Kiwi food YouTubers Thomas & Sheena Southam are on an eternal quest to find the most delicious local food the world has to offer. This week, they check out the best cheap eats in Penang.
If you're visiting Penang, prepare to be charmed. George Town, where most travellers choose to base themselves, is full of whimsical street art and captivating architecture reflecting Penang's colonial past.
You'll find yourself spending days just wandering the streets, soaking in the history and gleaning a bit about local life. You'll want to walk because when you're not you'll be eating.
Penang's food culture is a diverse mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Nyonya cuisine and street food dominates here: you'll often find third or fourth generation hawker stalls selling the same dish their forefathers perfected eons ago.
There's lots to see in Penang and much to be eaten. Here are a few dishes not to miss:
1. Loh bak at Tan Jetty Prawn Fritters & Loh Bak
The George Town waterfront is lined with clan jetties, each home to local families of the same name. Tan Jetty is a stall you'll find yourself returning to throughout your time in Penang. This family specialise in loh bak: a deep fried pork roll made up of roughly minced pork wrapped in a bean-curd skin. Dip pieces of the juicy pork roll in the homemade sweet chilli sauce - which you'll be tempted to drink by the cup, it's so good. This is street food at its finest!
Eat it at Tan Jetty Prawn fritters & Loh Bak, 90-A, Pengkalan Weld, George Town, 10300 George Town. Open daily 8am-6pm.
2. Assam laksa at Penang Air Itam Laksa
Assam laksa is another Penang favourite which you've got to include on your eating itinerary. Jump in a Grab (the local equivalent of Uber) and head to Air Itam township, home to a lively wet market. Here you'll find Penang Air Itam Laksa, a popular stall which serves up a laksa worth the trip out of George Town. Ladles of piquant broth are poured into bowls with bouncy thick rice vermicelli, lettuce, onion, pineapple, cucumber, chilli and mint. The broth, laced with tamarind and flaked mackerel slaps you around the face with its bold flavours. A must eat when you're in Penang!
Eat it at Penang, Air Itam Laksa, Jalan Pasar, Paya Terubong, 11500 George Town. Open daily 10.30am-7pm.
3. Char koay teow at Siam Road
Char koay teow is a Penang specialty: rice noodles, prawns, cockles, eggs, bean sprouts, chives and lap cheong (Chinese sausage) are all tossed in a searing hot wok with the best dishes distinguishable by their "wok hei" (breath of the wok): that smoky, charred flavour that infuses each bite. The best char koay teow in Penang is undoubtedly the one made by Tan Chooi Hong on Siam Rd. The uncle's stall was ranked 14th in the World Street Food Congress awards in 2017 and since then wait times have soared from the already lengthy 45 minutes to a couple of hours. Two hours wait for a plate of noodles? It's a long time, but worth it. one of the best plates of noodles we've ever eaten.
Eat it at Siam Road Char Koay Teow, 82, Jalan Siam, George Town, 10400 George Town. Open Monday to Saturday 12pm-7pm.
4. Putu Mayang at Pulau Tikus wet market
Wet markets are some of the best places to explore the local food culture and you'll find loads of delicious breakfast options at Pulau Tikus wet market. One of our favourite snacks is freshly steamed putu mayang or string hoppers. The delicate rice noodle pancakes are flavoured with pandan (a tropical leaf with vanilla notes) and topped with shredded coconut and brown sugar. Light, sweet and oh so moreish.
Eat it at Pulau Tikus wet market, 3, Jalan Pasar, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town. Open daily, head there in the morning.