Penang: Exploring a food lover’s paradise (part two)

THE PEPPER MILL - Pepper Teehankee - The Philippine Star

(Continued from April 11)

There are usually long lines for the best places to eat in George Town, Penang. We started queuing at Toh Soon Café for breakfast. The black sesame toast with kaya and butter together with almond coffee was the perfect start for the day! We also tried the nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan) and toast with eggs and the food alone is the reason why people line up for this tiny cafe in an alley!

For lunch, we headed outside George Town. The one we had intended to go to had a line snaking around the block, so we opted to go to the famous nasi kandar of Restoran Deen, which also had a queue but a shorter one. This is a popular northern Malaysian dish originally introduced to Penang by Tamil Muslim traders from India. A plate of steamed rice is topped with an array of curries, side dishes, and gravies.

The afternoon was spent shopping and checking out the street art and murals on Armenia Street. It is best to get a free street-art map when you arrive at the airport so that you’ll know where all the street art is located.

There are two places in Penang for me that you should not miss. One is Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, which is absolutely stunning. After years of deterioration, it has been refurbished to its former glory and is now a museum and hotel. It is also called the Blue Mansion because of the indigo-colored walls at the front of the house. This mansion was constructed in the late 19th century and is considered the most iconic boutique hotel in Malaysia. It is the only one to have won the UNESCO Conservation and Heritage Award in this UNESCO World Heritage Site-designated city.

The alley with Toh Soon Café

Cheong Fatt Tze was a Chinese industrialist, politician, and philanthropist, a powerful Nanyang business magnate and a first-class Mandarin of China. He was made Consul-General in Singapore and economic advisor and was once regarded as the richest man in Malaya, with a reputed net worth of 80 million taels worth of silver (equivalent to approximately $2.4 billion today). He was called “The Rockefeller of China.” This hotel has a restaurant, Indigo, that serves lunch and dinner daily, as well as Café Mangga. This is the place where Indochine, The Blue Mansion and the mahjong scene from Crazy Rich Asians were filmed.

Nasi Kandar at Restoran Deen.

The other is Hin Market, a weekend market in Hin bus depot, an out-of-service old bus depot, repurposed as an art and entertainment space since 2015. The flea market sells food, art, and crafts. The vibe is wonderful and I got to buy so many things there. I met food consultant and book author Dayana Wong and bought her recipe book. I also bought a beautiful batik pin and modern batik shirts. There is live music playing while locals sell their homemade treats.

The afternoon had us queuing (again) for the famous chendul (or cendol — an iced dessert with pandan-flavored green rice flour jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup — very similar to our halo halo) at Nu Chendul. There was a store beside it selling pisang goreng, or banana fritters, as well as cempedak (a type of jackfruit that is much softer) fritters. Do spend time around the small restaurants and stalls on Lebuh Keng Kwee Street. We also admired more street art around the area.

Scenes from Hin Market

Dinner was at Bali Hai, a restaurant selected for the Michelin Guide in 2023 and 2024. They claim “If it swims, we have it” and this is proven by their aquariums filled with live shrimp, Alaskan king crabs, lobsters, razor clams, abalone, turbot, grouper, mud crabs, oysters, and so much more! They offer a variety of ways to cook what you choose from their live fish tanks.

A good place to head to after dinner is Backdoor Bodega, a speakeasy hidden inside a clothing store (which actually sells clothes) that is cozy and offers unique cocktails. I had the most interesting mango sticky rice cocktail!

Lunch before leaving for the airport was at the enchanting Flower Mulan Nyonya Café, a Michelin Star Revelation in 2023 and included in the Michelin Guide in 2024. The M Flower Shop has been in Pulau Tikus in George Town for more than three decades and inside this flower shop is an authentic Nyonya restaurant. The place looks like an eclectic, chaotic yet organized home with a primarily red indoor garden with dangling flowers and Chinese lanterns. They serve Peranakan food and some dishes such as the lor bak (like Cebu’s and Manila Chinatown’s ngo hiong), which reminded me of my paternal grandmother’s cooking! We had wonderful dishes, including delicious pie tee, an excellent light, battered crisp kunyit (turmeric) and serai (lemongrass) fried chicken, asam (tamarind) prawns, and a deliciously tangy fish curry.

With AirAsia, we took their “Hot Seat” located in the front of the plane and emergency exit rows. Hot Seats come with up to 29” pitch and 16-17” width. You can even stretch out with at least 20.3” of legroom on the first and emergency exit rows. A 40-kg baggage allowance can be arranged before traveling.

This was my first time in Penang and will certainly not be my last!  It is a destination worth visiting.

* * *

This summer, TWI will be organizing a Penang food tour led by foodie Angelo Comsti. Contact Junmar Capuli at 0927-7387162 or email [email protected] for inquiries. Visit https://twi.com.ph.

AirAsia flies daily from Manila to Kuala Lumpur twice daily (1:10 a.m. and 12:55 p.m.) and Kuala Lumpur to Penang seven times daily. Visit airasia.com.

Follow me on Instagram @pepperteehankee.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with