It’s only a few months since I got back from Malaysia but I have such great memories of my trip there I couldn’t help but share some more. A real highlight was George Town in Penang. When you arrive at the airport you are greeted by what looks to be a giant golfball. It turns out this is actually supposed to be a giant pearl, a reference to George Town’s name “pearl of the Orient”. Over hundreds of years as a gateway to what used to be known as the Orient, George Town has become a unique cultural and culinary mixture of Malay, Indian and Chinese.
Widely regarded as the food capital of Malaysia in George Town it is all about the hawker markets. Even locals find it hard to keep up with the street food in George Town so I know I just scratched the surface in four days in the city but these are the places I discovered:
1. Apam telur at Pulau Tikas
Meat-and-Three-Veg and I got our first taste of the hawker markets at our cooking class with Pearly Kee where she took us around the Pulau Tikas wet market which also turns into a hawker market at night time. We started our day off with thick triangles of apam telur topped with nuts. Fluffy and rich they were like a Malaysian version of a crumpet.
2. Satay skewers at New Lane
That evening we caught a cab to New Lane which is Georgetown’s most famous hawker market area. It was impossible to resist the smell of satay skewers grilling and they are a bargain eat at RM4.50 for five. Love how your plate is piled with heaps of raw red onion as well – just to make sure there’s no post hawker market kisses!
3. Char Kway Kwak at New Lane
Also at the New Lane markets we tried out the Char Kway Kwak, one of my favourite Malaysian hawker dishes. The star ingredient here is the “kway kwak” or small pieces of cake made from rice flour and white radish. Stir frying the dish and noodles in lard gives it an amazing taste.
4. Oh Chien at Batu Ferringi
The beach side Batu Ferringi hawker markets are more touristy than the markets in Georgetown itself but they were right outside our hotel, the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang and still offered plenty of cheap and good eats. You just have to search out the Malaysian food from more dubious offerings including “sausage and mash” and “Western style food”. It was here that I had Oh Chien (RM6) for the first time. Oh Chien is essentially an oyster pancake which is sticky and slightly gooey. This version was delicious and runny although there were a few bits of oyster grit and shell in the pancake which you probably wouldn’t find in a top notch version.
5. Kung pao chicken Golden River
A recommendation from Sarah Cooks led me to Golden River in Batu Ferringi. While it’s not strictly a hawker market, I’ve included the restaurant here as it’s housed in what looks like an open air carport with appearance wise nothing to distinguish it from the nearby markets. Despite the plastic chairs and open air kitchen Golden River serves up some of the best Chinese food in Penang. Kung Pao chicken ($10) was laced with fiery red chillis and doused in a thick, rich sauce. The best dish was the house special of eggplant ($8) rubbed with a spicy mixture and then deep fried to deliver moreish eggplant chips. Certainly worth a trip to Batu Ferringhi, the restaurant is located on Jalan Sungai Emas just opposite the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang.
Gourmet Travel Tips
- I flew to George Town from Langkawi and then on to Singapore with Air Asia. Flights were the equivalent of $50 and the flights took less than an hour from Langkawi.
- I stayed at the amazing Shangri-La Rasa Sayang, on the outskirts of Georg Town.
- In George Town we spent our time poolside, eating, exploring the old town and we did a cooking course with Pearly Kee.