University life has always been a fun phase. This is the time when you start having desires to go to Paris, eat croissants, climb up the Eiffel tower and run away from mimes after reading ‘Les Miserables’ or watching ‘Amelie‘. Yet, due to money constraints, you can only make do with a make-shift jar labelled “Paris” and watch the jar being filled slowly for the next three years.
Why should you wait? If you can’t go to Pa-ree, France, just go to our very own version of Paris!
Penang Island might be the land of kiasu where one bridge isn’t enough and the drivers are always angry and in a rush. But, when it comes to food, Penang lang mean serious business. But, why Penang, though?
As a Penangite myself, I believe that with its rich food, colourful heritage and an abundance of wall art, Penang is the Paris of Malaysia.
So, if you ever come to Penang or better yet, have an offer to study in there, here is some useful advice for you to enjoy the whole food experience that Penang is so famous for. It wouldn’t be Penang if you didn’t gain a kilo or two, right?
Guide No #1 – Penangites know the best Eateries. Ask them!
It really ticks off Penangites when “non-islanders” flock to the cliché Nasi Kandar shops or kopitiams just because a friend of a friend of someone they know said that those are the MUST-SEE places when you visit Penang. Hold the phone. If you went Italy, would you trust the Italian locals to tell you where to get the best pasta or would you go with a friend of a friend’s recommendation who went to Italy once five years ago?
Penangites are not prone to biting people when asked for good food recommendations. We are more than happy to show you the little gems of Penang. Sure, we might talk loud anak mami-style but how can we help ourselves from shouting a bit if we found out you went to a rat-infested nasi kandar shop just because someone told you that’s the standard of food in Penang. The horror!
Places to try: Nasi Kandar Jalan Imigresen, Passions of Kerala, Nasi Kenduri Sungai Pinang
Guide No #2 – Hipster Cafes are Gimmicky (There, I said it!)
Students love to lepak. That’s their second favourite past-time after sleeping. Since Penang is dubbed a UNESCO site, its city center has become a hot spot for tourists all over the world. Business owners are happy about it but the locals? Not so much.
Why? Our favourite kopitiams have shut down and new avant-garde, minimalist “hipster” cafes have started sprouting up like tiny whiskers on a teenage boy’s face. You know, the prickly annoying ones that give you rashes.
It’s wonderful to see the younger crowd showing interests in business and bringing new creative marketing concepts but if the interest is just to make money by charging RM30 for one cup of artisan coffee and a piece of pastry, that is just plain cruel. In all honesty, paying RM30 for a tiny, teeny piece of food and 10 likes on Instagram is not only wallet-unfriendly but also makes no sense.
However, not ALL hipster cafes are about novelty food and artsy decor. There are cafes that are affordable and a great place to chill out with your gang. You want to spend less? Just lepak at your uni’s cafeteria.
Places to try: China House, Moody Cow Dessert Cafe, Metisser Patisserie, Crepe Cottage
Guide No #3 – Try All The “Almost Extinct” Kuih
In Penang, we believe that the older or more dilapidated the shop, the tastier the food will be. Why? Because the aunties and uncles you see slogging in the kitchen are the ONLY source for you to taste authentic comfort food that you cannot find anywhere else. Today, only a few family-owned shops are still operating and many Penangites still cannot get enough of them. If you have the opportunity, go and get your hands on this delicious grub while you can.
Fusion foods are good and fine but nothing beats a hot yam cake and cha on a rainy day. Besides, these snacks are the closest to home you will find in Penang when you are homesick for your mother’s cooking or for munchies when you are stressing out doing your assignment. You are getting the stress pimples anyway, what harm can the oily sheen on your kuih do.
Places to try: Serabai Taman Tun Sardon, Hawker Lane Lebuh Chulia, Apam Manis Pulau Tikus.
Guide No #4 – Never Buy Food at Tourist Hotspot
Do you remember when we were young, how our parents asked us to eat as much as we could during the buffet breakfast and we never understood the wisdom behind it? The explanation is plain and simple; the price of food at tourist attraction sites are sooooooooo expensive. You pay an arm and a leg just to get a small bottle of mineral water!
The next time your friend suggests that the gang frolic around under the hot sun visiting the wall art on display at Armenian Street, be sure to pack your own mineral water and buy some snacks elsewhere first. However, if it is too hot and water ain’t enough, there are some interesting rare food and drinks sold there that you could sample. It is a bit expensive but if you’re going to spend, might as well go all out and get an ice ball from 70’s Ice or even a bowl of creamy cendol at Cendol Pulut Jalan Chowrasta.
Guide No #5 – Penang Has Other Food Too
You are not wrong if you think Penang is the land of kuah banjir, char kuey teow and banana leaf but there is more to Penang than that! Can you imagine living there for the next three days or even worse if you are studying there, the next four years eating nasi kandar? You will be as round as a papadom in no time at all. In Penang, you will be surprised to see that our definition of laksa, rojak and even mee goreng is different than what you usually have back home. Want to know what the difference is, book a ticket to Penang and try the food yourself!
People of Penang want to eat other food lah. If not, Penang wouldn’t be known as the food heaven in Malaysia, right?
Places to try: (Laksa Fans) Laksa Pokok Janggus (Exotic Burgers) Street Grill AskmeBurger Bukit Gedung (Mee Lovers) Mee Pitchay
These 5 food guides will surely make your stay in Penang a memorable one and within your budget. Who says travelling means heading out to foreign exotic countries? Here in Malaysia, we can go on our own food journey. We can even get croissants! So, book your next short vacay to Malaysia’s Paris. It’ll keep you from burning through all of your PTPTN money. After all, a vacation is not fun if you can’t enjoy the food, right?
Do share with me if you have any other dining hacks you know because getting delicious food at a cheap price is always welcome information and as a Penangite, I love cheap things. It makes you believe anything is possible!