OK so Penang is ultimately a tourist town. Its been preserved and promoted as a UNESCO World Heritage site for good reason; it’s cute, it’s fascinating and most importantly, it’s very yummy. You occasionally get some hipster backpackers complaining of touristy places like this, that it’s not “real” or whatever. So maybe it’s well polished, but who cares? Get over yourselves and enjoy it! Here are my top…5? I’m lazy. And yes, most of them will probably be food oriented.
NUMBER 1 – Chendul
I just ate this. It’s amazing. They have similar desserts throughout SE Asia and to be honest I usually avoid them because they generally looks like a big gloopy sugary fluorescent mess in a bowl. The chendul recommendation however paid off. This particular sweet tooth fix consists of green (coloured from pandan leaf), rice flour noodles with coconut milk and palm sugar poured on top of shaved ice which they literally grind down from huge blocks of in front of you. Sounds horrendous, tastes unforgettable. Find the famous Teo Chew stall at the top of Lebuh Keng Kwee where it meets Penang Road.
NUMBER 2 – Hot Puthu
Oh dear number two and another dessert. But they’re just that good! I have to thank Jeremy who is currently residing in Penang as a food tour guide for this one. Hot Puthu is a fantastic concoction of coconut crumbly goodness. The lady on the corner of Lebuh China and Lebuh Penang (from 5pm until she runs out) steams up these delicate cakes of rice flour and shredded coconut (apparently she grates 60 coconuts a day!) and tops them off with some sort of caramelised brown sugar and more freshly grated coconut. Top tip – amazing as cold leftovers for breakfast.
Clearly I am coconut obsessed – remember this one?
NUMBER 3 – The Blue Mansion (Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion)
Admittedly sometimes I get drawn to buildings because they are simply stunning to look at regardless of their historical importance. This one however has an excellent dose of both. On a spontaneous rickshaw ride around Georgetown, my charming driver Ali pointed out this mesmerising cornflower blue house on the corner of Lebuh Leith and Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah. The creation of the famous Chinese rags to riches entrepreneur Cheong Fatt Tze holds an intricate combination of Chinese, British and Dutch design and an incredible story of the intriguing original proprietor and his family.
NUMBER 4 – Nasi Kandar
More food. Come on, this is pretty much the capital of foodie culture in South East Asia. Nasi kandar is a Malay dish from Penang which basically consists of a decent helping of steamed rice and whatever curries and side dishes you fancy piled on top – kind of like curry pick and mix! Lebuh Chulia (also known as backpacker street) has a wide range of offerings for decent nasi kandar experiences, but the most famous (and oldest in the whole of Malaysia) is at Hameediyah on Lebuh Campbell. This is my best effort so far from Kassim Mustafa (Lebuh Chulia): prawn curry, curried vegetables, steamed okra, a couple of spicy sauces and a side of coconut sambal.
NUMBER 5 – Ambra juice
With all that food you’ll need something to wash it down with. The Islamic culture here tends to keep beer drinking at bay unlike in other parts of Asia, so the best way to quench your thirst has to be this bright green liquid with loads of ice and a cheeky salted plum at the bottom. Ambra is a tiny green fruit with a similar taste to a green apple and an addictive sweet sour flavour.
I could write more and more about the variety of fantastic food on offer here. If I stay in this town any longer, they will have to air lift me out of my hostel. Just come and discover it for yourself. Oh and by the way, stay at Cocoa Mews. Such a cute place with the friendliest and most helpful staff in the world – thanks Arthur and Howie for all the tips and advice!