Glorious food

Penang food © Adrian Cheah

Having a reputation as a food paradise, be it haute cuisine, or cuisine bourgeoise (hawker fare), Penang offers a heady and exotic mix of delicious cuisine to choose from.

In a word, Penang food is both famous and fabulous. When people mention Penang food, they are more often than not referring to hawker food and coffee shop dining. It is true that some of the hype is overblown but it cannot be denied that Penang is home to many uniquely delicious chow. Ironically, hawkers in other states or towns have been known to pull the crowd by simply advertising their food as hailing from Penang, regardless of its authenticity or quality. Then there are the Penang hawkers who advertise their cuisine as specialties from another state, like Johor bak kut teh, Ipoh chicken and bean sprouts or laksa Kedah. In short, an infinite variety of dishes are yours to savour – all you need do is pick and choose.



Penang food © Adrian Cheah

Penang hawker food can be broken down roughly into several varieties, with each being attributable to Penang's multi-cultural character: Nyonya, Chinese, vegetarian, Indian, Malay, Hakka-styled Western, seafood and desserts. Hybrids are also known to exist, and some famous examples are Malay style chicken rice and char koay teow, and Chinese satay and nasi lemak. Prices are cheap and reasonable.

Penang food © Adrian Cheah

With fishing being a major economic activity on the island, Penang is naturally a haven for seafood, and a handful of restaurants have already achieved legendary status among locals and foreigners. Tucked away in remote corners, these eateries are not easy to find without local guidance but are definitely worth the extra effort seeking out.

Penang food © Adrian Cheah

Desserts play a major role in Penang gastronomy. There are as many varieties as there are races in Penang! To mention a few would do injustice to the rest, so you would just have to let your nose and eyes be your guide. A word of warning though – most local desserts tend to be sweet and rich, as coconut milk, flour and sugar are main ingredients.

Penang food © Adrian Cheah

Thanks to early Chinese migrants, Chinese cuisine ranges from Cantonese to Teochew to Hokkien to Hainanese to Szechuan cooking. There's also Penang Nyonya food, which is a combination of Chinese, Malay and some Thai. The Penang variety of Nyonya food, apparently, is different from the Malaccan or even Singaporean versions. For a touch of luxury, try a five or ten-course Chinese meal at one of the restaurants or hotels in town.

Penang food © Adrian Cheah

Indian cuisine goes by two names generally – banana leaf rice and nasi kandar. Both are hot and savoury with rice being the main staple, and a menu from north Indian tandoori and nan bread, to South Indian rice and capati.

Nasi kandar is famously popular with Penangites, and many restaurants selling it are well known not only to those on the island but those in other states as well. It is quite common to find people from other states detouring to Penang just to stop for a meal of nasi kandar before continuing on their journey elsewhere...

Indulge! Savour!

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Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah © All rights reserved
Updated: 6 March 2019


Half Acre Restaurant, Taiwanese flavours in Balik Pulau

Half Acre Restaurant © Adrian Cheah

When you talk about Taiwanese food, fried stinky tafu, scallion pancakes, oyster vermicelli, minced pork rice and pearl milk tea come to mind. However at Half Acre Restaurant, you will not find any of these popular Taiwanese street food. On the other hand, you would be treated to strong Taiwanese flavours that are aggressively herbal with deeply umami.

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Sea cucumbers – back to nature cures

sea cucumber © Adrian Cheah

Marine life in Malaysian waters is full of many natural wonders. Among them is the humble sea cucumber. Locally, it is known as 'gamat' in Malay and 'hai som' in Hokkien. It is scientifically called holothurians, a class of the phylum echinodermata.

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Traditional and avant-garde Asian cuisine at Maple Palace

Maple Palace © Adrian Cheah

Chinese New Year celebrations which last for 15 days offer an ideal time for family reunions as well as to catch up with old friends. When my classmates from Han Chiang High School decided to have a mini class reunion, Maple Palace was our top choice. The restaurant serves mouth-watering cuisine that is both traditional and avant-garde at the same time. It also offers festive Chinese New Year dishes synonymous with good luck and prosperity. On top of that, the quality of the delicacies at Maple Palace has been consistent throughout my visits in the past.

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CHINESE CUISINE AT PUTIEN

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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La Vie's splendid cuisine to celebrate life's treasured moments

La Vie Penang © Adrian Cheah

Appetisers are delicate petit morsels which tantalise our taste buds to increase our appetite. A well-planned menu would select appetisers that would coordinate and lead up to the flavours of the main dishes in a meal. In short, appetisers should give you an idea about the main course. Great appetisers put you in the mood; they get you excited about what else lies in store for you. We started our dinner at La Vie with an alluring march of four appetisers – crispy unagi, prawn salad, crab meat croquettes and clams in Thai-style sauce. Such an incredible quartet that kept us clamouring for more.

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Que Huong Toi Enterprise, a quaint eatery serving pho-nomenal Vietnamese food

Penang Vietnamese food © Adrian Cheah

I love criss-crossing Penang on my motorcycle because it avoids two major headaches – traffic jams and parking problems. Thus, it is easy for me the head down to Que Huong Toi Enterprise which is located a stone's throw away from my office to slurp up a bowl of delicious phở bò (Vietnamese beef koay teow soup).

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The Ferringhi Garden Restaurant: great dining within an oasis 

Ferringhi Garden © Adrian Cheah

The Ferringhi Garden Restaurant has an amazing lush garden filled with flowers in full bloom. Even before looking through the menu, we could not resist taking a few photographs of its tranquil and beautiful dining ambience.

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The elegance of Japanese cuisine at Miraku

Miraku © Adrian Cheah

One country that truly elevates food to an art form is Japan. When dining at Miraku you would be able encounter such an art form as soon as you are served, so much so that you are compelled to feast with your eyes first. Here, food preparation is such a delicate craft that it is pursued with passion and executed to perfect artistry.

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Truly authentic, truly Thai at Chili Head

Chili Head © Adrian Cheah

Chili Head Social Bar and Eatery, a cool and hip Thai restaurant overlooking the beautiful marina at Straits Quay serves excellent authentic Siamese food. Here is a place where Thais themselves would love to eat.

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Middle Eastern offerings at Halab in Chulia Street

Halab, Penang © Adrian Cheah

Halab, tucked in a bungalow along the bustling Chulia Street in the heart of George Town offers authentic Middle-eastern cuisine. It is no surprise that the Syrian and Arab communities in George Town frequent Halab, forming their base clientele alongside Penangites and tourist visiting the island.

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