It is highly likely Penang comes top of the table when discussing the best places for makan. The recent awarding of a Michelin star rating each to Au Jardin and Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery is good news all around for the foodie-centric island but its real prowess lies in the generations-old skills of its street food vendors. Here are a few to get you started.
If you're up and about early in George Town, mosey over to already-bustling Pulau Tikus, which is also home to Swee Kong Coffeeshop. Located at the corner of Burma Road and Moulmein Close, Swee Kong is as old-school as it gets with small clusters of tables and stools and booth-style seating all crammed into one hot and smoky space.
Start with a cup of Hor Ka Sai, Hokkien for "tiger bites lion", a Taiping-inspired drink that blends coffee and Milo, before tucking into one of the island’s most famous prawn noodles, Hokkien Mee, if you please, to the Penangites.
Should the little ones be breakfasting with you, order them portions of the very respectable (and unspicy) Sar Hor Fun: wok-fried kway teow in an eggy gravy that is studded with meat, seafood and greens.
And if the queues (and the crotchety demeanour of the uncle) at Apong Guan do not prove enticing, try the sweet appams here at Swee Kong instead. Cooked over charcoal in clay pots, the coconutty crepes are best savoured à la minute, with or without a second cup of Hor Ka Sai in hand.
Since one is on an island, make the most of it and drive along the coast to Batu Ferringhi for a bit of sun and salt-tinged air. En route, be sure to stop at one of Penang’s most famous nasi campur stalls at Kedai Makanan Lidiana. Located halfway up a hillslope in Tanjung Bungah and right across the Floating Mosque, Lidiana’s forte lies in its dazzling array of lauk.
The all-round crowd pleaser has always been the black-as-night Ayam Kicap. There is also spicy fried fish and chicken and be sure to load up on the sides. Our suggestions? Sambal terung and four-angled beans kerabu. Oh, and here’s another pro tip: Look out for the little food truck near the main road that sells impressive gorengan, particularly the banana fritters. Come for lunch, stay for tea? What a winning idea!
If you do not feel like a fancy, multi-course dinner at Straits Quay’s popular Sea Queen or the beautiful Richard Rivalee’s Nyonya restaurant downtown and want to continue the street food spree, head over to Viva Local Food Haven, a bustling food court in Tanjung Tokong that is right beside the historic 95-year-old Chinese Swimming Club.
The assam laksa here definitely warrants a few orders, as does the oyster omelette. The only thing to skip would be the lobak. You are better off eating at Kheng Pin Cafe for that.
This article first appeared on Jan 9, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.