The recent suggestion by the Penang state government to ban foreigners working as main cooks at hawker stalls has raised concerns over falling standards in the Malaysian state’s food heritage. But, if my eating trip there in May is any indication, there is still plenty of good hawker food to be found.
Here are some of the delicious food we discovered on the trip:
SIAM ROAD CHAR KOAY TEOW
Corner of Jalan Siam and Jalan Anson (seating in Hock Ban Hin Cafe)
Open: 3pm - 11pm (closed on Sun)
Promptly at 3pm, you see the old stall owner pushing the cart to set up stall on the roadside opposite Hock Ban Hin Cafe (Jalan Anson, Georgetown, 10400 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia).
You make your order and sit in the coffee shop for his assistant to run across the busy road with plates of aromatic freshly fried noodles. Each plate is fried from scratch, and the rice noodles are slightly springy.
Be prepared to wait, as a queue starts forming even before the stall opens.
And here’s a tip: According to a friend from Penang, the first few plates are not as good because the wok isn’t hot enough yet.
PITT STREET KOAY TEOW TH’NG
183 Lebuh Carnarvon, Georgetown, 10100 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Open: 8am to 4pm (Tue - Sat), 8am to 1pm (Sun). Closed on Mon
The kway teow soup here would have been rather ordinary if not for the fish balls.
They are handmade from eel and have a nice springy texture, not the bounciness of factory-made balls. They also have a delicate sweetness that is quite different from normal fish balls.
The noodles, which you can also order as a dry version, comes with freshly boiled pork slices and lettuce leaves as well. Small pig intestines are optional.
PENANG ROAD FAMOUS TEOCHEW CHENDOL
Outside Joo Hooi Cafe, 475 Jalan Penang, Georgetown, 10450 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Open: Mon to Fri 10.30am – 7pm; Sat & Sun 10am – 7.30pm
The chendol is sold from a stall in a small lane called Leboh Keng Kwee, just off the main road.
But you don’t have to eat it standing on the street. A few units down is a shophouse with tables and chairs where you can sit in comfort.
I find the icy dessert good but not exceptionally so. But, it's so famous that it has become a must-visit stall for visitors to Penang, judging from the many photographs of celebrities taken there that are hung on the walls.
Seng Thor Coffee Shop, 160 Lebuh Carnarvon (Kimberley), Georgetown, 10100 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Open: 1pm – 5.30pm (day off is not fixed)
This is one of the most established and famous oyster omelette stalls in Penang, and it’s easy to see why.
The oysters are among the plumpest I’ve seen in this dish and cooked just right, so that they remain soft and juicy.
The egg and starch mix, on the other hand, is fried till crisp.
It is a little oily but since that’s what makes it so good, it would seem peevish to complain.