Weather: 🌞 🌞 🌞
Novelty factor: 🍜 + ⛱
Street food has become a way of life for me over the last four months. At home al fresco dining is a novelty, be it from a hipster food truck or a market stall. In Asia it is the norm. If you’re hungry and on a backpacker budget the general rule of South East Asia is to head for the food stalls.
Unfortunately I left Vietnam somewhat disappointed with what they had to offer. I had heard the street food there was to die for, but instead all I experienced were animals dying in the street. I found Vietnamese favourites (Phở, Bun Cha, Pho/Mi Xao) very basic and underwhelming. A lot of the food is broth based and animal bones are typically the main source of flavour. Apparently the further South you go the better the food gets, and of course there were times I ate like a King, especially in Hoi An where the ingredients are noticeably more fresh, the food more colourful and fragrant. But in general, popular Vietnamese dishes in the North lacked the spiciness, sauciness and seasoning I love about Asian food.
We left Hanoi at the beginning of April and headed to Hong Kong for a few days. From here we made our way to Malaysia, spending some time in Kuala Lumpur before travelling to the island of Penang. This beautiful beach town on the North West coast of Malaysia was to become my favourite foodie destination of South East Asia so far.
Gotta start with my favourite! A spicy soup based dish, made using a medley of egg and rice noodles, bean sprouts, slices of pork, chicken and prawns, topped with chillies or fried shallots, with a hard boiled egg thrown into the mix because, Malaysia. I could eat this for every meal.
Char Kayo Teow
Quite similar to a Pad Thai, this stir fried noodle dish is seasoned to perfection and an absolute treat. Can be found for around 4/5 ringgit at most of the food stalls on the island although the portions often tend to be small, ideal for lunch or maybe even breakfast…(Asia makes you break all the rules, it’s crazy out here)
A mash up of Malay and Chinese cuisine, Laksa is THE staple food of Penang/Malaysia. A spicy and sour fish broth loaded up with tamarind (Assam means Tamarind in Malay) makes up the base of the dish. Along with the default egg noodles, mint leaves, ginger and a number of other herbs and spices are added, making this a super fragrant and flavoursome bowl of goodness.
Okay, so this was our favourite Malaysian snack. Perfect for our lunch or as a cheeky starter to share. Popiah are fresh spring rolls, however, unlike Vietnamese fresh spring rolls which are made using rice paper, the Malay people use crepe or pancake-like paper, spreading Hoisin and Chilli paste along the inside of the rolls for extra flavour. The filling can include sliced bean curd (tofu), prawns, chicken, carrot, onions and shallots. Imagine duck pancakes meets Chinese spring rolls. I am getting mad cravings for these just writing this.
Rose Milk/Rose Apple Juice
This quickly became my favourite drink. It is so sweet and refreshing, perfect after a long day in the crazy humidity.
Must see foodie spots in Penang:
- Chulia Street food markets, George Town – seek out the Popiah and fresh fruit juice stalls
- Batu Ferringhi food court/night market – huge variety of North/South Indian, Malay, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vegetarian delights (but bring your own drinks, they are PRICEY)
- Cafe Little Angel in Little India, George Town – cheap, tasty, authentic Malay and Chinese cafe, run by a friendly local who speaks fantastic English and is happy catering for Veggo’s!
- Chettiar’s Tiffin Cafe, Little India, George Town – if you are hungry hit up this place for its Briyani Clay Pots at just 8-12 ringgit!