Penang unexpectedly became one of my favourite places in South East Asia. I marveled at the beautiful architecture of its atmospheric old town, the interesting street murals which turned every walk and every turn of corners into tiny bite-size adventures, and of course, at its legendary food. It pains me to say this as a Singaporean, but when it comes to our regional cuisine, Malaysia wins hands down. From street carts to restaurants, in Penang, there always seems to be something to eat. Hunting down the next best thing can become an obsession.
My trip was met with a lot of rain, but it didn’t dampen the mood, nor stop any of these street food vendors out cooking a storm in the alleys of old town Penang.
1. Hokkien Mee
Technically, I had this in Kuala Lumpur, but this can be found in Penang too. This can also be found easily in Singapore, but Malaysia’s version tends to use the thick udon-like noodles giving it an unfamiliar texture. The generous fried pork lard adds much flavor to the char fried noodles, though it may be a nightmare to the health conscious.
2. Char Kway Teow
The most ubiquitous fried noodle in Penang as every store and street seems to be selling a variation of this popular dish. This didn’t taste too different from the ones I am used to having in Singapore.
3. O jian
Another street food staple in Penang, O jian, which means ‘Oyster Egg’ is one of my family’s favorite. This version used charcoal to fry the egg though I think it was just a gimmick. The oysters are plentiful and fresh.
4. Dim Sum
The Chinese community in Penang seems to be predominantly Hokkien, so it was very surprising to find the street where I stayed to house a few restaurants serving Dim Sum, typically served as breakfast for the Cantonese. This restaurant was very popular and it was busy throughout the day, even at night. Eating here was quite an experience, with old ladies pushing down carts along the restaurant isles, recommending us what was good on that day.
5. Kway Tiao Thng
This deceptively simple rice noodle soup (Kway Tiao stands for flat rice noodles) was a good break from all the other unhealthy fried food which I’ve had. This stall was a surprise find, and seems to be extremely popular with locals. The fish balls are made from eels which is rather unusual. This stall also served the best iced coffee I’ve had.
The whole proclamation of its status as a UNESCO heritage site so ubiquitous on display in the old city of Melaka, Malaysia, annoyed the discerning me tremendously. But after witnessing the town, and understanding its significance, I became more understanding. Just less than 4 hours by car from Singapore (where everything new and modern is worshipped), it is remarkable to find ruins so well preserved from the 1700s.
Melaka, with its important role as a port city, changed hands several times in its history. It was first the Chinese; then in order, the Portugese, the Dutch, and the British, before the country finally gains its independence from foreign rule in 1957. The streets of Melaka tells this story well, with architecture styles reflecting each phases of its colourful history.
Modern day Melaka also has plenty to write home about. Jonker street, a great place for antique hunters during the day, shed this facet and became a street for everyone when night falls. From local food fares to the budding tattooist; the first glimpse of moon rays was the catalyst for eager vendors to bring out their goods and wares, lining both sides of the street in perfect symmetry.
And as the following pictures can attest, the city is beautiful at night, rapidly depleting my camera’s battery as I hobbled along into the next dark alley.
The visit to Melaka sparked my interest in Malaysia. I hope to see more of the country in the near future.