"Wait, isn't this Burmah Road?"
"Argh, I knew we should have turned right!"
That's Penang for you, well for us anyway - a maze of roads, too much to eat and too little time. With hopes of leaving the directions to the GPS navigator shattered very early into the trip, we had to rely on the age-old practice of winding down the window to ask for directions from the neighbouring car at each set of traffic lights. It's amazing how many times in a row one can take the same wrong turn - on hindsight, perhaps having 4 women scream directions in the car isn't exactly ideal.
Needless to say, we were an extremely hungry crew by the time we found our hotel and settled on a place to eat. Ah, but the delicious smell of laksa and the sound of the kuey teow being expertly fried was worth every wrong turn.
I've always thought of Penang as the land in which the hawker is king. With stalls that have been around for generations and hawkers whose names my grandmother remembers, it's a matter of getting to the right places to eat, or in our case, trying to stumble upon them. While I will not attempt to advice on the best places to eat in Penang (I expect that much debate goes on about that), I will share with you some of my favourite hawker dishes.
Clockwise from top left - char kuey teow, prawn noodles (or Hokkien mee, in Penang), laksa, loh bak
Char kuey teow is a little lighter in colour in Penang than it is everywhere else in Malaysia but it's lack of colour definitely doesn't translate to a lack of flavour. My brother is a big fan of prawn noodles and after getting over the initial confusion of it being called Hokkien mee in Penang, he promptly gave the Penang version a thumbs up. I'm all for assam laksa as well because really, how can one resist the robust flavours of the tangy broth? I'm a loh bak lover, true and true - the spice-laden pork rolled in crispy beancurd skin, the other little crispy pieces that get piled on top and the slices of century egg that add that extra bit of texture. Dunked into that special sauce, I could have it as a meal on its own.
Clockwise from top left - chee cheong fun, pie tee, sar hor fun, yam cake.
My absolute favourite, however, is the cendol. There's something about the cendol in Penang that is more flavourful - perhaps it's the more generous helpings of gula melaka, or the creaminess of the coconut milk. The cendol and ais kacang never failed, no matter where we went. While not pictured, the muar chee sold in the hawker area along Gurney Drive get's a special mention as well. Penang, with Gurney Drive in particular, was where a 5 year old me first fell in love with the soft, sweet, peanut-y, chewy delight that is muar chee. Cut into tiny pieces, rolled in the peanut-sugar mixture and served warm, it's different from the usual muar chee balls that we tend to get and oh-so-good.
The choices seem endless with everything from oyster omelettes to mee rebus. Decisions are tough and we somehow always ended up with far too much to eat. With that said, it's key to pick the right places to go though as some of the hawker areas aren't the most hygenic of places and the last thing you'd want is for a bout of food poisoning to put a damper on your holiday.
They say that a family that eats together stays together. I think we've definitely got that covered.