As per my last post (and incessant Instagram activity) I spent last weekend in Penang on somewhat of a pilgrimage to the Mecca of Malaysian cuisine.
It was, quite literally, a veritable feast. Damage was done that 2 short sessions in the gym simply won’t repair, however it was oh so worth it.
To celebrate this, and the inaugural Blog Friday, I wanted to share with you a bite-sized insight into the perfect day in Penang (depending on the volume of your bite).
Breakfast - Nasi Lemak @ Ali Nasi Lemak Sri Weld Food Court
If you wander here in the early morning you’ll see a variety of stalls cooking all kinds of Malaysian goodies, however one line will stick-out. Join it, within 20 minutes (ish) you’ll be able to get your hands on some of the best Nasi Lemak in Malaysia.
This is the perfect way to start the day. Fluffy and fragrant coconut and pandan rice, accompanied by a boiled egg and super-spicy and sweet chilli sambal. This store serves in a bungku (literally wrap) of banana leaf, the heat from the food setting off a chain reaction, releasing the leaf’s oils and adding to the heady aroma. Served with a selection of ikan bilis (fried anchovies), telur masin (salted egg), ikan masin (salted fish), sotong (squid) or udang (prawns) – all great.
1 bungku is RM1.80 (36p), I shouldn’t have to do the maths for you but RM3.60 for 2 (72p). It's a no brainer…
Elevenses - Asam Laksa @ Air Itam Laksa
This is about 30 mins out of the old town. It’s worth the trip on its own, however if you’re really want another reason to come it’s near Penang Hill and the Impressive Kek Lok Si temple. That said, you’re in the wrong place for non-food centric recommendations (see. Lonely Planet).
The bustling stall is part of a road-side market. Here you’ll find an elderly gentleman firing top-quality Asam Laksa at a rate that would put any man half his age to shame. His back nearly doubled over, testament to the long hours put in perfecting his craft. Uncle is an absolute machine.
Check out The Laksa Files for an overview of Asam Laksa, however know that in it’s 60-plus years operating this is the place to sample it. Additional fame granted when Bourdain visited back in 2012 for No Reservations. Some locals will accuse of not being as good as it used to be, however that’s a fairly common complaint for any-where that’s seen success. All I can say is if it used to be even better, I’m investing every penny I have in a time-machine because it’s still one of the most delicious things I’ve had, anywhere, anytime!
Back in town having had a nice walk around some beautiful, but entirely incidental, temple/beach/hill it’s time for lunch.
Nasi Kandar translates as shoulder-rice as it was originally sold from vats that were stung on a long pole they carried across a hawker’s shoulders. It’s now sold as a somewhat intimidating buffet of seemingly endless and mind-boggling variety. Fried chicken, okra and salted eggs, as well as a wide-variety of curries, make up the traditional accompaniment. Intimidation should be fleeting however, as rest-assured whatever you point at will be delicious.
The best way to approach is to ask for rice and a mix of sauce, then add a couple of additional curries and a piece of delicious fried chicken. Just be weary that over excitement, especially if you fall for some of the more premium cuts, may result in a ridiculously (relatively speaking) expensive plate of food.
A plate including fried monster-prawn, fried chicken, mutton curry, squid curry, several veg dishes and a salted egg put me back RM80 (16 quid)… however you’ll probably be less ridiculous. Expect a plate with fried chicken, a couple of veg and the salted egg to put you back more like RM10-15 (2-3 quid).
You’ll be full now. Walk it off.
Nothing ever lasts. Satiation will subside and soon you’ll be succumbing to the smell of something else wonderful that Penang has to offer.
One of these things is Oyster Omelette. This place does one of the best.
Beaten egg, spring onion and a generous helping of oysters are added to shallow oil in a pan. The omelette is agitated, and as it cooks more egg is layered on to the omelette. This results in a omelette that is both incredibly crispy and light in places, while being gooey and soft in others. The oysters and softer egg become almost indistinguishable, however a beautifully contrasted by the crispy egg and bright chilli sauce it is served with. RM13 (£2.57) for a Medium.
Of all the things I ate last weekend. This is the one I’m still dreaming of.
There is only so much walking you can do in 33-degree heat. Should probably sleep this one off.
Dinner - Char Kuey Teow & Satay @ Hawker Stalls
After a restorative snooze and a couple of RM4.50 beers at Antarabangsa Enterprises (a local institution), you’ll be ready for some dinner.
This is the street-food heaven that people imagine when they think of South-East Asia. Plastic tables and stools set up in the street amongst a pungent mix of smoke and burnt spice.
Order a large icy-beer and share between the group to save it from the, still unbearable, heat. Then split up. Each person heading to a different stall to acquire something delicious, whilst someone minds the table.
There are any number of dished you simply must get, however at the absolute bare minimum this needs to include Char Kuay Teow (CKT) and Satay.
Satay doesn’t require too much of an introduction. Meat on sticks, universally loved, universally fantastic. Generally chicken or beef (though all kinds exist) and served with a spicy-sweet peanut sauce. 10 per person is the proper portion.
CKT is fried “rice cake strips” resembling a soft broad noodle. Generally including chicken, prawns, Chinese sausage, spring onions and egg as well as chilli and soy sauce, it’s an absolute icon in Malaysian cooking. All CKT is great, however the mark of a good one is the Wok Hei or “breath of the wok” which is the magical smoky flavour given when cooked properly over a high heat. The fire and smoke becoming integral to the flavour of the dish.
A plate of CKT and 10 satay will put you back about RM14 or £2.80.
After all that you may think I’m mad, however this is Penang.
Go for a few beers, see where the night takes you.
Considering the allure of a Doner Kebab is it so suprising that a plate of Nasi Kandar is almost
irresistible at 1am… perhaps accompanied by a couple of dozen more satay?
You’ll understand when you get here.