Thursday, April 18, 2013

Penang Street food



  
Much of Asia is renowned for its fabulous street foods but any self-respecting foodie will tell you, that the street food in Penang is the top of the heap. Folks who have been to Penang inevitably mention the glorious street-food stalls that line ‘Persiaran Gurney’, or Gurney Drive in historic Georgetown. These hawker food stalls offer up a huge variety of foods that highlight the diverse ethnic influences that make up multicultural hotchpotch that is Penang.
Malay, Indian, Chinese,  Thai, Arab, all the various trading communities that played a part in the evolution of Penang are all well-represented in its hawker fare which also offers enough representation to  Baba Nyonya cuisine, a fusion style of cooking peculiar to the Straits Chinese, that blends regional ingredients with traditional cooking methods of the Chinese and Malays.
Another point worth mentioning is that you can eat well and cheaply everywhere in Penang for its many street-food stalls offer the best value for your ringgit. If you are new to the Penang food experience, then Gurney Drive is the best place for you to start your exploration of Penang’s delicious street-food fare.
Many of the stalls located here are family-owned enterprises and usually open for business around 6pm in the evening. The stalls usually stay open until 3am on week days and shut shop at 5am on the weekends.
Once you have decided to set forth, you may wonder as to what are the must-try delights of Penang? To help you along we have listed some of Penang’s best known dishes to be sampled on any visit to Gurney Drive.

Char kuay teow
This calorie laden dish is considered to be an icon of Penang’s street-food.  A dish of Char Kuay Teow consists of a generous helping of flat rice noodles stir fried in dark soy sauce with prawns, cockles, eggs, bean sprouts, Chinese chives, chili, shrimp paste and the dreaded ingredient Pork lard.  The Penang version of Char Kuay teow is garnished with shredded crab meat for enhanced flavor. Char Kuay Teow can be found all over Malaysia but the Penang version reigns supreme in terms of taste and flavor.

Penang Asam Laksa
The traditional Nyonya Laksa gets an interesting twist in Penang, for here it transforms into  of a hot, sour and spicy noodle soup.  The Penang Asam Laksa features a spicy, sour broth that is flavored with tamarind and mackerel flakes and features popular regional ingredients like belacan (prawn paste), rice noodles, torch ginger flower, galangal, lemongrass, chilies and shallots. A garnish of Vietnamese coriander tops the  dish which features no pork and offers a relatively healthy choice.

Nasi Kandar
Nasi Kandar is the archetypal Penang rice meal which features white rice served with various spicy curries. Nasi Kandar can be found at the many mamak stalls of Gurney drive. The term Mamak is used to describe the style of cooking that resulted from the amalgamation of the Indian Muslim and Malay styles of cooking.
The origins of the dish can be traced to the Indian hawkers of Penang who dished out this rice based from rattan baskets that were suspended from a yoke or ‘kandar’ borne on their shoulders. The curries that are served with the rice (Nasi) usually feature ingredients like fried chicken, curried beef and squid (sotong) and even fish roe. Vegetables like okra, aubergine and bitter gourd round up the dish.
Tradition demands that you drown your rice in curries, a practice known as ‘banjir’ before you get about eating.  Georgetown is littered with several 24-hr Nasi Kandar stalls, though one of the most famous spots to sample this dish is at Nasi Kandar Line Clear, located at the junction of Chulia Street and Penang Road.

Hokkien Mee
The noodle dish, Hokkien Mee is a staple dish that is found all over Malaysia though the Penang version of Hokkien Mee differs from what is served elsewhere. In Penang, Hokkien Mee is served with a soup base made from dried shrimp and balacan (shrimp paste).  The dish also features rice or egg noodles rather than the thick, wheat noodles used in other parts of the country. Also Penang’s Hokkien Mee doesn’t have any dark soy sauce instead the Penang version of this noodle dish features prawns, fish cake, kangkung(water spinach), slices of chicken, deep fried shallots, fresh lime and chilies.

Chendol
Chendol is a popular shaved ice desert that has Nyonya origins. The dish features a base translucent jade green noodles that have the appearance of worms but are made out of green pea flour and the juice of pandan (screwpine) leaves. These noodles are then topped with a mountain of shaved ice which is in turn topped with a generous serving of coconut milk and gula malaka(palm sugar). A Chendol represents a perfect treat on a hot humid Penang day.



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