George Town on the island of Penang, Malaysia was first established as a trading post for the British East India Company. The melting pot of influences from colonial Europe, Malaysia, China, and India have created a rich food culture and tradition, earning George Town a UNESCO World Heritage designation.
As far as destinations in Southeast Asia go, George Town is one of the most approachable for tourists because English is widely spoken, amenities and infrastructure are fairly well developed, health care is world class, and cost of living is very affordable. Street food meals will rarely amount to more than $2 or $3 US per person.
There are quite a few local dishes that are famous for this region. While many of the dishes include hot, spicy ingredients, there are also plenty of options for visitors who prefer to eat sans spice. The following five bites are some of George Town’s best and most unique non-spicy street food treats, listed from breakfast to dessert.
Shanghai-style Dumplings at Chowrasta Market
These delicate dumplings are made with ground pork and broth inside. They’re prepared in small bamboo steaming baskets and best eaten hot with a quick dip in black vinegar sauce. The taste is slightly sweet and savory. You’ll find the Shanghai dumpling stall outside an unnamed tea shop bordering Chowrasta Market. They’re only available at breakfast time and supplies may run out by 10 or 11am. Order a set of dumplings (1RM plus a few cents each) from the stall and then find a table inside. Note that in order to use the seats in a tea or coffee shop in George Town, you are required to buy drinks separately from your meal (1RM for coffee or tea) – or you can pay a small sitting fee.
Location: 37, Jalan Kuala Kangsar
Open early mornings until about 10am, closed Mondays
Congee at Chowrasta Market
Around the corner from the Shanghai dumpling stall is another popular breakfast option: a small food cart serving up hot rice porridge with chopped meat parts. It may not sound appealing at first but it’s tasty and filling and definitely a local favorite. The gentleman running the cart has been there for 43 years and inherited the business from his father.
A bowl of congee is 6RM and can be eaten at the small table next to the food cart or taken to go in plastic bags.
Location: On Jalan Chowrasta, nearest the corner with Jalan Kuala Kangsar
Open daily, early mornings until about 10am
Wanton Mee at Hong Kee Bamboo Noodle
A great lunch or dinner option is a bowl of noodles with wantons. At Hong Kee, you can actually see the noodles being made in the tradition manner while you eat. Behind glass windows, you’ll see the dough being kneaded by one of the staff members who sits astride a huge bamboo pole and bounces up and down. There are many choices on the restaurant’s menu but of course, the noodles are the star of the show. We recommend the fried noodles wanton mee, ordered “dry” with dumplings and then add a bit of the soy sauce from the table condiments.
Dishes come in Small/Medium/Large and prices correspond – 6/6.50/7RM.
Location: 37, Lebuh Campbell
Open 8:30am-10pm, closed Wednesdays
Coconut Shake at Anba Coconut
For a refreshing, delightful mid-day snack, swing by the impressive street-side coconut operation at Anba Coconut. These machete-wielding guys get truckloads of coconuts delivered to the shop daily and fulfill drive-up and walk-up orders for coconuts. You can order whole coconuts to go, or have them freshly chopped to drink the sweet, nutty coconut water and then scrape out the fleshy white meat on the spot. They also make coconut pudding and our favorite: coconut shakes.
The shake is 5RM, just slightly more than a whole coconut, and is freshly blended with the coconut water, meat, and ice cream in a to-go cup.
Location: 8 Lorong Abu Siti
Open daily 8am to 8pm
Chee Cheong Fun and Oh Chien Oyster Omelette at Chulia Street Night Market
For more non-spicy goodness, head to Chulia Street hawker stalls for dinner. Though located in the “backpacker area,” most customers at this night market seem to be local. Chee chow fun is a springy rice noodle dish with a rich, sweet char siu sauce (and/or shrimp paste). The oyster omelette, a.k.a. Oh Chien, is a deliciously gooey scramble of eggs, flour, chives, and oysters. Both dishes can be made spicy with chili sauce, but you can also get it plain or served on the side.
Chee cheong fun is 4RM. Oyster omelette is 10RM. You can order from any of the hawker stalls and sit at tables outside on the street or in a nearby coffee shop – either way you’ll be asked to purchase drinks separately. Freshly made fruit juices are 2.50RM.
Location: Corner of Lebuh Chulia and Lorong Cheapside
Open 6pm to midnight, may be closed Mondays
Check out Intentional Travelers for more interesting content!