Sometimes when we travel, the endless options of new and exciting food can be overwhelming.  Once we find a favorite, we tend to stick to it; however, we wanted to get out of that rut when we got to George Town, Malaysia.  Here’s BJ’s account of how he discovered new foods and what he thought about them!

Guest post by BJ

I read an article on CNN with the top 10 foods to try in Penang, Malaysia (an island off the NW coast of peninsular Malaysia) and had to try them all. Here are my photos of the dishes, descriptions from CNN Travel (in italics), and my take on them.

[1] Penang Assam Laksa:: Assam laksa is so closely associated with the city that it’s often called Penang laksa. The fiercely contrasting flavors of this soup — fishy mackerel, sour tamarind and fiery chili — come together perfectly in assam laksa.  It’s served with chewy white noodles and garnished with fresh mint, shallots, cilantro, cucumbers and sweet pineapple.  You can find assam laksa outside of Penang, of course, but it’s never as sour and certainly never as delicious.  MY TAKE:: Very sour and a bit fishy. I’m not a big fan of tamarind paste and it was prominent. This is very popular but I’m not crazy about it.

Penang Assam Laksa (1)

[2] Hokkien Mee:: It may have its roots in the Fujian province of China, but the Hokkien mee you’ll find in Penang is different.  The soup is a fragrant, fatty prawn-and-pork-bone-based broth served with a combination of chewy yellow egg noodles and thin, white rice vermicelli. Topped with hard-boiled egg, small prawns, fish balls, crispy fried shallots and spicy sambal, the dish is a perfect breakfast food.  MY TAKE:: Quite good. The pork was very tender. The dish was a bit spicy, but not overwhelming.

Hokkien Mee (2)

Hokkien Mee vendor cart (“mee” means noodles)

Hokkien Mee cart

Hokkien Mee dish halfway finished. They have two types of noodles in the dish.

Hokkien Mee after digging in

[3] Wonton Mee:  You’ll find variations of wanton mee, a dish of Chinese origin, all over Asia, but the one in Penang leaves them in the dust.  Springy egg noodles are served al dente with a sticky sauce made from soy sauce and lard oil, with a spoonful of fiery sambal on the side. It’s topped with pieces of leafy green Chinese kale, sliced green onions, pickled green chilies and wontons. The wontons are either boiled or steamed, as you’ll find them elsewhere in Malaysia, or fried, in a unique Penang twist.  MY TAKE:: Delicious dish. The sauce was amazing. I’d love to just put the sauce on rice!

Wonton Mee (3)

Wonton Mee cart at CF Food Court (hawker center).

Wonton Mee cart

Wonton Mee chef

Wonton Mee vendor

[4] Nasi Kandar:  a dish of Indian Muslim origin that’s now a Penang specialty, used to be peddled by men carrying containers full of rice and curry on poles balanced on their shoulders.  Today it’s most often found in small restaurants that spill out onto the street.  This richly spiced meal features various meat curries and gravy over white rice — prawn curry is especially popular….  Absolutely delicious and very affordable!

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The very famous (since 1930) restaurant that is in a covered alleyway. Anthony Bourdain went here and loved it.

Can't miss Line Clear restaurant

The covered alleyway restaurant that is “Line Clear.”

Inside Line Clear alleyway restaurant

Lauren holding up one of the giant shrimp/prawns. Though they were big they were as good as any shrimp I’ve ever eaten.

The shrimp are HUGE and delicious!

The various types of meats that you can put onto your nasi (nasi=rice).

You just point at what you want on your plate of rice and they dish it up.

GIANT shrimp/prawns

The giant shrimp!

[5] Rojak:  A dish that sounds unappetizing but tastes wonderful, rojak is a fruit salad with pieces of fried crullers and topped with a thick, sweet sauce made of black shrimp paste and crushed peanuts. Sweet pineapple, green mango and papaya, rose apples, jicama, cucumber and guava are tossed in to the dark sauce, which has the consistency of molasses.  The combination of sweet fruit and savory seafood is surprisingly good.  MY TAKE:: The sauce was good but I’m not a fan of cucumber, papaya, or green mangos so this wasn’t really for me…

Rojak (5)

[6] Lor Bak: A Nyonya dish that is a specialty of the Chinese of Penang, lor bak is minced pork that has been marinated in five-spice powder before being wrapped in soft bean curd skin and deep-fried. Lor bak is served with two dipping sauces, a spicy red chili sauce and a gravy thickened with cornstarch and beaten egg called lor.  MY TAKE:: WOW, this was the best pork I’ve ever encountered in my life.  It was amazing!!!

Lor Bak pork (6)

The lor bak chef

Lor Bak cook

[7] Curry Mee: Sometimes called curry laksa, curry mee is an amazing spicy coconut curry soup with yellow egg noodles and rice vermicelli.  The soup is rich and a bit sweet; it’s definitely not for calorie counters. Each bowl has at least a few of the following: chicken, tofu puffs, prawns, pork blood, cockles and cuttlefish. Garnished with fresh mint leaves and a spoonful of peppery sambal paste, curry mee is, at its best, transcendent.  MY TAKE:: I once saw a ranking of the worlds best foods and this (also called Penang Curry if spread over rice) was the #1 best food in the world. I must say it was quite delicious!

Penang Mee Curry

[8] Char Kway Teow: A Penang specialty, char kway teow consists of long, flat rice noodles stir-fried in a hot wok with soy sauce, fresh prawns, cockles, scrambled egg, bean sprouts and green onions. The dish is commonly served on a banana leaf and is one of the most popular hawker dishes in town.  MY TAKE:: One of my favorites for sure. What else do I need to say? It’s like a Malay version of Pad Thai.

Char Kuay Teow (with shrimp and blood cockles) (8)

[9] Koay Chiap: This fragrant pork and duck soup is flavored with star anise and cinnamon and filled with the parts of the duck and pig that many prefer to avoid: ears, tongue, liver, intestines, blood.  The rice and tapioca noodles, or koay chiap, are handmade and the soup is served with a hard-boiled egg, sliced green onions and spicy chili sauce. Usually served at night, this is a delicious dish that rewards the adventurous.  MY TAKE:: I don’t even typically eat much meat, let alone organ meat. But this was on the top 10 list so I had to try it. It was actually very good. The organ meat was good and, in all honesty, why would that be any different than muscle meat? The liver was surely my favorite. But the regular duck meat! WOW! [They serve it to you with the chili sauce on top of your chopsticks]
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 Halfway finished, you can see the eggs, organ meat and large/thick noodles.

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Organs! (before being cut up and put into the soup)

???  Something from a pig that went into my Koay Chiap

Koay Chiap chef on Kimberly Street

Koay Chiap chef at Kimberley Street

[bonus] Laksa Lemek. MY TAKE:: A little sweet and oh so good. Those balls are fish balls (reconstituted fish–kinda like a hot dog is reconstituted pork/beef).

Laksa Lemek (sweeter than Penang Assam Laksa) [bonus]

[bonus] Grass jelly with sweet condensed milk drink   MY TAKE:: Very refreshing but I’d rather have milk tea.

Grass jelly and condensed milk drink.  Very good!  [bonus]

It’s very common to get a “to go” drink in a bag which you can then carry around or put on your handlebars of your bike/scooter.

To-go drink (you can drink with only ONE hand)

Mantis shrimp! They have the most power strike in the animal kingdom (AND the best color vision of any animal or insect). I had a plate of them and they were very tender and sweet. Thoroughly enjoyable!

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Roti Canai. One of my favorite things for breakfast ever! Thin Indian crepe with egg. Slightly spicy tomato sauce for dipping. VERY good!

Roti Canai  [excellent bonus!]

Lauren

Lauren

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Current motto: "I'd rather be feeding street dogs."
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