On my third day in Penang, I decided to make an all out assault on the Big 3 – the three dishes identified by Penang expert Rasa Malaysia as the essential tastes of Penang.
Along with Robyn Eckhardt at EatingAsia, her writing was one of the main reasons I came to Penang in the first place. So, rather than pitch up to any old stall and try my luck, I decided to follow Rasa’s specific recommendations and get my map out for a bit of a treasure hunt.
My first stop was Kedai Kopi Classic at 126 Jalan Parak for a bowl of Hokkien Mee. This involved a combination of rice noodles and yellow noodles served in a a thick spicy broth along with sliced prawns, slivers of pork and beansprouts. The soup was devilshly spicy and caught in the back of my throat with my first few sips. Delicious.
Next on the list was a bowl of Penang’s signature dish, Laksa Assam. I had already tried one of these at the LP recommended Hawker Centre on the esplanade and ended up dissapointed. This time I was taking no such risks. I instead made a beeline for the Kek Song Coffee Shop at 382 – 384 Jalan Penang.
Unlike other Laksas, Laksa Assam (also known as Laksa Penang) doesn’t contain any coconut milk. Instead, it consists of a watery broth of flaked fish chili, tamarind and lemongrass. A number of extra ingredients are added, including sliced onion, pineapple and chopped ginger buds – and of course plenty of thick, round noodles. Last of all a dollop of pungent prawn paste is added to give it that extra kick. The result was a hot and sour soup of epic proportions.
My final stop of the day was the Loh Eng Hoo Coffee Shop on Jalan Salamat for some Char Koay Teow. For this dish, prawns are fried over a high heat with a little minced garlic, followed closely by flat noodles, soy sauce, eggs, chives, and finally cockles. Although I enjoyed the individual components of this dish (the prawns in particular were stunning) I felt that it didn’t come together in the way I’d hoped.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed all three of these distinct Penang dishes and the places they were served. I particularly enjoy the no frills, back to basics approach of alot of Penang food (check out the heavy duty plastic bowls and spoons!) All three of these places had atmosphere in spades, and were cheap, local and unpretentious – everything I love about street food.