Must-Try Peranakan Dishes in Penang, Malaysia
As a traveler who is always on the go, I spend most of my tours worldwide walking around, admiring the local way of life, or visiting busy hotspots whenever my schedule allows me to. But other than exploring on foot, I also enjoy exploring by food. I recently visited the Malaysian state of Penang, one of the world’s spotlights of street food galore, coffee shops, and restaurants, where food and culture are literally on the same street.
Penang’s Peranakan dishes are renowned for their concoctions of Chinese, Thai, and Malay influences, and although there are endless numbers of these delightful, aromatic, spicy dishes to choose from, here are some of the top five must-try authentic Peranakan dishes in Penang:
Penang Assam Laksa
This bowl of Nyonya noodles in hot and spicy fish broth is not to be missed. Topped with the aromatic ginger flower, mint leaves, and peeled tamarind for extra broth tartness, Penang Assam Laksa is one of the Peranakan dishes’ staples. It is often served with a dark-colored prawn sauce, which only adds more to the texture and flavor of this bowl of Peranakan goodness.
Usually eaten during lunch or dinner, the Nasi Kandar is a rice meal served with chicken, beef, lamb, prawn, or nearly any type of meat, along with various curries and side dishes. The rice, which is sometimes flavored, is steamed in a special wooden container. The curry sauce is directly poured onto the rice. This satiating dish is usually served on just one plate.
Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow is another flavorfully overloaded Peranakan cuisine. The preparation of this local favorite dish involves the stir-frying of koay teow (short flat rice noodles) and an abundance of prawns, blood clams, and garlic chives. This is flavored with a little belachan (prawn paste), soy sauce, and chili. Traditionally, Char Koay Teow is fried in pork lard and served on a plate with a banana leaf for extra aroma.
Oh Chien, or Oyster Omelette, is a dish filled with the ocean’s finest. Known for its affordability, the omelet is filled with small oysters, and the egg batter is thickened by potato starch. Some stalls cook this egg in pork lard for extra flavor. This dish is also well-known in the nearby countries Singapore and Hong Kong and is sometimes served with a thick sauce for taste.
The bursting flavors of Peranakan can only be handled by the cool dessert that is Cendol. Made with shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar, and pandan-flavored jelly noodles, the sweet Cendol resembles the Filipino dessert Halo-Halo that can be eaten as an individual snack as well. Cendol is also served ingredients like creamed corn, glutinous rice, and red beans.
Penang is a place with a vibrant and varied culture. Sometimes, all one needs to fully immerse in the traditions is by taking a bite into the area’s cuisines, which, although they are also quite varied, are all tied together by the same roots for ages.
How about you? What’re your favorite Peranakan Dishes in Penang?