When travelling we love to immerse ourselves in the food culture of the city we’re visiting. The food culture in Malaysia reflects the multicultural make-up of its population and is mainly a combination of Malay, Indian and Chinese. Just a short walk from the E&O we discovered a typical Malay hawker centre, the Red Garden Food Paradise. The ceiling was covered with bright green artificial vine leaves and festoon lighting. The two television screens were showing a Nat Geo documentary on silverback gorillas while Glenn Campbell’s ‘Like a Rhinestone Cowboy’ was playing over the speakers (I know, I couldn’t make this up!)
The food vendors lined the outside with the tables and chairs taking up the central area. Ceiling fans hummed away offering a pleasant breeze at the same time wafting the pungent smells of fish sauce and durian by our noses. We were spoilt for choice with all the dishes on offer – from frog porridge or fish head curry to oyster omelette. We opted for Char Koay Teow, a stir-fried noodle dish & crispy pork and rice, washed down with a huge beer (660ml). Both dishes were good and cheap. It was a super place to sit and watch the world go by.
Our second evening we headed to the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre – although we were told later the centre was very ‘touristy’ it didn’t feel so as we seemed to be the only westerners. The place had a more rustic feel to it. Again there was a huge selection of dishes to choose from and we opted for a vegetarian noodle dish, laksa and Char Koay Teow. A local family shared our table and it was lovely to gain an insight into life in Penang. SO bought the children an ‘ais kacang’ a dessert of shaved ice, condensed milk, and a starch of some kind (like cold potato!) with the children.
On the way back we decided to call in at the Red Garden for a beer. We arrived to an interesting version of ABBA’s Dancing Queen – Asian style. SO couldn’t resist ordering more food deciding on the ‘best spring rolls in Penang’. They were delicious. We stayed and soaked up the atmosphere of the live entertainment, an interesting mix of western and Asian pop eventually heading back to the E&O just as a storm moved in.
Our final evening in Penang was spent exploring Little India and on the recommendation from the hotel’s concierge ate at Restoran Kapitan Indian restaurant; with a reputation for its outstanding tandoori chicken and nasi briyani. The advise was to eat upstairs in the air-conditioning. Downstairs was hot and noisy with the kitchen running along one side with the open tandoor ovens and hot plates creating extra heat. We were left to seat ourselves after the waiter pointed in the general direction of a free table and after about five minutes he came and plonked the menus down on our table. He wasn’t exactly friendly and welcoming but we didn’t mind – it was all part of the experience. We ordered the tandoori chicken and a biryani. Both dishes were tasty, full of fantastic spices and flavours and again dirt cheap.
Although our stay in Penang was a short one and we only scratched the surface of the city’s offerings, I’d definitely recommend it as a stop on any Malaysia tour.