, and when you’ve finished eating etiquette dictates you fold your leaf in half, both as a thank you and a symbol to staff you’ve finished eating.

Banana leaf curries can be a great way to sample a lot of different flavours, as well as being disposable (they literally grow on trees, after all… ) I read banana leaves contain an antioxidant which food can take on, and also gives a nice fragrance. They’re also usually pretty good value for money and will really fill you up as well as giving you a big chunk of your 5-a-day.

KL and Penang have some good places to check out, click on the links to read more.

Malaysian Bahasa isn’t going to be very useful in your average banana leaf restaurant – most staff will speak Hindi/other Indian dialects and some degree of English.

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Malaysian Street Food: Roti babi (fried pork sandwich)

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The name roti babi literally means ‘pork bread’, a dish of peranakan straits heritage, often referred to as nonya cuisine due to the cultural identity of women, the cooks as ‘nonyas’.

Essentially, and very vaguely they are the descendents (the word Peranakan translates as ‘descendent’ in both Malay & Indonesian Bahasa, according to Wikipedia) of Chinese traders who settled into Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Indonesia and whilst retaining their home culture they took to their new environments, married locals and over time fused everything together to create their own, unique culture.

There’s a tonne of interesting foodie things that have come from nonya culture.

Roti babi cake at Yut Kee restaurant Kulala Lumpur`

Roti babi is a sort of fried pork sandwich. French toast with an Asian twist, if you will.  Slices of white bread are filled with a mixture of ground pork, crab meat onions, garlic and a spicemix. The whole mixture is egg coated and fried. It’s often best eaten with Worcestershire sauce and chillies.
It’s absolutely calorific, indulgently greasy Chinese Malaysian dish that is increasingly hard to find available from hawkers. Yut Kee in Kuala Lumpur is an old school Kopitiam well worth visiting, and a place to pick up a roti babi.

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Malaysian street food: Curry mee (curried noodle soup)

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After grazing our way through some other areas of Malaysia we made our way up to Georgetown, Penang (or Pinang), lauded as the food capital of Asia, street food mecca, whatever. We had high hopes. 

Penang is world famous for having a cultural melting pot of Indian, Chinese and Malay population who all contributed to the culinary landscape.
Penang did not disappoint, in fact it was probably better than expected – One thing; if you’re planning on eating like it’s your last week alive don’t visit during the lunar new year festivities.

Curry mee, a noodle soup, a sort of curry mixture. That sounds like a safe choice and a nice comforting dinner with a splash of local cuisine. Well, yes and no because curry mee is not entirely as the name suggests.

Curry mee is, essentially a Penang variation on the rich curry laksa, one of the most well known meals in all of Malaysia.
Curry mee varies in a few ways, for example the broth tends to be much thinner with a less creamy texture. One addition less commonplace in laksa is the addition of coagulated blood cubes, with the rich irony taste you should expect (much like a black pudding, for example) but with a jelly like texture. It’s a delicious addition to a rich soup and offsets the curry and (like laksa) cockles.
Penang Curry Mee noodle soup Georgetown

Like a Laksa other ingredients include prawns and light plump tofu pieces.

 It’s a really delicious, wholesome and not too spicy soup which should tick all of those adventurous boxes of experiences and tastes when travelling – The use of cockles and blood jelly are probably unconventional to your tastebuds but they are delicious in the context and shouldn’t put you off trying this. The fresh mint scattered on the top is another great addition and further adds to the layers of flavour.

If you’re heading to Penang, check out my food post about all the great things you should eat and try in this magnificent city.
Phrases worth knowing  

Penang’s a pretty mulitcultural place and English will generally be spoken by almost everyone. But often a few Malay words are useful, although sometimes a grasp of Hindi, Hokkien or Cantonese would be advantageous.

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Kuala Lumpur Street Food & Eating guide.

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Kuala Lumpur is a pretty interesting city, relatively young only around one hundred and fifty years old with a multicultural population of Malays, Chinese, Indians and expats. Look past the smoggy skies and the building sites, – which are everywhere in their race to rival Singapore – and you’ll find a city of good tasting food. Penangites, used to their UNESCO world heritage listed city and tourists on food pilgrimages might sneer and look down on KL, one person I met in Georgetown said “If a hawker can’t make it in Penang, his food is not good enough and he will move to KL and be successful” but there’s plenty to take from this city. It’s different to Penang, in a good way.

Get your eat on.

Food Courts

Lot 10, collection of street food and hole in the wall style eateries in a food court in a highly stylised setting. Our favourite stalls are Chua Brothers Famous Fish Ball Soup which also sells Hokkien mee, Asam laksa & curry laksa which are all good & Duckking, with decent char siew pork and duck. 10-20MYR per meal. Song Kee, relative of famous old shop in Chinatown apparently sells excellent beef noodle soup.
Good quality ingredients and an excellent place as an introduction to the local food culture, but lacking the attitude of street food and ‘wok hei’ slightly overpriced experience without the usual fun of street eating, which – for me, at least – is watching the world go by.  Great for wary tourists or those who want to experience something local without sacrificing sanitised conditions, or just a cheap meal in the Bukit Bintang area, which is otherwise full of bars and international restuarants.
Closest transport : Bukit Bintang Monorail Located in the basement of Lot 10 Shopping mall. 

Another food court in the golden triangle is Food Republic, less stylised than Lot10 and looking a lot more like a conventional food court there’s a huge amount of stalls selling specialties from other Malay states as well as international options, fast food chains and a teppanyaki bar. Like Lot 10, a bit more expensive than the street options
Clostest transport : Bukit Bintang Monorail. Located at Pavillion shopping mall.
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Central Market Food Court: came in here on a whim, and found the kopitiam in the middle sold laksa & prawn mee –  We were surprised to find the prawn mee to be awesome, the laksa, of the Penang asam variation and had a great taste, spiced for malay palate – other stalls are mostly Thai and Indonesian style foods, Nasi Ayam (chicken rice) seemed popular with the clutch of westerners eating, but most patrons were Malays on their lunch breaks.
Clostest transport: Pasar Seni LRT. Located on 1st floor of Central Markets.

Imbi markets : Whilst it’s not a foodcourt, but an outdoor market it’s still a potentially worthwhile place to visit in the mornings for a breakfast – It’s really only likely you’ll bother to make the journey if you’re staying in the Bukit Bintang area, as it’s about a 10-15minute walk away from Bukit Bintang metro station & the city.
Opening times are 630AM – 12noon, but when I visited at 10AM, not much was open, whether this was due to the day of the week I’m not sure.
Clostest transport : Bukit Bintang Monorail. Located at Pasar Besar Bukit Bintang

Chinatown area

 

Mamak canteen in Kuala Lumpur

Mamak canteen in Kuala Lumpur

 

Old China Café: Excellent Nonya laksa (amongst other things), in a beautifully restored shophouse on the edges of the bustling Chinatown : a good option if you don’t have time to get to Melaka. 11MYR a portion. Book a table for the evening to have a nice meal out.
Closest transport – LRT: Pasar Seni/Monorail : Maharajalela. Located on Jalan Balai Polis

Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock: A friendly and modern take on the traditional kopitiam, stripped away walls and clean lines with simple furniture and all the classics of mamak food. The staff are pretty attentive and the food and coffee and both good. Slightly more expensive than your average kopitiam.
Closest transport – LRT: Pasar Seni/Monorail : Maharajalela. Located on Jalan Balai Polis

Restoran Yusoof & Zakhir
: Good teh tarik, tandoor chicken & well spiced kumpung rice but generally quite inconsistent with nasi lemak. Great value for money nonetheless.
Closest transport – LRT: Pasar seni.  Located on Jalan Hang Kasturi

 

 

Hameeds Nasi Kampar Penang: Opens very early & closes very late run by jovial Indians, the Malay equivalent of a greasy spoon café, with honest, cheap food. With roti chanai and curries you cannot go wrong whilst people watching an ‘interesting’ cross section of society. Very close to Petaling street & the backpacking district.
Closest transport : Pasar Seni LRT. Located on  Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok, opposite Starbucks. 

Maulana foodcourtNasi lemak in the more streamlined takeaway form (wrapped in banana leaf)  but with good, if slightly sweeter sambal. A good range of curries, roti and drinks with helpful staff. Look for the parked taxis outside.
Good place to head for breakfast if you arrive early on a nightbus with time to kill, only two minute walk from Pudu Sentral
Closest transport : Plaza Rakyat LRT. Located at the end of the row of shops closest to the station on Jalan Pudu. Five minute walk from Chinatowns backpacker district.

Koon Kee Wanton noodle : A tiny little shophouse hidden behind the many stalls selling handbags, sunglasses and junk on Petaling Street, in the heart of Chinatown. ‘KL style’ with dark glazed soy noodles and char siew pork with wan tans.  It’s been around for a very long time, it’s very popular with locals and they make everything by hand including the noodles and the wantans. Around 6RM per portion.
It’s hidden behind the hawkers, look for two red hanzi characters on a silver corogated background. Don’t be put off by the back to basics surroundings, they’ve been doing this a long time.
Closest transport: Pasar Seni LRT, Located on Petaling Street’s most northern section.

As the night falls, many restaurants appear in Chinatown with popup kitchens and plastic chairs spilling on the pavement. Our favourite, Restoran Han Kee outside the twenty four hour laundry on Jalan Sultan sells good claypot dishes, and cheap one plate meals.  Lookout for the fishtank with frogs and eels out the front.
Closest transport: Pasar Seni LRT. Located on Jalan Sultan

Banana Leaf

South Indian Malay curry spread.
There’s loads of options all over the city, and expect to pay a little more than an average meal but it’s well worth it.

Banana leaf curry devi's corner bangsar KL kuala lumpur malaysia
Vischaltchi Food and Catering in Brickfields was worth a trek, a little on the more expensive side, although the tandoor fish pieces were the highlight of the meal.
Closest transport: KL Sentral. Located on Jalan Scott

Devi’s Corner was also well worth hunting down in trendy Bangsar, full of coffee shops and bakeries. The fish curry was delicious and all the vegetable sides were fantastic – you get a little bit more for your money here than at Vischalcthi. Around 15-20MYR per person
Locals also recommended we try Sri Nirwana Maju, also in Bangsar but we didn’t quite get the chance.
Closest transport Bangsar. Located on Jalan Telawi 4

Other

 

Restoran Kin Kin: Selling one very popular dish, chilli pan mee. A bowl of thick noodles, meaty ragu, ikan billis and a poached egg served with a wickedly spicy dry roasted chilli paste. It’s exceptional, good value & very popular with locals. A bit off the tourist trail but well worth seeking out & trying as a double hit with Yut Kee, a five minute walk away.
Less than 10MYR per serve, open seven days, between 7am and 7pm but closes earlier on weekends. Closest transport : Medan Tunku (monorail) but also a short walk from Dang Wangi. Located on Jalan Dewan Sultan Sulaiman.

Chilli Pan mee Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur  KL

Yut Kee: Had been trading since the 1920’s in the same shophouse until a forced move in 2014, The style, food and ownership have barely changed since it began and they serve traditional Hainanese style food, great marble cake, kaya roll and coffee. They also have roast pork dinner on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
A good stopping point for coffee and cake on a walk about the city, as well as main meals. The roti babi is the stuff of dreams. Big fat greasy delicious dreams.
Closest transport :Dang Wangi LRT station. Located on Jalan Kamunting.

little India is also home to a heap of options to eat simple Indian snacks and spreads, a good place to pick up Indian sweets as are the market stalls around the Batu Caves.

You can buy fresh fruit including all the tropical favourites from all over the city at little stalls, they are usually similar prices per kilo as the big food stores like Cold Storage you find in the malls, just be picky as they will try to offload the overripe first.

Cold Storage and Isetan are also good options for picking up pieces for a picnic, the Botanical Gardens, KLCC park & Mederka Square are all great options to laze the afternoon away reading and snacking. Isetan in particular is good stop to pick up sushi.

 

diners at kl restaurant yut kee

Diners at the famous old Yut Kee restaurant.

 

Unfortunately, due to visiting during Ramadan we didn’t really get a chance to sample the delights of Kampung Baru, the traditional, lowrise Muslim residential enclave of KL. It’s a great area to visit, just to see another side of KL, which isn’t all commercialisation and modernity. Another reason to visit is the availability of pop-up street food stalls which reputedly sell some of the best nasi lemak in the city, amongst other delights.

Ramly burgers are to KL like a hot dog to New York, the typical local fast food.  The end product can vary depending on whats available but generally it’s a thin patty of chicken or beef with condiments and then wrapped in egg, served in a bun. Locals love them, the stalls are pretty much all over the city, several in the Chinatown area. Cheap, quick and affordable.

Transport

The transport network is great and you should never really need to take a cab, single journeys are between one and three ringgits. The LRT (red) line is very efficient and should cover most places you could want to visit. The monorail (green) line covers the gaps, but wait time seems to be a little longer.
There are also free GO KL! buses, which travel from Chinatown to Bukit Bintang and back.

words worth knowing!

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamat tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry
Lagi – more/again

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Whilst this selection is by no means exhausted it’s places we enjoyed hanging out, drinking teh tarik and eating on a budget in no frills kinda places, generally we just wandered into places for a teh tarik, and came back to eat if we liked the vibe.
We like to think we have good taste, but we’re open to suggestions. Join us on Facebook & if you liked our posts please share them using the little social media buttons below.

Malaysian Street Food: Chilli pan mee (dry minced pork chilli noodles)

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Pan mee is a dish of Chinese –Malay heritage, a product of the Chinese immigrants from the Hakka clan. In terms of Malaysia, it’s something you’ll (generally) find in Kuala Lumpur & the south, but not in Penang and the north.

As a meal it’s a fairly straightforward comfort food. Thick flour noodles are blanched and served with a tomato & pork mince sauce, served with a poached egg and a handful of ikan billis, or deep fried anchovies.
Whilst these ingredients are all agreeable, the addition that raises it from kind of average to superb is a huge spoonful of deep red, roasted chilli paste. The rich, slightly smokey flavour and oil really amplify the other ingredients.
The noodles are served with a side bowl of potato leaf soup. Traditionally, I’ve read the soup is often served on top of the noodles but it’s become customary and perhaps fashionable in KL for it to be served on the side. I have to agree, it’s an improvement and there’s nothing stopping you pouring it over if you wanted to.

Chilli Pan mee Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur  KL

This is a serious palate puncher, the richness of egg yolk, the almost Italian qualities of the porky ragu with salty anchovies and eye wateringly spicy chilli paste that will have you reaching for the napkins to dab your sweaty brow should you not be so accustomed to such spice levels.

After some internet research, we ventured to Restoran Kin Kin, in Kuala Lumpur. It’s a one meal only kind of place and although a little of the tourist map it’s easily accessible and the owners are helpful enough.
It’s excellent value at less than 10Ringgits, Kin-Kin was shortlisted for the ‘Best Cheap Eats’ by Time Out KL in 2013.

Restoran Kin Kin is located near the KL Metroline station Medan Tuanku. Be aware of the ‘other’ restaurant across the road with a very similar name.

Phrases worth knowing!

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malaysia: Georgetown & Penang streetfood and eating guide.

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Anthony Bourdain, host of the Popular TV show No Reservations is no stranger to this great city and once declared “What city worth its concrete doesn’t afford citizens the opportunity to eat on the street?” He was in this instance referring to Rio but it’s an acceptable caveat to apply to any city, especially an Asian one.
Georgetown, Unesco world heritage site and foodie mecca. This, small, friendly walkable city on the island of Penang is photogenic, pretty relaxed and keen to please your stomach ten times a day. It’s basically where you would like to live given the chance.
The TV personality also summarised “When you slurp something out of a hot liquidy bowl, on a low plastic chair. I’m pretty much happy” and that, I have to agree with.

Indian

Restoran Kapitan chicken just keeps me coming back, we’ve spent two lots of around ten days in Penang and eaten in Kapitan at least eight times. In the six months between visits I dreamed of Kapitan chicken – it’s delicious and there aren’t enough superlatives to describe their sour green sauce.
The chicken naan set is good value at around 10RM and their biriyani rice is decent, not amazing but decent. Westerners seem give Kapitan a really bad rep on Tripadvisor, mostly because of the service, but generally we think they’re OK and their food more than makes up for it. We found they lack consistency (and quality naan) the later in the day you visit.
93 Lebuh Chulia: 24hours, seven days a week. Around 10RM per person   

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Hameediyah Restaurant has been open over a century, and serve up South Indian Muslim food – they are especially well known for the murtabak, which is delicious and their range of curries.
It’s a crazy chaotic skinny building but you can head up to an air-conditioned restaurant and order. This restaurant is never going to win any awards for style or cleanliness, but it’s an important heritage restaurant in Penang.
Recently, they’ve announced plans to franchise outlets across the country. So hopefully they will still be able to deliver the same quality in the future.
156 Lebuh Campbell : Open daily lunchtime until 11pm. Closed Fridays.

restoran Kapitan tandoori chicken,  Georgetown.

A chain of South Indian restaurants, Sri Ananda  is spreading across the country. The tandoor is better at Kapitan for me, but they also serve banana leaf curries (look out for the sign ‘daun pisang’ on buildings in Little India) and a decent butter chicken. The Thosai, (or dosa) chef out the front is always busy.
55 Lebuh Penang : 7am-11pm seven days a week. Around 10RM per head

 

Chinese

Sin Nam Huat is a chain, across Penang selling pork, duck and chicken rice. We tried spontaneously due to their hanging meat looking incredible, and it was. It comes with this weird, coagulated meaty soup, which I think is called chai buey – the cooked down bones and leftover cuts of meat with vegetables which for me had too much spice (it upsets me to write this as a chilli fiend)  when eaten with the delicate pork/duck/chicken rice.

They have several branches around the city but this one is clinically clean, and half way between Lebuh Chulia in the heart of tourist-town and Komtar – A good place for those who are worried about food hygiene as I would have happily eaten off the floor in this restaurant.
59 Lebuh Cintra : Opens mornings until 5pm, but the best roast meats will be long gone by 2pm around 5RM per plate.

Tai Wah Café is kind of famous in Penang for their wan than mee but it felt like a homely welcoming kopitiam, lacking a shouty dragon boss lady like a lot of other well-known places. It also seemed to be full of locals who quietly read the paper and slurped their delicious breakfasts.
Basically, for a popular Chinese kopitiam breakfast place it was very very chilled.  The noodles are as close to perfect, the broth is rich and the char siu flavoursome. Everything has a deliciously porky butteriness to it. It Served with shredded roast chicken and gailan.
We’re BIG wan tan soup fans, but almost everybody else was eating the dry, caramelised dark noodles, so perhaps we missed out on their best offering.
Next time, Penang.
84 Lebuh Argylle : open for breakfast, probably finish in the early afternoon. Closed Tuesdays <5M per serve.     

Street food stalls & hawkers

Hokkien mee is one of the Chinese Penang dishes (it’s a Chinese Malay invention, and a quintessential Penang dish) there’s places all over which sell this in the morning, lunchtime and night. We’ve not ventured to any of the reputable morning places (which sell out early) because we prefer to eat it in the evenings. Some Kopitiams and collectives (such as Kheng Pin) will have it at lunchtimes too.
*both of these are available in the evenings*
Most Penangites were pleased with our choice of 888 Hokkien Mee stall, a simple pushcart in a courtyard affair which offers meaty extras like pork belly, rib, and intestines. I really liked the broth, but the shrimp was not generous, looking like it had been through a mandolin.
One local who favours 888 as their go-to Hokkien mee spot said it’s because, the broth is so good, you don’t need the extras, like other places.
The hawker at Old Greenhouse Food Court was not a favourite of the average Penangite but I liked the broth. Also, and importantly whole prawns were bobbing in the soup alongside the egg and crispy crunchy belly pork – that’s love, right there.
Ultimately, I would probably go back to 888, it’s a little cheaper, closer to central Georgetown and it has a dessert cart parked out front too, which dishes up a lot of ABC & chendul.
The lady who runs the place and works the pot, blanching noodles and beansprouts seems to be the only one who interacts with foreigners and amazingly, she doesn’t seem to write orders down.
888 Hokkien mee, Lebuh Presgrave. Evenings only, closed Thursdays, <5RM more with extras.
Old Greenhouse Foodcourt, Jalan Burma. 8pm –4am, closed on Sundays.  <10RM

Char Kway Teow hawker, Georgetown Penang

Teh soon café  is a great place to eat breakfast, brunch and while away some time watching the staff working in this, one of the oldest kopitiams in town. Despite being little more than a shack in an alleyway is full from morning to afternoon close and presumably has resisted calls to upscale for decades.
The toast is thick cut, hand scorched under charcoal and smeared with homemade kaya, served with soft boiled eggs. They also have premade nasi lemak banana leaf pyramids on the tables which are good quality. The thick, Hainan coffee keeps us coming back.
184 Campbell street : Mon-Sat, 8am-6pm; closed on Sun

Pitt Street Koay Teow Th’ng is a pretty busy and ‘famous’ place, selling, unsurpsingly koay teow th’ng (although no longer on Pitt Street) – soft white noodles in broth with soft, homemade fishballs. The broth has delicious little squares of crackling floating about and the soy dipping sauce is laced with chilli, garlic and lime. The fishballs are even made with a ridge, to make it super easy to pick up with chopsticks! Fantastic taste & an excellent value breakfast.
183 Carnarvon street:  8am-4pm although often sold out by lunchtimes. Closed Mondays, 3-5RM.

A collective of hawkers have stalls in the Kheng Pin Cafe known for the lor bak, a deep fried pork table snack and something you must try in Penang. Stalls also sell char kway teow and hokkien mee Amongst others. Don’t sit too close to the lor bak fryer or you and your clothes will be covered in a stinky, greasy film.
80 Penang Road: 7am-3pm. Closed Mondays, around 5RM per serve.

Like Kheng Pin, Kedai Kopi Seng Thor is a hawker collective with Lor mee and wantans in the mornings – Popular for the fried oyster omelette (also known as ‘oh chien’) in the afternoons.
Carnarvon Street: 630am-7pm, 3-15RM.

In the same vein as the previous two, Joo Hooi café, also had a co-operative hawker stall inside and has various dishes. The asam (penang style) laksa was decent, although it could have been spicier. The lady selling nonya snacks including pai tee was great. You can also order Chendul from the stall outside to eat at the booth – 5oSen service charge.
475 Jalan Penang, 1130am-5pm. Around 5RM per item

Asam laksa, sour fish noodle soup, georgetown

Having had no prior knowledge of it, and only really sought it out of curiosity and being one of the favourite meals of a local friend. Bak kuh teh, translates as ‘pork bone tea’ – soy garlic broth with mixed mushrooms, pork rib cuts and assorted offal in an earthy but sweet herbal soup – I have no comparison, but was recommended the hawker at Old Greenhouse Food Court.  It’s a bit more expensive (and easily serves two) than your average Georgetown meal, but certainly interesting… Am I in a hurry to eat it again? Not really, but I’m glad I tried it.
Old Greenhouse Foodcourt, Jalan Burma. 8pm –4am, closed on Sundays.

Dim sum

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De Tai Tong is a great stop for people watching. Old Chinese ladies fluctuate between gossiping and pushing the dim sum trolleys around (which are actual mobile steamers) and bully you into buying more. Dim sum is available all day,- steamed and fried – unlike other places which are breakfast only. They also have a full a la carte menu.
45 Cintra Street, 6am-12midnight.

Tho Yeun Chicken Rice sell excellent dim-sum in the mornings (until it runs out) and chicken rice at lunchtimes. The owners are incredibly attentive and will explain each different piece of dim-sum if you ask questions. Great service, potential to have a very expensive, but delicious breakfast. The Char siu bao & custard tarts are fantastic.
96 Campbell street, 6am-3pm. Closed Tuesdays.

Malay

Curry mee. That sounds like a safe choice, a comforting hawker dinner? Well, yes and no. A Penang variation on the rich and well known curry laksa.
Penang curry mee, is basically a slightly thinner soup base with tofu puffs, prawns, coagulated blood cubes which are kind of set like a jelly (quite nice, honest) and like curry laksa – cockles.
Tuai Pui, centrally located was recommended to me as a place to check out curry mee. The broth is rich and they add mint leaves, which is a nice touch.
Kimberly Street, 9am-5pm.

Penang Curry Mee noodle soup Georgetown

Expect a bit of a wait especially at peak lunch time, if you’re headed to Kota Lama (fort Cornwallis) food court to indulge in Hameeds mee sotong mamak & Jalil Special Ice Kacang Coconut milkshakes from  the sauce is a little on the spicy side but nothing inferno like – Get a coconut shake from next door, which goes great.  Just grab a table in front of the hawkers and order from the roaming staff from each of the businesses. Even if you’re not interested in eating, the coconut shakes (made with coconut water, flesh and some vanilla ice cream) are worth the walk.
Access from Light Street (Kota Lama Foodcourt) 1130am-8pm. Closed Sundays.  3 -5RM

If you can’t make it out of the way to Hameeds (well worth the walk) Sri Weld foodcourt, on the edge of little India also has a mee sotong stall, which although not as good, is worth visiting.
Beach street/Lebuh Pantai, 9am-5pm daily.

Mee sotong

Restoran Kassim Mustapha, Malay buffet style meals, a mixture of curries and vegetables with rice naans and other mamak treats. You can ask the servers for Kandar, or help yourself.
Corner of Lebuh Chulia & Jalan Penang, 24hour.

Cake and sweets

Because everybody loves cake, right?

Rainforest Bakery & Mugshot Café,  French style pastries, breads and a few cakes, good European standard coffee (and prices) in the attached coffee shop Mugshot which also sells salmon & cream cheese bagels.
Lebuh Chulia, 10am-1opm. Closed Sundays.

The Alley is a tiny little coffee shop selling frappes and European style coffees with a trendy young crowd, they also sell cronuts. Yup, cronuts!
5 Lorong Stewart. 12noon-12midnight, Daily.

There’s a tonne of cakey offerings at China House, the food is a mix of western and Asian and relatively expensive, but the cake is great and choices are nearly endless 6-15RM

For me, I’m no local and I think most chendul tastes the same, It’s a nice little sweet treat, great on a hot day but possibility of qualifying one over another? Not a chance for me, so I just do as what is natural to us Brits and join a queue….

Penang Famous Teochow Chendol is a popular choice, it’s also directly opposite a rival – If you order from the cart, you stand around and eat out of a little bowl, but if you go into the Kopitiam next door, Joo Hooi Cafe not only can you get a meal, but you can sit and enjoy the chendol in peace at a table – 50 sen surcharge – they will also deliver it to you and you don’t have to stand in what can sometimes be a huge line!

There is also a unnamed chendol cart outside of 888 Hokkien Mee, which is a good pudding after a spicy, sambal laced dinner and my local confidant told me was one of the best in town…Not being one to do as I’m told, I had the ABC which was also good.

Foodcourts

 

Sri Weld Foodcourtchee chong fun, nasi lemak , mee sotong – everything we’ve had here has been pretty decent, the Nasi lemak (right at the entrance) has a great flavour and the sambal is on the spicier side.
Red Garden Foodcourt – awful, just awful with an Abba cover band in drag.
Old Greenhouse – Hokkein mee & bak kuh teh, worth the effort to get out of the city.
Gurney drive – rojak, asam laksa, wan than mee, nasi lemak & char ke teow – a bit disappointing, in my opinion. The dishes we tried were mediocre by Penang standards.
(Lorong Baru) New Lane hawker Junction – Good variety of stalls, old fashioned pushcarts and plenty of Malay and Chinese options, chee chong fun, congee, popiah, curry mee, char kway teow etc.
Kimberly Street Night Hawkers – char kway teow, Rojak, popiah, satay. All outside Sin guat keong coffee shop – nothing I had here was overly memorable (also we tend to favour rojak & popiah in Melacca, where the flavours are more balanced and less sweet) but a good enough introduction to some flavours if they are new to you.

This is just my findings and opinions based on a few internet searches, local Malay blog sites, word of mouth and wandering around – Every Penang local we spoke to was happy to disclose their favourite places, it takes little to coax a good recommendation out of someone. This is neither definitive, nor complete – Eating in cities like Penang is an exhaustive task and one that is never likely to be completed.
EatingAsia is a great site to read more (and salivate over photos) about the Georgetown food culture and Asian food in general.

There is also so much more to visit Georgetown than just the food, it’s beautiful in every which way, the architecture, the public arts programs and the museums will knock your socks off.
Most backpackers on a standard ‘three months in about seven countries’ kind of trip (that we spoke to) only stopped by for a night or two (and often spent the day in the National Park!) Give yourself a week, explore, endulge and enjoy it.

Phrases worth knowing  

Penang’s a pretty mulitcultural place and English will generally be spoken by almost everyone. But often a few Malay words are useful, although sometimes a grasp of Hindi, Hokkien or Cantonese would be advantageous.

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malaysian street food : Pulut panggang (roasted glutinous rice)

Standard

One of the best things about travelling around Malaysia is the ability to graze. It’s the same in Vietnam, with the entrepreneurial spirit of people who set-up on street corners and cook up something delicious. A business model based on word of mouth, the skill of execution and more often than not I expect, not having any sort of qualification or license to be there.

Pulut panggang is a Terengganu state snack worth finding, the shape is often like a small sausage, wrapped in banana leaf but they can be flat also.

When you see them on the street wrapped up in a charred banana leaf, much like otak-otak, you might be forgiven for walking straight past because it doesn’t look like anything worth stopping for.  But inside is a glutinous rice and dried, slightly spiced fish floss filling. The rice is steamed with coconut milk, which is a much used ingredient in the states of Kuala Terengganu & Kelantan.

IMG_8545

It’s a long, time consuming process to make these as they need to be steamed to make the rice glutinous and chewy, cooled and then barbecued to create a smoky, charred taste, it’s a lot of effort for a very small reward as they sell for little more than one ringgit a piece.

In a linguistic sense, the name means roasted glutinous rice, pulut being the glutinous rice portion and panggang being roasted, although it’s technically slowly grilled on a barbecue.
I asked a friend the distinction between panggang and bakar, which is used in the context of grilling fish (ikan bakar) and making toast (roti bakar)
It’s as simple as panggang is cooking over embers, and bakar refers to cooking over flames.

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