Penang Assam Laksa
A proud signature dish of Penang, Assam laksa is a rich and spicy, fish-based soup noodle broth of tamarind juice, chilli paste, lemongrass, topped with prawn paste and mackerel/sardine flakes. It has a tangy, wholesome flavor from the tamarind which some may find it too overpowering.
I believe it falls under the category of acquired taste where you would appreciate the rich broth more with each spoonful. They are normally served with either white or yellow noodles, while some stalls have a choice of thick or thin bee hoon.
Rojak is considered a colloquial representation of variety and mixture. Commonly found in Malaysia and Singapore, it is a salad of bean curds, fritters (you tiao), bean sprouts, cuttlefish and assortment of fruits covered in a thick syrupy peanut sauce. Freshly tossed with pineapple slices so sweet you would widen your eyes in surprise.
The sauce of the Penang rojak I had at Gurney Drive was such an eclectic delight I could not figure out what their secret ingredient was.
Char Koay Teow 炒粿條
A familiar dish for Singaporeans. Char Koay Teow is a national favourite in Malaysia and Singapore. Of Course, Penang has their fair share of famous char koay teow stalls with their own signature taste. What I appreciated most from Penang-style Char Koay Teow is the flavor of ‘wok hei’ , and the freshness of the ingredients. Also, going for the duck eggs option did give a richer taste to each mouthful of noodles. I can’t vouch for Lorong Selamat’s Char Koay Teow to be the best in Penang, but it is definitely worth a visit.
Lor Bak 卤肉
A variety of deep-fried seasoned strips of pork loin meat wrapped in beancurd skin, dipped in bowl of starchy braised sauce (Lor 卤)- the penang version tends to be on the sweeter side. Other Lor bak ingredients like fishcake, egg, sausage and tofu are also available in the mix.
These meat rolls are similar to the Hokkien ngoh hiang using the unique aroma of “five-spice powder.” A whole plate of fried goodies may be overwhelming but it is still a pretty good choice for a mid-day snack or late night supper sharing dish.
Another Indian Muslim dish that was claimed to originate from Penang, fragrant rice topped with different curry-based meat or vegetable dishes of your choice. Covered in similar fiery-red orange but the curry for each dish actually did taste different. Do beware as they use their chili and spices very lavishly. There is a whole street selling Nasi Kandar around Little India of Penang, along Lebuh Queen and Lebuh Chulia.
Oyster Omelette / Oh Chien 蚝煎
Fried Oyster Omelette, or also known as Oh Chien in Hokkien, is a popular street food you can find all over Penang. What really sets it apart from say Singapore’s version is the fresh oysters used, and the fried rice flour batter and eggs that produces a lighter, crispy finish rather than being overly gooey and heavy.
The accompanying chili is on the sweet side though, and I still prefer Singapore’s spicy sour chili that comes with the oyster omelette. Just the fragrant eggs batter and plump oysters alone will be enticing enough to finish the entire plate though.
Penang Teochew Chendul/Chendol
How can anyone forget the famous dessert in Penang. A bowl of shaved ice filled with chewy green rice flour jelly (chendol), red beans, fresh coconut milk and a splash of gula melaka (brown sugar) syrup.
It is easy to spot the famous store for there is a never-ending queue outside Joo Hooi Cafe. Also, it is rather fascinating looking at the speed of preparation by the vendor. The quality however may not be as consistent – during the second trip there, the coconut milk tasted diluted and there was not enough gula melaka. This ice cold dessert is nonetheless a wonderful respite from the blistering tropical heat.
Mee Goreng is an Indian Muslim dish. The famed Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng presents a substantial plate of noodles with generous portions of cuttlefish, potatoes and beansprouts. It is stir-fried with a tangy concoction of tomato, chilli and soy sauce. This would be a pleasure for those who favor quantity over quality. Nonetheless, a plus point for fancy display of wok skills and rhythmic tossing of noodles.
Wanton Mee 云吞面
Penang-style Wanton mee tends to use a firmer, springier egg noodle and is tossed in a cleaner tasting sweet-savoury dark sauce. The mee is then topped off with lean char siew slices and boiled pork wantons. You can order this in a soup variant as well, but I’d recommend the dry version to truly savour the intricacies of each stall’s sauce recipe.
The selling point between each stall is really how well the noodles are made and cooked, how much flavour is packed in the sauce and the quality of wantons. Penang style wanton mee is markedly blander than Singapore or even Thai style wanton mee even though origins are similar.
Curry mee is extremely popular in Penang, with a high number of stalls offering their own The most basic curry mee however always contains a few main ingredients like a mix of yellow egg noodle and vermicelli, prawns, cockles, cuttle fish, tofu balls and pork blood (which is banned in Singapore by the way), which is all doused in a sea of curry gravy.
The accompanying sambal chili is usually a critical factor in adding spiciness and that addictive kick with every sip of curry.
There is also a Penang White Curry mee variation, which adds coconut milk to the curry for a fuller, slightly sweeter flavour.
Prawn Noodles (Hae Mee)
Hokkien cuisines are known to have a more intense and richer taste, thus expect the same from Penang Hae Mee. (Sometimes, people get confused because both prawn noodle soup and fried versions are call “Hae Mee”.) The broth is usually in a shade of orange, cooked by boiling prawn head and pork ribs for many hours, topped with deep fried shallot.
Also stylized as Apam or Apong, Apom is a thin crepe-like snack with a soft flour centre. It is normally sold as street snacks by both Chinese and Indian vendors. There are multiple variations of Apom; an addition of egg, bananas, coconut shreds or even brown sugar to the flour centre. These options diverse enough to keep customers coming.
Each crepe is freshly made in a pan using traditional methods over charcoal fire. Apom is a sweet snack that could be enjoyed by all ages.