When you talk about Penang, food is not a topic that is easily overlooked, specifically hawker food. Frequently named as a must-visit destination for foodies – and placing 1st in Lonely Planet’s 2014 food destination list! – Penang has a large offering of hawker food which owe their roots to the rich history and multicultural status of the state.
There is no questioning the taste of Penang’s various delicacies, but there is room for comparison when it comes to similar dishes under the hands of different hawkers. The general rule is to follow the crowds – stalls with hordes of people flocking to them are the best bets. Personally, I’ve followed this rule several times, but sadly had my expectations dashed by “so-so” or subpar dishes. There were undoubtedly great dishes with deserved audiences, but I was surprised that some places weren’t getting more attention for their delicious dishes.
So, I’ve decided to introduce two places serving iconic dishes of Penang hawker food – laksa and char koay teow – that are underrated despite their unique flavours.
Mimi Nyonya Laksa (Thursdays only):
Tucked away in the corner of Wisma Central’s ground floor is (look for name of stall). With daily specials including assam laksa on Mondays and nyonya food on Tuesdays, its nyonya laksa on Thursdays are superb and – in my opinion – the best I have ever tasted on the island so far. A variety of fried rice, hokkien char and belacan chicken are some of the dishes available on its daily menu. They offer free delivery for 15 sets and above.
Each bowl of nyonya laksa costs RM4 and is strictly through prior phone order only. The broth of the nyonya laksa is cooked with coconut milk, but is surprisingly refreshing and savory. An assortment of fresh vegetables such as timun, pineapple and kacang botoi are paired with thin rice noodles to form a splendid contrast of textures and flavours. The broth is quite spicy, but the taste is definitely worth the sweat and the tears. (Feature image Miss Mimi Koe, courtesy of penangtapestry)
Phone: 019-472 3311
Lim Fong banana leaf Char Koay Teow:
Located next to Penang Chinese Swimming Club (not to be confused with Penang Swimming Club) is a large hawker centre called Viva. Keep your eye out for one particular stall – Lim Fong banana leaf fried koay teow – and you will stumble upon a delicious meal of char koay teow not subpar to the more famous stalls in Lorong Selamat or Jalan Carnavorn.
What I love about this char koay teow is that it’s oily and salty in just the right proportions, making it an incredibly savory dish minus the oiliness so often associated with its counterparts. Thin koay teow is used in the dish, and I am glad to note that the prawns used have been fresh thus far (though you may need to chance it once in a while). It sells at RM5 per plate, cheaper or equal in price to other famed char koay teow stalls in Penang, but it is definitely not lacking in the taste department.
Sometimes, the best foods are just around the corner.