Most Singaporeans who visit Penang are more likely to think about the island's famed hawker food than its tourist attractions.
Sure, the sights and sounds on the island are interesting but for most of us, the alluring aromas of fried noodles or curries from the ubiquitous roadside hawker stalls and coffee shops are decidedly more enticing.
Despite my many visits over the years, during which I have never failed to gorge myself silly on char kway teow, prawn noodle soup, chee cheong fun, assam laksa, nasi kandar and so on, I still manage to find, as I did recently, many more stalls whose food I have never tried before. All these, thanks to suggestions from taxi drivers and friendly local folk.
It is amazing to see the number of food hawkers all over the island - around wet markets in the mornings and outside coffee shops all day long.
It is even more astonishing to witness the large number of shop signs which display these words - Nasi Kandar - even in the remotest parts of the island. These Indian Muslim curry shops are popular with all sections of the population.
One doesn't visit Penang without trying this Indian favourite as well as char kway teow and assam laksa.
Char Kway Teow
The three most-talked about stalls are in Lorong Selamat, Dato Keramat Road and MacAlister Road.
I tried all three and found the one in Lorong Selamat, housed in Kafe Heng Huat, to be the best, followed hotly by Ah Leng Char Koay Teow in Khoon Hiang Cafe at the junction of Dato Keramat Road and Dunlop Road. The third, run by two elderly sisters at a corner shop at the end of MacAlister Road, was not as good as it used to be.
The Lorong Selamat dish, with plump prawns, had slightly more wok aroma and flavour than Ah Leng's version which features prawns and mantis shrimps. But I know there are many fans who prefer Ah Leng's noodles.
Truly, there are many good char kway teow stalls in Penang. Visit any wet market in the morning, and one can spend a delightful time trying the many types of hawker food including koay teow thng (rice noodle soup), wonton noodles, nasir kandar, curry mee, koay kark (or luak), lobak, ngor hiang, popiah.
My four-day stay did not give me enough time to try everything. But let me briefly relate what else I tasted, and where.
I visited the hawker stalls opposite Pulau Tikus police station in Burma Road. I observed that a man selling wonton noodles had the most brisk business.
"I have only two hands. I am not an octopus," he mumbles to no one in particular, as impatient customers keep reminding him about their orders. His stall is outside Swee Kong Coffee Shop.
Go into the shop and you will find an Indian man selling apom (crispy rice crepe). His hot crepes are snatched up by customers the moment they are cooked.
Corner coffee shops
Other corner coffee shops to visit are at these road junctions: MacAlister Road/Jalan Rangoon, MacAlister Road/New Lane, Burma Road/Lorong Kucing, and Chulia Street/Lebuh Pitt in Little India.
Two popular spots for supper are in New Lane and Chulia Street. The third is the well-known Gurney Drive, which I did not visit this time.
There are at least 25 stalls in New Lane and they sell every kind of hawker food that Penang is famous for. Its chee cheong fun is fantastic.
Also, you can't miss the roadside cluster in Chulia Street. Just walk down this road from its junction with Penang Road and you will come across people tucking into their favourite night-time meals.
When it comes to Penang laksa you can do no better than visit the family-run stall outside Air Hitam wet market. The endless stream of customers throughout the day attests to its popularity. The laksa had a very balanced mix of the three essential laksa tastes - hot, sour and sweet - with generous garnishings of lettuce, cucumber and onion.
If you have a hankering for nasi kandar and other Indian food, go to Restoran Kapitan at the junction of Chulia Street and Lebuh Pitt near Little India.
This restaurant boasts of "world class naan and briyani claypot". This was no idle boast. The briyani rice and tandoori chicken were unforgettable. I have never tasted such fragrant tandoori chicken - crisp on the outside and tender and juicy inside. The naan was equally satisfying with chicken curry.
For dessert, go to Lebuh Keng Kwee, off Penang Road, near Chowrasta Market, for chendol which must arguably be the best in town. Two stalls sell the same dessert; both are equally good, although one stall is clearly less patronised for some reason.
Those who want to savour Penang's nonya food can visit Lorong Abu Siti, off MacAlister Road. Along this short stretch are three Peranakan restaurants with Nonya Breeze Desire being the most popular.
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This story was first published on sgtravellers.com