If you haven’t been on a Penang food tour, you haven’t really visited Penang!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Georgetown, in Penang, Malaysia may be most commonly recognised by many for it’s famous street art, but the thing that it is truly most famous for, and for good reason – is it’s FOOD! In 2014 Lonely Planet ranked Penang 1st in a list of 8 of the world’s culinary hotspots. In 2016 Forbes Magazine ranked Georgetown 1st among the 10 best budget travel destinations. In 2004 Time Magazine gave Penang the title of having the best street food in Asia. And this is why a Penang food tour in Georgetown is a must when visiting Penang!
As we were visiting Penang with kids, we wanted to find a food tour in Georgetown that was child friendly, and that is exactly what we got with Delish Asia. And so much more! We opted for the Local Market & Food Walking Tour in Penang as we had done a similar food tour in Kuala Lumpur and all seven of us simply loved every moment of it.
From the moment Joy, our host, picked us up from our hotel, we were met with warmth and enthusiasm. As she drove us to a local market in the heart of Georgetown, she spoke about the history of the area including the culture and background behind the food we were soon to be sampling. She was an absolute wealth of knowledge and so passionate about Georgetown, Penang and Malaysian food in general. By the time were arrived our mouths were already watering and we were filled with excitement about what was to come.
The market was amazing. Colourful, noisy and full of life! As we made our way through the narrow paths lined with all manner of fresh fruit, vegies and delicacies, Joy held two of our children’s hands, pointing out various interesting items for sale. After picking up some fresh, hot curry puffs, we made our way to a little area, referred to as a coffee shop, at the back of the market. As we sat at one of the many tables and began devouring our curry puffs, Joy headed over to one of the food stalls in the coffee shop area for some more delicacies. The curry puffs were incredible. The pastry melted in our mouths and the curried potato filling was a subtle mix of sweet and savoury with just enough spice to have a kick to it but not blow your head off. All of the kids loved them, even our 2 year old!
Joy returned to our table with an amazing selection of Malaysian dishes. My favourite, and possibly still now my favourite Malaysian dish of all, was the Char Koay Kak – a dish exclusive to Penang. The dish consists of cut up rice cakes fried with a delicious dark sauce and served with bean sprouts mixed through. We also sampled Ban chiang kueh – Asian griddle pancakes filled with crushed peanuts, sugar, and either sweet corn or sliced bananas. The kids in particular thought these were incredible and now ask for them at every Malaysian market we visit.
This was followed with some sweet bread toast covered in butter and sugar, accompanied with half-boiled eggs. At first I thought it quite an odd looking pair of dishes, but when Joy took a piece of the toast and dipped it in the egg, it all made sense. So clever and so yum! We washed our food down with a cold Milo drink before heading back in to the market to sample some fresh fruit. We tried Jackfruit and Chiku (Sapota). Both quite unusual to our palates, but so yum. The Jackfruit especially – now a firm family favourite when visiting South East Asia! The vendors in the market were all so friendly and chatty and Joy was wonderful, showing us so many interesting items we had never seen or heard of before.
From the market, we headed on foot to a traditional Peranakan Cafe. The Peranakans, also known as Peranakan Chinese, were Chinese immigrants and traders who married Malay women and adopted many Malay customs including their way of cooking and the ingredients they use. It was quite a small shop, with small tables and stools spotted around. Just as I was thinking “Where are we all going to sit?”, the owner walked to one of the large, elegant wooden panels that lined the wall, and began to lower it. And suddenly there was a table large enough for all of us. So cool! In the cafe we sampled a variety of kueh – an Asian version of steamed cakes, as well as fried dough fritters dipped in chicken curry. There were incredible and despite already being so full, we devoured everything! Along the back wall of the cafe was a long table lined with all manner of sweet Asian treats for sale. Before leaving, each of the children chose one to bring home for later.
From the cafe, we jumped back into Joy’s car and headed back in to the heart of Georgetown for our final stop. After walking through a couple of narrow, bustling city streets, Joy led us in to a small, modest restaurant, hidden out the back of a quaint little shop front. The air was filled with the most incredible sweet and spicy aromas and we knew immediately that we were in for another amazing treat. And what a treat it was! We sampled three absolutely delicious dishes, both very popular and important meals of Penang. The first was Assam Laksa – a spicy, sour dish made of fat rice noodles cooked in fish broth, tamarind juice and peel, garnished with lettuce, cucumber, pineapple, ginger torch flower, mint leaves and chilli. Joy explained to us that it is a traditional Malay fishing dish inspired using the leftovers of fish, vegetables and fruit. The Peranakans further enhanced the dish with the addition of the ginger torch flower.
The second dish, another favourite of the day for us all, was Char Koay Teow – fried flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, clams, Chinese sausage and eggs. We learnt that Char Koay Teow is essentially a Chinese fisherman dish. They would usually fry their noodles with dark and light soy sauce, adding common vegetables such as bean sprouts and finish the dish with any leftovers from their catch that day, such as clams and shrimp.
Our third dish was Popiah – something we had tried once before on a food tour in Singapore. These Chinese style fresh spring rolls are made with a very thin crepe-like sheet made from dough cooked on a hot griddle. The crepe is then filled with fresh, shredded vegetables as well as various meats, sauces and garnishes. So healthy and so delicious. By the end of these three dishes we were all beyond full. It had been the most wonderful tour. We had all learnt so much about Malaysian, and in particular Penang cuisine, and all seven of us enjoyed the food immensely. The kids were actually sad to say goodbye to Joy. She had been so lovely and fun and they had enjoyed the tour even more than I expected them to.
For anyone heading to Penang with kids we cannot rate DelishAsia highly enough! And for anyone heading to Penang without kids, we cannot rate DelishAsia highly enough! Seriously, whoever you are, whoever you are travelling with, whether it’s your first visit or your fifth, do yourself a favour and book a Penang food tour with these guys! You will learn, eat and enjoy yourself so very much!
Disclaimer: We were sponsored guests of Delish Asia. All experiences shared and opinions expressed in this article are our own.