May 23, 2020

The Food and Drink I Had in Penang and other Travel Stories

If you are a student of history and culture, there is a high probability that Penang Island came across your readings. For me, it was a word of mouth that landed me to several webpages and books about Penang. Food and cross-cultural diversity are the common themes of my readings about Penang. True enough, Penang is so rich in culture and history and you'll notice that through their food, streets, buildings, and through the common people walking on the streets of Penang. 

One of the best things in Penang is its Coffee Culture. Coffee shops are everywhere! This one here is The Daily Dose Cafe in Muntri Sreet.

In this article, I will show you the food and drink I had in Penang + my story about it. I spend 8 days in Penang, Malaysia during my 2019 Christmas Holidays break. So I ate a lot but I will show you only the food and drink that I like the most. 

Disclaimer: I am not a food critic nor an expert, this how I experience them in my own personal tongue.

Char Koay Teow 
This is my first meal in Penang and this is the best Char Koay Teow I ever had. Because of its popularity, this noodle dish is available all over the world but nothing beats this one. That's my opinion, K bye....


Char Koay Teow consists of rice noodles, shrimp or chicken, egg, togue, and some spices and sauce. I guess the wok did its job too - according to my friend that's what you call the "spirit of the wok" - as if the wok has its life passed down from generation to generation.

This is what I observe in Penang, those selling in the makeshift stores sometimes have the best dish, not just in Penang but all over Asia. This one here only cost RM6.00 or USD1.40 - that's a treat! My usual budget for a usual Southeast Asian meal is somewhere USD4-6 per meal.



Here, I made a video of how the uncle cooks the best Char Koay Teow!

  


Nasi Lemak
This is my second breakfast on my second day in Penang. The aroma and picturesque table full of Nasi Lemak invited me for another breakfast. Wrap in banana leaf or not, there is no way you cannot try this one - like its a crime not trying it? This is the freaking national dish of Malaysia! 


Nasi Lemak is very common in Malaysia's neighboring country - meaning they all have versions of this. Like in Singapore for instance... but oops... don't even mention that. They will say that it's not traditional. 

Well anyway, Nasi Lemak is rice cooked in coconut milk with pandan, I supposed, to make it more aromatic. On top of it is either chicken, fish, egg, or both. What I like the most is the one with anchovies.  


In this hawker place in front of Bishop Street along Beach Street, Nasi Lemak cost around RM2-3, a great deal for a full meal. 


Penang Laksa
Laksa is another signature dish in Malaysia. This thick sour soup is made rich by fish broth and various local vegetables and spices. 

For some reason, I am not a fan of fish broth dish but I saved all the courage to taste this one because I know that Laksa is a signature dish in Penang. The soup was so sour which added to my agony but the smokey flavor after allowed me to taste the sea and the scent of the alley in the jetties. I could sense the authenticity of the spices and broth used in this Laksa. It's so far from what I used to have (usually with coconut milk). 

Verdict, I liked it but not so much... lol. Tap me on my back for trying...

  
Egg and Durian Tart
A quick snack in the heart of Chinatown is this egg and durian tart. It wasn't part of my plan to have a tart since it's everywhere in Asia as long as there is a Chinatown but I couldn't resist the aroma + the rustic shop of the old Chinese lady. 


A bonus street art at the back of the pastry shop.

Prawn Mee
When I toured around Penang with my rented bike, my agenda was to check out most of Georgetown and eat as much food as I can. At the market, I parked my bike and saw this one restaurant full of people. I could not distinguish locals from tourists except if they are caucasian. The aunty waved at me pointing to the picture and saying "eat?"


"Yes" I said. She went inside and tried to find a spot for me, but she failed. She then asked for my order and I just pointed the picture in the cart. She told me to wait. In less than 5 minutes, she came back smiling leading me to my seat at the corner. 

Her Prawn Mee was so great. It was spicy with the tanginess stays on my tongue. I like the tick broth and noodles with prawn and chicken strips. 

I like this better than the laksa. Oops! Sorry, laksa lovers...


Stingray
After my Penang trip, stingray has new meaning to me...


The picture above shows that the world still has a spirit of friendship and goodness. 

I was biking along Love Lane when I saw this family taking pictures on the street. I gave a nod and smile to the guy wearing a red T-shirt and he immediately smiled back. A few meters away, I decided to rest and sit on a bench. I parked the bike in a good spot to take a photo of it. 

A few minutes later, the family came over and the guy in red, his name is Mr. Choo, smiled at me. He asked about the bike, the usual tourist exchange of questions and then we talk about our lives. His daughter Sab, gave me chocolate that I really like :) 

They were touring a "somewhat" Japanese exchange student, I forgot her name lol but her IG account is puuuu_23m. 

After a long talk on the street, Mr. Choo invited for lunch and I was like, really? "Sure that would be nice" was I think my response. He told me about the restaurant but I couldn't locate it in Google Maps because the saved map on my phone does not include that area. I knew that they were really sincere in inviting me when the mom, sorry I forgot her name, offered me her mobile data so I can pin the restaurant in Google maps.

We parted ways for a moment and I was awed by the encounter. 

On my way to the restaurant, I saw Mr. Choo on the street waiting for me. He thought I might not see the restaurant. 

He brought me to Teksen Restaurant. Later on, I learned from my friend based in Penang that Teksen Restuarant is one of the finest and famous restaurant in Penang.  


It turned out that I am not the only guest of Mr. Choo. He's meeting his old colleague and family. It was a fun experience exchanging stories with them. This is what travel is supposed to be, strangers, talking together, and be friends.    


 The food served was all Penang dish which is a fusion of traditional Malay, Indian and Chinese food. All were very appealing to my taste. We had a little exchange where Mr. Choo tells me the name of the vegetables in Malay and I tell them the equivalent name in Filipino. Not surprisingly, there are similar vegetable names. 


This is the reason why stingray symbolizes friendship and travel to me. It was my favorite dish among the food served and now it reminds me of Penang more than anything else. 



Chicken Biryani
How could I not like Chicken Biryani with mango smoothie?

Very Indian dish but people in Penang perfected it. It was my last formal meal in Penang. If you happen to be in Penang, make time to visit Kapitan to have a plate of chicken biryani.  


3rd Wave Coffee Experience in Penang 
I'll do everything just to have a good dose of coffee especially in a new city to me. Ironically, the bitterness of the bean makes my life sweet. We need a dose of bitterness to experience that sweetness in life. To make it simple coffee makes me happy. 

Penang, just like Chiang Mai, has this great coffee culture that will invite you, oh no, hypnotize you to just sit and sip that brown to dark drink while enjoying the aroma of the shop. A good pastry is a fine addition too. 

Iced Coffee in 2F+ Coffee Roastery's Signature Ice Coffee


I wanted that experience in my memory bank thus I planned to spend two days in Penang sitting in a cafe working or writing. I fell off the first, I had a productive 2 days in Penang beating deadlines back home. 

Hin Bus Depot

Coffee Rescue 3rd Wave Coffee




Penang is not a place that you will just visit once. It doesn't have that super major tourist attraction like in other Southeast Asian destinations because the island itself and everything in it is the destination. If you ask me what are the attraction you should not miss in Penang, probably I could not give you one. I wouldn't tell you Georgetown neither the street arts. Its the fusion of experience - the food, coffee, people, and the combination of it. 

If you are the type that just wants to have the freedom to randomly stroll the streets, talk to the locals and tourists, eat unfamiliar food, and be lost! - you'll get what I mean by Penang.