Glorious food: Chinese cuisine

Popular Chinese dishes at street stalls and hawker centres:

Bak Kut Teh

Pork ribs and other pork parts marinated and cooked in rich chinese herbal soup, eaten with plain steam rice or special yam rice. This dish is served with fresh chopped garlic in thick dark soya sauce and red slice chilli. Do not forget to order eu char koay, fried puff bread sticks which goes well as a side dish. Bak kut teh is popular for breakfast and for supper.

For the best bak kut teh in town (in no particular order): Carnation coffee shop, Gurney Drive for breakfast and lunch; coffee shops along Dato Keramat Roadin the evenings; and street stall in Rangoon Road in the evenings.

Bak Chang

Steamed glutinous rice with soya sauce wrapped in bamboo leaves and stuffed with pork, mushroom, dried prawns, salted egg yolk or just white beans. Oily and high cholesterol delight which is a specialty during the Bak Chang festival (fifth moon of the chinese calendar). Available all year round at roadside stall in Swatow Lane in the afternoons. Prices range from RM2.50 to RM5.00 per chang.

For the Nyonyas they have their own version of chang – pua kiam tea. Still made of glutinous rice but the stuffing differs from that of the traditional bak chang. No soya sauce is being used leaving the chang white.

Dim Sum

Translated literally means “to touch your heart”. Many beautiful variations of small steamed dumplings made with pork or pork ribs, and dough with meat and prawn fillings. Try also chee cheong fun, broad sheet rice noodles rolled and steamed with prawns, served with light soy sauce. This breakfast fare, it is now available in the evenings as well. Price differs from restaurant to street stalls, depending on the number of variations consumed.

For the best dim sum in town (in no particular order): Tho Yuen at 92, Campbell Street; and coffee shops along Chulia Street, Kimberly Street, Gottlieb Road, Anson Road and Bali Hai at Gurney Drive.

Dumplings or pau

Dumplings with meat – the chinese version of the American burger. Other variations include sweet paste instead of meat. Best eaten when warm. Available at most coffee shops.

Char koay teow

The original recipe was said to have used only garlic and soya sauce with lard and was rather popular among labourers. The high fat content and low cost of the dish made it attractive to them as it was a cheap source of energy.

Char Koay Teow

Today, this plate of flat rice noodles has succulent prawns, a handful of bean sprouts, seeham (cockles), a few slivers of Chinese waxed sausage, a dollop of ground chilli paste, kuchai (garlic chives) and an egg, all fried up with chopped garlic in a large spoonful of lard and some good black soya sauce. Click here for full story.

Chee Cheong Fun

Broad sheet rice noodles rolled and steamed. Eaten with sweet sauce and sesame seeds. Super cheap snack for RM2.00 to RM3.00 per plate.

There ia a stall at the New Lane hawker centre which serves chee chong fun with curry and cockles in the evenings. Taste good and different.

Curry Mee

Wheat base mee in spicy coconut curry soup, garnished with beansprouts, prawn, cuttlefish, cockles, beancurd and mint. Price per bowl: RM3.00 to RM4.50 .

For the best curry mee in town (in no particular order): Corner coffee shop in Lorong Seratus Tahun off Macalister Road in the mornings; hawker center opposite of the Ayer Itam market in the marnings; hawker centres at New Lane, Bangkok Lane and Gurney Drive.

Fried Oyster

Oyster omelette with spring onions and mixed sauce. High cholesterol goodie for the brave hearted glutton. There is only one stall in Penang that stands tall when compared with others here in Penang. Situated in Carnarvon Street, he sells only in the afternoon and you must taste it to believe it. Also available at most hawker centres.

Hokkien Char

Fried wheat base mee with dark soy sauce and strips of meat, prawns, liver and vegetables. Goes very well with sambal belacan.

Hokkien Mee

Wheat base mee in a special prawns and pork bones enriched soup garnished with beansprouts, kang kong, prawns, egg and pork. Another popular dish for RM3.00 to RM4.50 per bowl.

For the best hokkien mee in town (in no particular order): Coffee shop along the Ayer Itam bus terminal in the mornings; hawker centres at Gurney Drive and New Lane.

Jawa Mee

Blanched noodles served with tomato based gravy, garnished with beansprouts, potato, beancurd, egg, prawns, deep fried flour paste and sprinkled with groundnuts. The fried version is also availble on request at most places.For extra kick squeeze in a little lime juice. Price per bowl is about RM3.00 to RM4.50 .

Joo Hoo Eng Chye

Steamed cuttlefish served with hei tay (jellyfish), kang kong, sesame seeds, groundnuts and sweet sauce. About RM5.00 to RM8.00 per plate for two persons. Available at most hawker centres.

Koay Chap

Special rice noodles (different from koay teow) is sed in this soup based dish which is served with duck meat, beansprout and egg.

Koay Teow Th'ng

Rice noodles in savoury soup with beansprouts, fish balls and slices of chicken. Another popular dish for RM3.00 to RM4.50 per bowl.

For the best koay teow th’ng in town (in no particular order): Opposite of the Ayer Itam Police Station in the mornings served with slices of pork, mince pork, liver and fish balls; Coffee shops in Hutton Lane, most hawker centers and New Lane hawker centre served with duck meat.

Lok Lok

Lok lok means "dip dip", a hawker version of a steamboat dinner. A wide selection of fresh uncook food such as seafoos ranging from cuttlefish to crabsticks, meat and vegetables are dipped into a central pot of boiling soup to cook. The cooked bits of food is eaten off the skewer after dipping into a nut based sauce and the cost is calculated according to the number of colour coded skewers used.

Char Hor Fun

Rice base noodles cut thicker (koay tiau) mixed with bee hoon, fried with garlic and dark soya sauce topped with thick gravy and strips of meat, prawns, liver and vegetables.

Prices for both dishes range from RM3.50 to RM5.00 per plate.

Wan Tan Mee

Cantonese egg noodle served with soup or “dry”. Garnished with pork or wan tan – shrimp balls wrapped in thin dough, vegetables and char siew, strips of sweet grilled pork meat. Try the green preserved chilli. It goes well with the noodles. About RM3.00 to RM4.50 per serving.

For the best wan tan mee in town (in no particular order): Corner coffee shop in Pulau Tikus opposite Church of the Immaculate Conception in the mornings and hawker centres at New Lane and Gurney Drive.

Chinese gourmet cuisine at fine dining restaurants

Chinese gourmet cuisine is widely regarded as one of the world's finest and the fine dining establishments in Penang mostly serves this cuisine in its authentic form with recipes handed down from their Chinese ancestors. In general, there are four main influences in Chinese gourmet cuisine originating from the different regions of China – Hakka, Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew.

With its roots in the imperial palace and filtered down to the private homes of the rich and powerful and to the restaurants where the privileged entertained, Chinese gourmet dining tends to be lavish and opulent affairs with 8-course and 10-course menus. Shark's fin soup, Peking duck, Beggar's chicken as well as abalone, scallops and fish maw inspired dishes are some of the more popular choices among the locals.

Chinese fine dining restaurants in Penang are popular for banquet functions such as weddings and anniversary celebrations or business lunches or dinners where deals are clinched and favours curried.

But for the occasional diner who just wants to have a treat, Chinese gourmet cuisine is still very much affordable with a la carte choices or set menus.

List of restaurants serving Chinese cuisine (in no particular order): Golden Phoenix at Hotel Equatorial; Maple Palace at Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah; May Garden at Penang Road; Starview at 341, Jalan Dato Keramat.


PUTIEN restaurant © Adrian Cheah

We started our dinner at PUTIEN restaurant at Gurney Paragon Mall with the Starters Platter which had an assortment of four PUTIEN delights. They were cold pig's trotter jelly, seaweed with mini shrimps, braised pig intestine and braised bean curd. The cold dish of pig's trotter jelly topped with a dark chilli paste was packed with flavour and collagen. I enjoyed this dish very much.

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Kuih Ee (glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup)

Kuih Ee © Adrian Cheah

Traditionally, Kuih Ee (tong yuen) is served on special occasions such as during weddings and the Winter Solstice Festival (sometime during the end of December, about a month before the Chinese New Year). These days however, Kuih Ee is available daily in Penang from certain hawkers in the Pulau Tikus and Ayer Itam markets in the morning.

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Ti Kuih to sweeten the words of the Gods

Ti Kuih © Adrian Cheah

Ti Kuih (sweet sticky rice cake) in Mandarin (nian gao) literally means ‘year cake’ which also echoes the sound of rising abundance or prosperity for the coming year.

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