Penang street food is famous throughout Malaysia and Penang’s capital city Georgetown is the uncrowned king of this food state. Eating in Georgetown is an adventure. There are so many dishes to try and so many restaurants, hawker centres and night markets to explore. You can tell Georgetown’s inhabitants are proud of their food and they are more than happy to show you their favourite dish.
Lunch at Joo Hooi Cafe
After reading about Joo Hooi cafe, a food centre notorious for it’s Penang street food, we decided to check it out ourselves. We arrived just in time for lunch. People were crowded around the tables inside and outside on the street, others were slurping up their portion of Chendol, a desert made from shaved ice, jelly noodles and other ingredients. Whenever a car tried to pass, it had to drive at walking pace and the Chendol fans slowly stepped aside. We saw one free table at the entrance of this food paradise and the moment we saw it, two other guys saw it too and we decided to share the table. Our table companions turned out to be Georgetown locals who had both studied in Australia and we had a good chat while sampling different dishes. Seafood Popiah, Penang Laksa and Char Kuey Teow. All of the dishes were wonderful. The Popiah tasted fresh and light, with lots of different ingredients rolled into a thin sort of pancake. The Penang Laksa was unlike any Laksa we had ever tasted. Instead of coconut, tamarind was used in this dish that also contains sardines. A unique flavour combination. The Char Kuey Teow noodles were packed with the flavour of prawns and thin slices of salty and sweet Chinese sausage. One of our table mates bought us all egg tarts to end our fantastic meal.
Dinner near the jetties
We intended to just have a cold beer when we sat down at a busy little food court by the side of the road, close to the Chinese jetties. Locals were happily slurping up noodles and eating various food of skewers. Enjoying our beer and the atmosphere we started to get hungry. Because it was peak hour an older couple from Georgetown came and sat across from us at the round table. It didn’t take long before we were chatting about all the good food and where we were from. Looking at their bowls full of Wonton noodles we couldn’t resist ordering a portion too. Meanwhile the couple had ordered a plate full of Satay Celup, skewers with different seafood and meats cooked in boiling gravy. Again we were amazed by the spirit of sharing of the people here as the man offered us various skewers to try. One had little shellfish that tasted quite interesting dipped in the peanut sauce that came with them. Then we tried one with pork meatballs and after that one with fish balls. The wife of the man just smiled at us as we sampled all these foods and we were happy to meet such generous, lovely people.
Beers at the Esplanade Food Centre
After a dinner of Char Kuey Teow and one beer at the Esplanade Food Centre, we had spent all our Malaysian Ringgit. It was our last night in Malaysia and we had to get up early the next morning to get to Thailand so we were about to head back to the hostel when it started pouring rain. Everyone rushed to find a dry spot and huddled together and we sat and looked at the rain from our table that was just under cover. After a while an older man started talking to us. Since the rain was still bucketing down and we were all stuck there waiting for it to stop, the man offered to buy us some beer. We declined but he insisted seeing we all had to wait anyway. As the rain persisted we drank another beer and chatted about life and how wonderfull it was to share this moment together. The man was a local from Penang of Chinese decent. At sixty-five years old he had had an interesting life. From time spend in prison to surviving serious illness he was now living mainly on charity. An hour and about 6 beers later the rain had stopped and we had to part ways. Meeting this man and listening to his stories had made a real impact on us and slightly tipsy from the beers we made our way back to the hostel, grateful for this special encounter. Maybe the man was right and we were meant to meet each other that night to share a moment together and learn from each other.
It’s all about food and travel
Our experiences in Georgetown once again showed us how important it is to try local food when you are travelling and how food brings people together. Eating is not just about filling your belly. It’s just as much about the social aspect. Taking the time to sit down with others and share stories and food is absolutely an essential part of travelling and of life. Sampling the Penang street food and sharing it with locals was a fantastic experience. Penang, we will be back!