According to the public holiday dates released by the Ministry of Manpower, there are only (gasp) four long weekends in 2018. If you’re looking for a quick getaway with fantastic food and a nice mix of nature and culture, Penang is a pretty solid contender. Whether this entices you into changing your travel plans, gives you ideas to plan your trip better or just gives you a bad case of wanderlust, I hope this Penang Bucket List helps you strategically make use of your long weekend!
- Air Itam Laksa
This is without fail, my first stop from the airport, and I make a beeline here without dropping off my bags. The uncle who cooks the laksa has remained constant for years and years and he’s always cheerful which makes the entire experience even more pleasant. The laksa (RM5 for small, RM6 for big) is vastly different from the variation we have in Singapore, with the usual prawn, egg and tau pok (fried beancurd) replaced by a generous helping of chunky mackerel, onions, a sprinkling of mint anointed with hei kou (prawn paste).
While it sounds like a mess of flavours, the soup ties the entire dish together, each flavour standing out in your mouth but complementing the soup. The thick noodles are nice and chewy which add dimension to the texture as well. Also, as a welcome change, Air Itam Laksa is a lot less rich and heavy than our usual laksa which means you feel less guilty (and you have space for more food).
Address: Jalan Pasar Road, 11500 Air Itam, (Beside the Air Itam Market)
Bonus: Sister Curry Mee
Just about 20m away from the laksa place is a small alley where you can get a bowl of extremely shiok curry noodles. As the name suggests, the stall is set up by a pair of sisters. Admiration for them is simply wrenched out of you when you see that despite them getting on in years, they are dedicated to doling out bowls of fragrant curry mee heaped with ingredients.
Ask anyone and they will likely tell you that this is where you find the best curry mee in Penang so save space to hop over and give this a try after having your laksa!
Address: 612 T, Jalan Air Itam, Pekan Ayer Itam, 11500 Ayer Itam
- Kimberly Road Street Food
This is the holy grail of street food. While there are multiple stalls open along Lebuh Kimberly, keep your eyes on the prize and zero in on the duck kway chap (RM8) which is right outside Restoran Kimberly. The bowl of kway chap arrives chockfull of ingredients, including pig’s blood (which we can’t get in Singapore anymore) and gently curling, smooth, handmade sheets of kway in an aromatic and sturdily flavoured soup. The innards are well cleaned and expertly cooked, and there’s a huge, entire egg per bowl. The dish is perfected by the small, crunchy bits of fried garlic that lends the soup an extra punch. We added on a bowl of pig’s blood (RM2!) for our poor deprived souls, one platter of duck breast and thigh (RM15 and RM10) and it was heaven. These stalls only open at night so be prepared to queue a little or wait for tables, but it’s all worth it.
At the same time, get some lo bak (assorted fried treats dipped in thick sauce) from the neighbouring stall. You can choose from the array of meat and other items laid out on the counter and they will be fried and served piping hot and crispy on the outside. We only got a few things such as tofu, ngoh hiang (meat wrapped in beancurd skin) and squid (RM12.50), but you can order as many or as few things as you like! I’m not a particularly big fan of tofu but this was done just right, perfectly crisp skin giving way to silky soft tofu. The ngoh hiang was equally tasty and altogether a very sinful but incredible dish.
If you’re in luck, you might also find the muah chee (glutinous rice pieces coated with ground peanuts and sugar) (RM4 for small, RM5 for big) stall which tends to move around and only stays for part of the night. The uncle prepares it on the spot, chopping up the glutinous rice into ball-like pieces and lovingly rolling them in the mix of peanut and sugar. It comes into your hands piping hot and no one can resist the temptation to dig in right away.
Address: Lebuh Kimberly
- Heritage Street
As much as we would like to have an endless capacity for food, you might not want to eat all day and you probably need to walk around and digest before your next meal anyway. One of the must-go places is the Heritage Street which shows up on every hipster Instagram post about Penang. The street art is gorgeous and definitely one of the most iconic things in Penang.
Moreover, the art edges into reality, with aspects of it in 3D with props such as half a swing seat jutting out of the wall making for an undeniable photo opportunity. If you wander along the streets, you’re also bound to come across some hipster cafes and quaint little artsy shops selling bits and bobbles alongside handicrafts. Walk off some of that food and satisfy the artistic part of your soul by spending an afternoon admiring the amazing art!
Address: Lebuh Armenian
- Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol
The Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol is a humble stall along the road, but the long queue testifies to just how good their dessert is. One bowl (RM2.10) comes with chewy green jelly, red beans and somehow manages to be light and rich at the same time.
The coconut milk blends in smoothly with the gula melaka (palm sugar). There’s neither too much ice nor is it too tightly packed together to dilute the chendol, allowing it to melt almost instantaneously on your tongue. There are other food stalls around so this can either be a lunch stop or just a cool reprieve on a hot afternoon.
Address: 27 & 29 Lebuh Keng Kwee, 10100 Georgetown
- Botanical Gardens
Rather than the popular Penang Hill, I highly prefer the Botanical Gardens. It is a hidden gem with sprawling greenery and a wide variety of flora in different gardens and greenhouses. The Gardens support an abundance of wildlife, including long tailed macaques which stole the show.
There is also the Penang Waterfall Treatment Plant which abuts the Gardens just at the edges of the waterfall. If you don’t mind the walk, it is a pretty soothing place to check out. I would definitely recommend the Botanical Gardens, especially if you’re looking for a change of scenery from the usual itinerary of shopping and eating.
Address: 673A, Jalan Kebun Bunga, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town
- Presgrave Road Street Food
I have it on good authority from a local that the night market at Macalister Road tends to be more a tourist trap, and that Presgrave Road is where the good food is at. The one thing you cannot leave without trying is the hokkien mee (RM4.50 and RM1-RM2 for extra ingredients). This differs from the hokkien mee that we usually have in Singapore, being similar to prawn noodles but with the option to add on things like roasted meat, pork ribs and intestines. I got a bowl with roasted meat and intestines and it did not disappoint. The soup was intense, high-cholesterol inducing and insanely addictive, making you wonder how many prawn heads had to be sacrificed to get the strong flavour that the soup boasted. I was honestly sold on the soup alone, and the various ingredients just made it better, with the roasted pork and intestines being absolutely divine. It was so delightful, I had to restrain myself from ordering another bowl.
Just beside the hokkien mee stall is an oyster omelette stall where the uncle cooks omelette (RM10) after omelette served fresh and hot. The oysters are perfectly done and sit quivering atop a fluffy omelette peppered with spring onion.
If you still have space on the way out, you can stop by the stall that sells various meats and buy a simple but classic bak kwa (caramelized barbecued meat) sandwich (RM1.70). The bak kwa carries a lightly smoky flavour, nestled in the softest pillows of buns (the secret is that he steams the buns) which gives rise to a snack that is humble but close to perfection.
Address: Lebuh Presgrave
May you conquer your long weekend with the help of this list; go forth, eat, sightsee and be merry!