While exploring Balik Pulau, foodies should slip this into their itinerary: Visit the old market to sample the wildly popular assam laksa. If you'd rather stick within the vicinity of George Town, another great place to savour the tnagy noodle dish is Joo Hooi Cafe.
Pasar Air Itam Laksa Jalan Pasar, Air Itam.
Joo Hooi Cafe 475 Jalan Penang, George Town.
Easily the most popular hawker dish among locals and travelers alike, char kuey teow consists of flat rice flour noodles, dark soya sauce, chilli paste, garlic, bean sprouts, prawns, Chinese chives and sometimes chicken or duck eggs. There are more char kuey teow stalls than one can count on both hands (and feet), but you can't go wrong with Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa and Ah Leng Char Kuay Teow stall at Kafe Khoon Hiang.
Kafe Khoon Hiang 358 Jalan Dato Keramat, George Town.
Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa 329 Jalan Burma, George Town.
Every city's inhabitants will wax nostalic about a childhood treat; for Penangites, the said treat would be the shaved ice ball. Basically an edible snow ball, each sphere is handmade by tightly packing shaved ice into a ball and drenching the lot in palm sugar syrup and rose syrup. Eating your ice ball is a messy process, but table manners are overlooked when you're eating at a streetside stall. Most ice kacang stalls also serve this sweet treat, but our go-to is Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul (next to Joo Hooi Cafe).
Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul 27 & 29, Lebuh Keng Kwee
The birth of Peranakan Chinese or Straits-born Chinese also saw the birth of a new food culture: Nyonya cuisine marries Malay and Chinese flavours. Some traditional dishes include jiu hu char, loh bak, Inchi Kabin, Chicken Kapitan and a plethora of bite-sized sweets called kueh. Here are two restaurants to get your fill:
Mama's Nyonya Cuisine 31-D Lorong Abu Siti, George Town (+604 229 1318).
Kebaya Dining Room Lorong Stewart, George Town (+604 264 2333).
Stand up to the challenge and join in the queue at the Nasi Kandar Beratur that will form just beside the Masjid Kapitan Keling by around 9.40pm. This nasi kandar place only opens at 10pm and the queue for it can go meters long. However, an easier choice is Hameediyah Nasi Restaurant. It’s the third generation running the 100-year old family run restaurant today.
Nasi Kandar Beratur Restoran Liqayat Ali, 98 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town.
Hameediyah Restaurant 164 Lebuh Campbell, George Town (+604 261 1095).
Nasi Kandar Line Clear 177 Jalan Penang, George Town. (+604 261 4440).
Shariff Nasi Kandar Istimewa 159 Jalan Permai, Taman Brown, Gelugor (+6017 458 6786).
This unusual snack resembles a fishing net, hence the name roti jala or 'net bread'. Made hot to order, the holey pancakes are popular among cyclists pedalling East to West or West to East up or down the Teluk Bahang dam. Shaded by a large tree, this humble stall at the roundabout on Teluk Bahang Road serves authentic roti jala.
Roti Jala at Belimbing Cafe Roundabout, Jalan Teluk Bahang, Teluk Bahang.
Malay for 'window sherbet', Ais Tingkap derived its name because of the way it's served – through the open window of a humble store on Lebuh Tamil, much like a fast food drive through! The vibrant red drink, which sometimes stains your tongue red, is flavoured with rose syrup, Frankincense (gum resin), basil seeds, malva nut jelly and fragrant pandan leaves. Cool slivers of coconut flesh top off the lot and make for an eye-catching beverage.
Ais Tingkap at Lebuh Tamil Lebuh Tamil (off Jalan Penang).
Here's a popular Malaysian street food that vegetarians and vegans can munch on: triangular or cubed pieces of taufu (tofu) stuffed with julienned vegetables and deep-fried for an optimum amount of time, resulting in a snack with a satisfying crunch and a tender yield. Sri Weld Food Court on Lebuh Pantai does a tasty rendition by chopping the taufu into bite-sized pieces and drizzling the lot with a spicy peanut sauce.
Sri Weld Food Court Lebuh Pantai, George Town.
Huey&Wah has tapped into a niche market in Penang: if there was ever such a thing as a gourmet marshmallow maker, the owners would proudly bear that title! The café has made a name for itself as a purveyor of gourmet marshmallows. Dunk them in hot chocolate, cappuccino, kopi ‘o’, Milo, tea or any of the many hot beverages on their menu.
Huey&Wah, 368-1-14 Belissa Row, Tanjung Tokong.
This old-timer and institution is an open secret among the locals. Adventist Bakery's sticky and satisfying cinnamon rolls sold individually or four in a box are made from wholegrain flour and topped with a generous amount of walnuts and cashew nuts.
Adventist Bakery 465, Jalan Burma, George Town.