For most people visiting Penang Island, their top-most to-do agenda is to savour the local delicacies such as Penang Kuey Teow, Hokkien Hae Mee, Assam Laksa and local desserts such as cendol and ais kacang. Favourite eating places include those around Pulau Tikus and the Penang Road area.
In a recent visit, the notorious “Penang Belly” got the better of me after checking out my favourite Indian mee goreng stall. So I had to take it easy on the local roadside stalls and focussed more on the alternate cuisines that Penang has to offer.
There is another more interesting and rewarding (for the palette that is) aspect of Penang cuisine that is not common knowledge. With the status as UNESCO world heritage site, the new generation of Penangites have taken to exploring and enhancing their cuninary skills to cater to the ever-increasing number of tourists visiting their little island. This is in the same spirit that the Peranakans (as the Straits-born Chinese are called) adopted when faced with the new and alien environment when they first arrived in Penang.
For breakfast, head directly to Urban Daybreak. They serve breakfast from 8am till 11:30am and you can try great fusion breakfast concoctions such as Hash and Eggs and Stout Pulled Pork with Poached Egg (see picture below). Located right in the tourist belt, it is certainly worth a detour to quench your hunger and thirst after a good day of sight-seeing.
Another must-visit spot is China House a stone's throw away. Touted as the longest cake house in Penang, China House is a gold mine for the budding Instagrammer. There are nooks and crannies hidden around every part of the long shop house and there are photogenic spots everywhere you turn. And oh, the food there is to die for, and the specialty is the tiramisu.
The spread of pastries and cakes is mind-boggling and many of the servings are huge by normal standards. And while you are at it, be sure to try out many of the drink concoctions to wash down the delicacies.
For the more artistic, there are crayons on every table to draw out your creative doodlings.
Whilst on the topic of hipster, Instagrammable spots, one of the more notable ones frequented by the locals must surely be Corner Keng.
Located at the left-most corner of Precinct 10 in Tanjong Tokong, this very local food outlet comes with a unique interior decor of tall ceilings. There are enough props and seating spots to attract and house all budding Instagrammers.
When in Penang, digging into the fresh and sumptuous sea food is something not to be missed. But with so many less-than-authentic restaurants sprouting all around, which do you choose? Well, for that, it is best to ask a true blue Penangite (my Grab driver actually). His answer? Ocean Green Restaurant!
Be sure to try the mussels, the chicken satay as well as the spring rolls and teochew noodles. As the place is pretty hard to find, just tell the Grab or taxi driver to head to the Paramount Hotel. The restaurant is just across from the front entrance of the hotel.
Yes, I know, I started by saying that I was staying clear of hawker foods, but Kek Seng is the exception. It is a must-visit for old-world durian ice kachang. I remember coming to this restaurant when I was a kid, and the place has changed little since then. Located a stone's throw away from the famous cendol, Kek Seng is can be reached by crossing the road and walking further down towards Chowrasta market.
And speaking of the famous Penang cendol, well, one of the most well-kept secret is the roti bakwa (bun with barbequed meat fillings) next to the cendol roadside stall. The new twist to this old-time favourite is the addition of meat floss together with the bakwa. This is Penang's answer to the Vietnamese Banh Mi.