The moment we landed at Penang’s International Airport, we knew right away that we’d be in for a culinary treat. Besides the numerous TV shows and write-ups about the city’s food, a brochure along the airport’s corridor confirmed everything, listing each and every dish we needed to sample in Penang and where to get it too! Nifty, eh?!
JOOI HOOI CAFÉ
ADDRESS: 475 JALAN PENANG, GEORGETOWN, PENANG | OPEN HOURS 11:00AM TO 5:30PM | GPS COORDINATES MAP 5.417129, 100.330583
|THE CRAMPED DINING HALL OF JOOI HOOI CAFE|
Jooi Hooi Café was one of the first food places we tried in Georgetown. At the time, we weren’t really aware that this is the place to get your asam laksa and char kway teow fix in the city. It was pure chance that we passed by this hole-in-the-wall at the corner of Jalan Penang and Lebuh Keng Kwee and saw multitudes of people trooping inside. A throng of people lining up, both locals and tourists, on an eatery is an excellent measure on how good a place is.
|KUEH PIE TEE|
The place is packed, the tables and chairs were tightly spaced and it was quite hot inside. We sat ourselves on one end of the café and ordered a bowl of asam laksa, kueh pie tee and kopi ais. We heard so much about Penang’s version of laksa that we were literally salivating as we asked it, we love laksa!
We nibbled on our kueh pie tee, a mix of shredded bamboo shoots and turnips on edible pie tee cups, while waiting for the laksa to be finally laid on our table. We were quite surprised that it isn’t milky at all, like how we liked our laksa, but rather it has a clearer broth with a reddish tinge. It turns out that Penang does their laksa differently, instead of using coconut milk, the soup is flavored with mackerel fish flakes, tamarind (asam), lemongrass, mint and chili, which results to a sour than usual broth.
Unfortunately, we found it to be unsuitable for our taste; it was way too fishy for us. We washed it off with kopi ais (iced coffee), which was smashingly good. I asked a local acquaintance about this, since I was quite disturbed that I didn’t like asam laksa, Penang’s most famous dish. He told me not to worry, as it is indeed, an acquired taste.
MEE GORENG MAMAK STAND
ADDRESS: JALAN MASJID KAPITAN KELING CORNER LEBUH ARMENIAN, GEORGETOWN, PENANG | GPS COORDINATES MAP 5.415467, 100.337116
|THE MEE GORENG STALL AT GEORGETOWN’S LEBUH ARMENIAN|
We first came upon this noodle seller at the corner of Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Lebuh Armenian after visiting the Kapitan Keling Mosque on our first trip to Penang several years ago. Always crazy for mee goreng (Malaysian fried noodles), we ordered a plateful from him. Barely able to speak any English, we used sign language to indicate the spiciness level of our dish.
|COOKING MEE GORENG ON THE STREET|
|MEE GORENG MAMAK-STYLE|
After cooking our lunch, mamak-style, he personally brought our still hot noodles to the nearby benches across the street to where we were sitting. Mamak, by the way, is a term used for Malaysians with Indian descent. It was one of the most remarkable mee goreng I’ve ever tried, and it only got better when a passing vendor sold us a cold bottle of beer.
|THIS GUY HAS BEEN ON THIS SAME SPOT FOR YEARS|
Years later, we came back to this same spot, hoping against hope that this mamak hawker was still in his place. Lo and behold, he’s still there, cooking the very same mee goreng! This old man, apparently, has been selling his noodles at this corner for several years already, rain or shine. Curious, I checked out Google Maps’ streetview of the place, and yes, he’s right there too! We’re definitely keeping our hopes up that we’d see him again on our next visit to Penang.
ADDRESS: PERSIARAN BAYAN INDAH, BAYAN LEPAS, PENANG | OPEN HOURS 7:00AM TO 4:00PM | GPS COORDINATES MAP 5.335568, 100.306280
|ULTIMAXX CAFE NEAR QUEENSBAY MALL|
Lunch became us during one of our outings to see the Penang Bridge near Queensbay Mall along the Selatan Strait. It was noontime as we finished our quick jaunt at the mall and our quicker view of the bridge. Not wanting to eat inside the mall, we searched for a good hawker place and found the Ultimaxx Café just right beside it.
The place, as most hawker centers are, is not air-conditioned. They have the usual plastic chairs and tables surrounded by different hawker stalls selling everything from asam laksa to char kway teow. But after our experience with Jooi Hooi Café, we wanted to try something else other than laksa, like err, fried rice?
|ERR, A NOODLE DISH|
|FRIED BEAN CURD AND TOFU|
|MORE NOODLES, CAN’T REMEMBER THE NAME THOUGH|
We went crazy this time, buying everything that looked good in pictures. I love how the hawkers in Malaysia have photos of the dishes they’re selling; it’s much easier that way for us persiarans, lol. After a few minutes of food spree, we had a total of three full dishes—nasi goreng, and two noodle dishes), a bowl of fried bean curd and two glasses of kopi ais.
Ultimaxx Café might be a bit off radar for food aficionados in Penang, but we had one of our most enjoyable meals in the city right here.
LEBUH KIMBERLY NIGHT MARKET
ADDRESS: LEBUH KIMBERLY, GEORGETOWN, PENANG | OPEN HOURS 6:00PM ONWARDS | GPS MAP 5.416222, 100.332952
|TYPICAL HAWKER STALL AT LEBUH KIMBERLY|
N, a friend from the Philippines working in the city, toured us around the second time we visited Penang. From E&O Hotel where we were cooped up in, we took a quick walk to the nearby Lebuh Kimberly where she said we would have dinner. Again, with zero knowledge about Georgetown, we were quite surprised to see a host of stalls hawking Malaysian-Chinese dishes along the length of the street sidewalks.
|LEBUH KIMBERLY FOOD MARKET AT NIGHT|
|OUR CHOSEN SPOT|
Quickly securing a rare vacant table right on the streetside, she proceeded on ordering our dinner for us along her favorite stalls—seems like she frequent this place quite often as I saw her being chummy with most of the vendors she spoke with (thanks N!).
|FRIED TOFU, BEANCURD AND LOBAK|
After much terimakasih-ing, she plunked a bowl of kway chap—braised flat noodles all over braised pork innards—and a plate of fried tofu, lobak and beancurds on our table. The former looked quite intimidating, with its dark broth and unknown pork parts swimming along the steaming soup, its thick flat noodles didn’t help at all. The fried everything was superb though!
|MEE GORENG STALL|
We also saw hawkers selling mee goreng, but we were, surprisingly, too full from what we ate that we passed off on ordering a plate. Imagine that, eh? More than the food, I guess the charm of Lebuh Kimberly comes from having your fill right along one of the historic streets of Georgetown.
GURNEY DRIVE HAWKER CENTER
ADDRESS: SOLOK GURNEY, GEORGETOWN, PENANG | OPEN HOURS 6:30PM ONWARDS | GPS MAP 5.440006, 100.308950
|GURNEY DRIVE HAWKER CENTER|
One of the most famous hawker centers in Penang is located at the upscale Gurney Drive area. I know, a hawker center on a posh area? Most Penangites really don’t care much for this place, claiming the food here is overrated and quite overpriced. But being the tourists that we are, we simply have to try it out and judge for ourselves (not that we’re good food judges, lol).
|INDIAN ROJAK, WE WOULD’VE ORDERED BUT THE PRICING WAS TOO CONFUSING|
The Gurney Drive Hawker Center is located on a center island in between Persiaran Gurney and a smaller road, Solok Gurney 1. The place is filled by local stalls divided into three sections; Chinese, Malay and Mamak cuisine. It looks relatively cleaner than most hawker stalls in Penang and there are, surprisingly, a lot of locals eating at the tables. Well, so much for what the Internet says.
|FRIED CRISPY CHICKEN SKIN|
For starters, we bought a plate of crisply fried chicken skin, which was quite ordinary, to say the least, while waiting for our bowl of asam laksa and char kway teow. Asam laksa?! Yes, we’re giving this famous Penang noodle soup another try just to be sure we weren’t missing anything.
The famous Penang noodle soup arrived on our table quick enough, and it looked almost exactly the same as the first bowl we ordered years back; reddish soup, fish flakes floating on the surface. With trepidation, we spooned a mouthful and decided that Penang laksa isn’t really for us.
|CHAR KOAY TEOW|
What’s for us though is Penang’s other famous streetfood, the tongue twisting char kway teow. I usually don’t dig thick noodles, but I love this dish, even though I cannot for the life of me pronounce it. It’s basically fried thick noodles set with eggs, bean sprouts and prawns. The flavor is a twice milder than my favorite mee goreng, but I love it all the same.
Indeed, the offerings at Gurney Drive may be quite average, but in terms of selection, you can’t hardly go wrong here. I recommend it for first time Penang visitors who want a good cross-section of what the city has to offer when it comes to food.
TOH SOON CAFÉ
ADDRESS: LEBUH CAMPBELL, GEORGETOWN, PENANG | OPEN HOURS 8:00AM TO 6:00PM | GPS MAP 5.418923, 100.332025
|TOH SOON CAFE, SET ON AN ALLEY BETWEEN TWO BUILDINGS|
During one of those rare hours when we actually went out of our hotel in Georgetown, we found this curious hawker place tucked in one of the narrow alleys of Lebuh Campbell. Toh Soon Café, a sign says. We excused our way in through the tight tables and found us a seat after waiting for a few minutes, this place looks quite popular with the locals, a good indication.
|HOW THEY TOAST IT|
We have absolutely no idea then what we would eat here, it’s just that the crowd attracted us and so did the legitness of its location; we were quite shocked then when we saw one of the staff toast loaves of white bread on the belly of a rusted drum filled with smoldering coals. What the heck did we get into!?
|PREPARING OUR KOPI AIS|
Coffee and toasts, that’s the only thing Toh Soon Café offers, and just look at how they do their toasts! We were flabbergasted! Still, we ordered a batch of those drum-toasted bread, an egg and a couple of kopi ais. It was perfect since we really weren’t too keen on anything heavy to eat.
|TOAST AND EGG|
The toast was wonderfully crisp and was set with what seemed like peanut butter. It went perfectly well with our cold coffee. The egg, on the other hand, was a complete mystery. Set on a cup, it was very, very soft and looked barely cooked; we absolutely have no idea what to do with it.
|KOPI AIS FOR TAKE-AWAY|
Looking around and taking cue from other customers, we saw them gulping the egg straight down. We’re no Rocky Balboa and we ain’t definitely doing that. What we did instead was add a pinch of salt and pepper to the gooey mess and dipped our crispy toasts on it. It may not be the proper way to eat it but it worked quite well for us!