apom manis, asam laksa, chai, char kuay teow, chendul, chicken wings, curry mee, dips, dosa tissue, Food Tour Malaysia, Food Tour Penang, Georgetown, laksa, lorbak, Malaysia, murtabak, nutmeg juice, Penang, pohpiah, prawn fritters, satay, tea, umbra juice, watermelon juice, yam
One of the great joys when travelling is exploring and tasting local foods.
And when in Penang on holiday we wanted to try as much street food as possible. We chose Food Tour Penang to take us on a culinary food journey through the capital, Georgetown.
I organised everything via their website and email before we left, and had excellent communication, checking with us about types of foods we like, what we’ve tried, and how adventurous our eight-year-old son would be!
Our group of five arrived early at the pre-arranged meeting point and our guide for the night met us there on time. I was pleased to meet Kevin, as I had read excellent reviews about him on Trip Advisor. We jumped into his air-conditioned car and headed off to our first destination.
Driving through the streets, many of which are one way, we really got a sense of the history of this place, with British colonial and Asian influences.
In 2008, this rich architectural and cultural history resulted in Georgetown being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But unfortunately many beautiful old buildings have deteriorated, a shadow of their former beauty. This historical architecture is juxtaposed against the new modern developments; hotels, shopping complexes, apartment blocks and more.
The first place Kevin took us to is famous for its chendul – since 1936. Chendul is a bowl of shaved ice, with coconut milk, green pandan noodles, brown sugar and red kidney beans.
There are two locations where you can buy it: inside the restaurant where you can also buy other food, or outside at a street stall, which sells only chendul; when we arrived just after 5pm there was already a long line up at the street stall. Just a couple of meters away on the other side of the road was another chendul stall, but no one was buying from there! We only waited a couple of minutes for a table at the restaurant, and as this place was full of locals, you know it’s a good place to eat at!
But before we try the chendul we’re excited to learn we’re going to have our first ‘Penang’ asam laksa. Most laksas I’ve had are coconut milk based, but this one was made with asam – tamarind paste – and is sour. Other ingredients include noodles, fish sauce, onion, pineapple, cucumber, sardine and yellow gill fish. It was sour and salty and full of flavour. Maybe not what we were used to, but quite enjoyable. Luckily we shared bowls of this – I knew we had a lot more food to come.
The chendul followed on nicely… It’s cold and sweet and the noodles are soft, with the beans offering a bit of resistance. Lots of a different flavours and textures all at the same time. Kevin tells us people come from far and wide for this chendul.
We jumped back into the air-conditioned car and headed to our next stop, close by – the Chinese Clan Jetties. This area dates back to the 19th Century and there are many homes built on stilts out over the water, with their own jetty. Currently there are six clans living here and it was only in the 1950s that modern facilities were established for them.
Here we enjoyed the hospitality of the Tan Jetty, where we tried Lorbak (a pork roll marinated in five spices), prawn fritters, tofu fritters and their own special sauce made up of chilli, lime, garlic and ginger. While sitting here eating, many locals stopped by for ‘take-away’; if you buy a certain amount of food you can receive a free bottle of the special sauce, which is not sold on its own.
Further down the road at another street stall we also tried deep fried yam, and sweet potato fritter with peanuts. Both a little different, but all deep fried foods – and all tasty. Back into the car for the next destination – the reclaimed lands. Here, many locals congregate and it’s a haven for some beautiful food stalls and lots of motorbikes! Here we had one of our favourite dishes for the night – apom manis. It’s just like a crepe, made with flour, sugar, eggs, with coconut milk in the centre. The woman who makes them has been doing so for 30 years, using a clay pot, over hot charcoal.
When cooked, the coconut milk takes on a baked custard consistency. The apom is warm and soft with a crunchy outer rim, and melts in your mouth! I could have eaten more than one, they were that scrumptious.
We also tried another couple of deep fried dishes; carrot cake and rice cake with shrimp. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside!
A sweet dish we tried was soft bean curd with brown sugar, which is served warm. This was very sickly sweet and it felt unusual eating this warm – either it should have been cold, or we should’ve been in a cooler climate to enjoy it.
Back into the car and off to our ‘main course’ – a cluster of food stalls.
We had curry mee, a spicy hot noodle soup, my favourite char kuay teow, wild boar meat satays, bbq chicken wings, and pohpiah (a soft spring roll stuffed with turnip, rolled and cut into pieces).
There was so much food to try and our tummies were getting full!
To drink we had nutmeg juice, which tasted like a type of cola drink, umbra juice, which was a little tart, and our son enjoyed watermelon juice. We managed to try a piece of the umbra fruit, which looked a little like cucumber, but it was incredibly bitter and I didn’t like it much. On the way to our final destination of the night Kevin pulled over briefly and grabbed us some Chinese steamed rice cake with brown sugar and coconut, to try. This is so beautiful and soft and full of coconut flavour!
Our final destination was a vegetarian Indian restaurant. First we tried pulling tea, a cold iced tea, which was very refreshing. My husband had chai, which he found to be very authentic and unlike some of the ‘fake’ chai he’s had in cafes in Australia. We had dosa tissue, a very light crispy wafer, which we broke off and dipped into the five dips; yoghurt, dahl, fish curry, tomato chutney and spicy chutney. These ranged from cold to very hot and spicy! But all full of flavour. And finally, murtabak, a stuffed vegetarian pancake; warm and crispy.
Nineteen dishes later we were stuffed! We had a fabulous night with Kevin hosting us and explaining the foods and culture of the different areas of Georgetown. I would thoroughly recommend this tour, especially as they take you to places you wouldn’t normally try.