Historically, the 18th century marks the arrival of Chinese settlers in colonial Penang bringing with them an array of authentic cultural recipes. This paradise island was hailed as a food haven down the road with diverse forms of heritage feast to devour in any hour of the day. Here, Jessy Wong explores the local scene of Chinese cuisines to satiate your needs in a round-the-clock food journey.
Who yearns for a taste of their hometown’s food when they are away in a foreign country? As a Penangite at heart, I always crave for the authentic Chinese food that I grew up with. Same goes to the migrant labourers that came from Southern China to Malaysia in the past and it eventualise to the variety of oriental cuisines on Penang food map today. The pioneer cooks are mostly from Hokkien, Hainan, Hakka and Cantonese ethnic groups and each community casted their own unique flair in the kitchen. From daybreak to twilight, these are a string of places that bring the heritage flavour of Chinese dishes to light.
TOH SOON CAFÉ
Pinned in between two heritage shops at the alleyway of Campbell street is where you’ll find the best Chinese- style breakfast in town to kick start your day. Starting at 8am, the decades old café is already crowded with locals and tourists alike that wish to get a taste of their homemade Hainan coffee and charcoal toast bread.
The Hainan coffee is carefully brewed to give off a robust flavour at every sip; optional to drink it pure black or with milk. By keeping it real, this traditional roadside café toasts bread through a clay stove with burning charcoal to add the enchanting flavour, serving it with sweet homemade kaya, a type of coconut jam with pandan leaf, mixed with imported butter spread. Complementing the toast bread is soft-boiled eggs on the side for a mouthful of indulgence. Well, a Penangite breakfast is not complete without a good Malaysian nasi lemak so relish in the local ambience and surroundings while you eat.
184, Campbell Street, Georgetown
First founded in 1979, the handmade Cantonese pastries were sold on a trishaw cart by a married couple and it wasn’t until in 2008 that Ming Xiang Tai pastry shop was introduced to honour the couple’s poignant journey by their third-generation heir to bring forth and preserve the family’s secret recipe.
The dining scene at Ming Xiang Tai truly brings back the memories of the warm past with Chinese calligraphy on the walls, wood engraved signboards and antique ornaments. Within the historic atmosphere, the highlight of your brunch or teatime is their signature Cantonese dessert, the gleaming golden “Trishaw Egg Tart”. The smooth texture of the freshly baked pastry glides easily on your tongue and melts in your mouth instantly. Besides that, the shop also serves bite-sized traditional Cantonese pastries in assorted flavours such as salted egg, pandan, chicken floss and glutinous coconut puff, all handmade ingredients from their heirloom recipe that will undoubtedly enrich your palate.
475-A, Penang Road, Georgetown
Set along the port of Penang is Hainantown Restaurant, inspired by traditional Nyonya and Hainan delicacies that delivers an essence of heritage and culture of the city. Hainan cuisine is known to have Nyonya influences as Hainanese labourers are believed to be the last ethnic group to arrive so they worked in Baba Nyonya’s kitchen where their savory cooking is distinguishable with the use of spices. The familiar flavours of Nyonya-Hainan feast is captured in their collection of tantalizing recipes.
Much to our delight, their famous Peranakan dishes are none other than Curry Tumis Ikan, a hot and sour tamarind fish curry and Assam Prawns, pan-fried tamarind prawns. The fragrant fish curry is delicately cooked with herbs and chilies with okras by the side while the colossal juicy prawns are rich with marinated tamarind and dark soy sauce. These servings are commonly eaten as a form of side dish with white rice. Festive Chinese food like Ju Hu Char, Hokkien dialect for fried cuttlefish, is a treat to our tastebuds with shredded jicama as the main ingredient stir-fried with mushrooms and carrots.
This multiple award-winning establishment proves why their lavish dining scene and food won Malaysia’s Best Chinese Restaurant. Their modern setting elegantly complements the top-notch traditional culinary recipe that takes on Hunan and Szechuan style of cooking which uses spices and garlic in most of their dishes. The interior is splendidly decorated with avant-garde paintings and chandeliers on the ceiling as you dine in ornate leather seats that overlooks the harbour.
For appetizers, Heavenly Blessed Joysticks is served uniquely with a combination of seafood skewered and dipped in chili oil for a divine taste. Their specialty dish, Aromatic Crispy Duck, is best eaten with their signature duck sauce. Wrapped in a thin layer of homemade crepe, you can add ingredients of your liking to eat it with the crispy shredded duck meat. Another gourmet highlight is Szechuan Flamed Cod Fish that is served with lighted fire by the bowl to keep the succulent fish smooth in the sour and spicy hot soup.
8A Tanjong City Marina, Church Street Pier, Weld Quay