Imagine arriving in Penang after months in East Africa where the food had it's good points but was generally very samey. It was like switching the the food telly from black and white to colour. There was simply food everywhere: Malay, Chinese, Indian and everything in between.
Ten years later Shawn drags Alison to Georgetown to see this promised land of street food, but Georgetown hit a slump and it was Ramadan to boot, very little food.
Another ten years later we're back again and Georgetown delivers. The place is coming back to life with renewed interest in it's World Heritage listed buildings, and half of Singapore seems to be here on the weekend descending on the famous foodie spots, and declaring it better back home, lah.
The place is changing but there's still plenty of old school Penang left, crumbly old buildings, beautiful old Chinese coffee shops and there's food everywhere. When we told locals in Kuala Lumpur we'd been to Penang they went kind of dreamy, "oh the food". Well we reckon the food is just as good in KL but in Penang it's much easier to find. Stay in Georgetown and you're tripping over the stuff.
It's an easy trek from Sydney to Penang, a day flight on AirAsia from Sydney with a short stopover in KL. Oh how we love a day flight. We arrived around 10.00pm, dropped our bags and headed out into the streets of Georgetown to start our week of eating, via a shabby Karaoke bar with a complicated drink pricing system.
We took a random punt on Sup Hameed, an outdoor late night place around the main nightlife area, opposite the Malaysia Hotel.
Sup Hameed menu. The boss recommended lamb soup, so lamb soup we try.
Roti for entree, with a simple dipping curry.
The lamb soup is fantastic. A couple of hunks mutton in a thin meaty soup. We return for it again on another night, something we rarely do on our eating trips.
Not sure where to eat? The hotel gives us a detailed brochure on where to find the best grub in town. And we're not talking the usual tourist trap stuff, this is the good gear and quite a few good recomendations. Over the years we've found the best approach is to mix up the recommended 'best in town' places with simply getting out there and seeing what we can find. It's also good to know where the recommended places, just in case you happen to be hungry and nearby.
Some of the famous places can get super busy and lose some of their initial charm. And we wonder if the food suffers in some places when they start churning out en masse. Sometimes places are all the better for it, it depends.
The first morning we head down Jalan Hutton for a walk. This joint looks alright for breakfast, we give it a shot.
It's our kind of place.
Yep, we'll take two of whatever's going.
Koay teow th'ng - soup with rice noodles and a bit of everything. This sort of soup often gets overlooked for it's stronger cousins, but we love it. For 9 ringat it's the perfect start to the day.
Random old Georgetown building right near our hotel. Everything hasn't been gentrified yet.
This whole big outdoor foodcourt was never open when we went by.
Serious pussycat business underway.
We like the look of this fruit and dessert cart just off Love Lane.
Marble jelly, a coconut and fruit jelly. It looks like a number of coloured fruity jellies are lightly set then cut together and fixed with a coconut outer layer. Squishy, sweet and fun.
Bags of sweeties begging to be taken.
Rice and palm sugar sweetie from near the Campbell Street wet market.
Char Bee Hoon street stall along Campbell Street market.
This friendly fellow ran a marvellous coffee and curry shop in a small alley just off Jalan Hutton.
Kitchen action. The 'shop' is really just a covered alley way, repurposed as a kitchen and eating area.
Rear dining area.
Dosai, a light lentil batter pancake, with chicken curry. The dosai was nice and light.
Shop kuching begging for some chicken.
Grinning hound going the full 'superman' on the cool tiles.
Some of the old shophouses are getting fancified. Money to spend on restoration seems to be coming in.
Curry mee is a dish we were keen to try, Tua Pui curry mee on Jalan Kimberly looks as good a place as any to try it.
Where curry mees are made.
Love the dining room slash house slash studio.
Drink menu, simple.
Curry mee is similar to a laksa as we know it in Australia. A coconut-y spicy soup with thin rice noodles. We love how it is served in a small bowl, unlike in Australia where it is served by the bucket.
Two types of noodles are used (yellow and vermicelli), and the red oils in the broth leave a lovely lace pattern along the inside of the bowl as you slurp it down. The surprise hit was the mint leaves, a bright blast of freshness, and the tiny oysters gave up some smaller bursts of flavour.
We dropped in on this stall a couple of times on Jalan Penang, he had some of our favourite snacks that we'd seen in Sri Lanka.
The vadai was our favourite, spiced fried lentil cakes. We grabbed some nearly every time we walked by.
Maccas drive thru.
Our hotel. Just kidding.
Another great looking Chinese coffee shop.
Line Clear restaurant was on the famous list so we tracked it down. It has been running since the 1930s, so they know what they are doing. Along the road out the front are a set of tram tracks, if only Georgetown still had trams running through it.
It's in sort of a covered alley with extra tables out the back. This place is buzzing big time.
Here's one of our excellent and professional fillums to give you a taste of the action:
Point to your desired dishes and the friendly fella will plate it up with rice for you.
So much to choose from, including fish, chicken (fried or curried), prawns in a deep red sambal, sotong (squid) and a few vegetable choices, it wasn't a real vegetarian feast.
We had a communication error and both ended up with the same dish which is a minor tragedy to food nerds like us, these things happen. At least we didn't have to fight over it. Each dish, no matter what you select, also comes with three pieces of long blanched okra.
Iced lime tea - always a winner in the Georgetown heat.
We love Penang.