In June last year, LC and I along with his mum and sister went on a makan trip to Penang. I think myself lucky to be brought around for good makan by a born and bred Penangite. In a span of 3 days, I’ve had the A-Z of Food Penang albeit some hits and misses.
For the first time
(cue “Frozen’s For The First Time in Forever”), LC has agreed to kick off the review for Food Penang with a coverage of Day 1 & 2, I’ll be continuing with Day 3. Do pardon the difference in writing styles, after all we’re all here for the food 😛
Swatow Lane – Its hard to imagine now the Swatow lane of old; 1 street, 2 sides hating each other; forcing customers to sit and eat from only one side. Ah… the good ol’ days. What you’ll be greeted with a giant big food court, with little hint of the dirty streets and plain metal chairs that once littered the lane; now adjacent to this huge gazebo. Thankfully, the Ice Kacang lady still serves the same joy-inducing amalgamated bowl of red-bean, sweet corn, grass jelly and agar-agar. Personally, I take mine with an extra order of banana, giving that extra balance and texture I feel most Ice Kacang lacks.
The next thing to try here? Chee Cheong Fun. This stall is home to a couple, one grouchy uncle and one not so grouchy wife. The stalls serves many things, varieties of Bah Chang, Otak-Otak, even the Teochew Chai Kueh. Remember, you are here for the best, and that’s definitely the soft, yet incredibly chewable rice flour; sliced into rectangular balls? I apologise for the bad description, but honestly who cares about that when its tastes this good! I like mine not opened and without sesame seeds, finding them distracting from the pure taste of the flour and har kao sauce.
What’s that sinful fried stuff you’ve got there? Oh my, you sharp-eyed foodie! Nothing edible escapes you I see! That’s just Pasembur, a local Indian’s version of salad. All you need is walk up to the store, peruse their openly displayed choice of prawns, tofu, lobak, sotong, and if you’re lucky, crab. When the food arrives, you’ll notice the sweet and spicy nut sauce and a garnish of cucumbers to you know; make it all healthy.
Apong – I’d like to bore you know with some (little?) known trivia. There’s generally 3 types of apong here in Malaysia and to make it easy; separated by our 3 primary races, Malay, Chinese and Indian.
A typical Malay Apam Balik is crispy, sweet, filled with nuts and corn and is laced with butter. The best comparison I could give you to a Western thing would be a crispier version of a crumpet. While I’ve heard of a newer Apam Balik Keropok, where its thinner and crisp like chips. I don’t believe I’ve tried the latter; oh well.. always next time!
The Chinese one is softer, smaller, no nuts although the sweet corn is still there and there’s usually a couple of thinly sliced bananas in the centre. A special mention has got to be the soft, chewy texture and yet slightly burnt, sweet taste that gels together with a sudden burst from the sweet corn; a very different character from the Malay and Indian varieties.
By now you’re probably wondering how could the last one be any different? Served with coconut milk and shaped like a bowl with crispy outsides and a tender, malleable centre; I guarantee you’ll take a liking to this one should be lucky to find an Indian shop that does this exquisitely.
*coughs* Now, before we digressed, this 45 years-been-doing-this (there’s a story to this, but I shan’t bore you with that yet) ah pek has really nailed down the Chinese version. Soft, moist, balanced with then banana and sweet corn and its not too sweet. Perfect ending to any meal! The only problems you might face is that this ah pek is really popular.
Ah Leng Char Kuey Teow – NOW this is real deal; the pièce de résistance of the trip. This bad boy was served with 3 way-bigger-and-tastier-than-KL prawns with an optional mantis prawn that’s increases the price to new heights just for a plate of fried kueh teow. But more importantly, is that creamy, salty goodness that is a duck’s egg; which you can of course change to chicken’s, but then I’d say you’d come all the way for nothing. Watching the chef do the little fry up (or not) and you’ll soon be served with the best plate of char kueh teow. Do take note that this is the original stall at Lorong Zoo Tujuh and not the stall at Restoran Tong Hooi or Kafe Khoon Hiang on Jalan Dato Keramat.
(Audrey) The above photo contains morsels of delicious prawn fritters fried up by a stall located right next to Ah Leng Char Kuey Teow. Not the usual keropok udang that you get in our pasembor but real prawn fritters; prawns dipped in batter and fried to perfection. The prawns were still juicy even after the deep frying, nicely enclosed in their homemade batter. They’re served lobak style with 2 dipping sauces: a thick eggy sauce and a chilli sauce.
Heng Huat Sisters Char Kuey Teow – We just had to do a comparison on what was found online to be “The Best Char Kueh Teow” in Penang. It’s gonna be short and sweet, it pales in comparison to Ah Leng’s. If I were to be fair though, its still streets ahead on KL. Sadly, our capital can’t seem harbour wonderful fried kueh teow.
(Audrey) A special mention to the large juicy prawns, you get about 2 in a plate. Also, do take heed of the sign above though it is very highly unlikely that you don’t order drinks from them – the place is an enclosed, humid kopitiam.
Gurney Drive Food Court – There’s a famous muah chi here; but please don’t be confused with the lady’s one. Its not that good. The old guy’s one has a newspaper clippings (written in Chinese though) on how good his actually is.
Honestly, the Asam Laksa and Prawn Mee are so-so; however the crispy fried chicken skin is a sin thou must try! I don’t bother trying the fried flat mee here cause I’ve better ones above remember? =)
Pulau Tikus market
On the last day of our foodie trip, we dropped by Pulau Tikus market for breakfast. A busy corner kopitiam is located right before a morning wet market so you’ll get the hustle and bustle of the morning trade as you sip your kopi-o.
We had a curry mee as well as soup kuey teow. Don’t let the redness of the oil fool you, it’s actually mildly spicy but rich and tasty. It’s served with taufu pok, prawns, cuttlefish and bits of pork skin and blood cubes. I avoided the porky bits but happily lapped up everything else. The curry broth is not as rich as our KL curry laksa so you still feel good and not overstuffed even if you’ve had the entire bowl to yourself. The kuey teow soup had a tasty broth with silky smooth kuey teow, fish balls and bits of chicken and pork; a lovely and light start to the day.
There is a variety of apam balik served at a mobile stall just outside the kopitiam made to order. The thick spongey texture is hard to come by in KL and this one was very satisfying with a good balance of sweet peanuts and batter. The crispy variety was equally good; the thin, crispy batter crumbled with every bite.
Our last stop was a Teochew Chai Kueh stall at Bukit Mertajam. LC’s family loves this chai kueh so much that there were tupperwares after tupperwares to be filled to bring back to KL. The trip will not be complete without it.
There are 2 variations of chai kueh: Bang kuang (turnip) or Ku chai (chives)
The turnip variation included chopped carrots and dried shrimp. The skin is thin and translucent, not bad indeed. It’s comparable to the famous ones I like from Taman Muda, Ampang.
I didn’t try the chives variation but LC likes it enough. It’s very hard to find good chai kueh even in Penang. The skin has to be thin enough so that its texture is not too tough but thick enough not to break when you pick it up with chopsticks.
That sums up our food trip. One more thing to point out (though completely unrelated to the food post) is the beautiful boutique hotel we stayed at – Noordin Mews. Located at Lebuh Noordin, this quaint but beautiful hotel was a comfortable and interesting stay. It comes highly recommended by all 4 occupants on this trip.
Other reviews/Location links of all the food mentioned are as below:
New World Park, Swatow Lane – Penang Travel Tips
Apong Guan – Thanks foursquare!
Ah Leng Char Kuey Teow – feedmelah.com
Heng Huat Sisters Char Kuey Teow – myopenrice.com
Gurney Drive Hakwer Center – TimeOut.com
Pulau Tikus market – Pulau Tikus Market Hawker Center, Jalan Burma
Chai Kueh – Thanks again foursquare!