30 October 2014

B-Kyu Tour of Penang ~ Chow Rasta Markets, Air Itam, Tek Sen

Five breakfasts, assam laksa for lunch and a slap up feast at Tek Sen. An average day in Penang.

This photo proves we were up before dawn, honest Mum, we really were. We love to walk around cities for hours on end but this is not doable in Penang's sticky heat. So our plan for the trip is to rise before dawn and get some walking in before the sun gets cranky.

Sunrise was a leisurely 7am so rising pre-dawn wasn't a heroic struggle, jet lag woke us up before the sun anyway. There's plenty of places open this time of morning, we choose this Chinese coffee shop at random.

For our first of five breakfasts we pick lam mee fussed over by a super tops Auntie.

For $3.50, a mix of two noodles, small slices of omelette, sliced in half prawns, pickled or jellied pigs skin, little bits of cooked pork and chicken and tiny flecks of garlic. Side dish of sambal adds the required spice.

The flavour is a little plain until you add the sambal, a good morning starter.

It's still dark but the markets are in action.

This whole roast pig is brought out for sale and hung, ready to be broken down for all its crisp goodness. Moments later a machete was drawn and a huge chunk taken out.

This apam balik maker in Jalan Kimberley clinked and clanked his pans all morning. Choose from egg or sweet corn fillings. This stall was often busy with camera clicking tourists who we guess were from  Singapore or maybe KL. This stall must be on a 'best food in Penang' listicle somewhere.

Here is one of our excellent fillums so you can see for yourself:

Crisp on the outside, moist and sweet/savoury in the inside. Marvellous.

Random resto in the morning light.

The friendliest dog in Chow Rasta, perhaps not the smartest.

We start to head up around the back of the market toward Jalan Penang. There's a large construction site where it looks like they are building a new market. Although the clean conditions will be welcomed, secretly you know in your heart it will destroy some of the market life and what makes it so vibrant.

This Malay looking market stall looked good enough to dive into.

They must get up and cook at midnight to get all this ready.

There's a small eating area in a covered section in a carpark.

We hit on some chee chong fun, one of our favourite breakfasts from our travels in southern China and Hong Kong.

The gooey rice flour mix is steamed to make one broad sheet.

The big flat beautiful noodle is folded up and served with thin sauce with soy. A perfect breakfast, plain, wet and stodgey. It's given a Penang twist with fried garlic and sambal.

There's dim sum to try too.

...ten bucks says Alison picks the dim sum wrapped in Spam...

Vegetable, ham wrapped, seaweed coated, red fish balls and pork mince with green chives. It's like  kiddie dim sum, it ain't high falutin but it sure is fun.

Fifth breakfast I hear you say?

A bowl of mee Java  ($4.50, $1 extra for sotong, the tiny little black thingies in the topping). Fresh pineapple, slices of egg, yellow noodles, sweet broth, tangy tofu and potato chunks. We didn't get this dish, it was too sweet for our tastebuddies. Google tells us mee Java is very similar to mee rebus and a lightbulb appears about our heads. We often find mee rebus way too sweet for us, but now and again a chef will balance the sweet and the spice in a way that is perfect to us. The mee rebus at Kaki Lima Restaurant in Kensington, Sydney is a great example of the latter.

By mid morning and five breakfasts the market is in full swing.

We head out and find a well known assam laksa stall in Air Itam. Bus trip! (203, 204 or 201 from Jalan Penang.) The buses are clean, modern and aircon-ed - woohoo!

It's a long bus ride out of town on a Sunday, out toward the base of Penang Hill and the Kek Lok Si Temple. The roads are super choked with weekend traffic, the bus takes about ten minutes just to get down the hill into town. We drove past countless Hindu festivities and families celebrating, picnicking and cleaning graves in cemeteries.

We aren't sure where we are going, but we know instantly when we get there. The Pasar Air Itam is a mega busy cross street blocked by buses and cars and bikes zig zagging through the small lanes, stall holders setting up and pulling down, deliveries being made and collected and in the midst, food cooking and eating.

The Laksa stall is instantly recognisable, the bus drives straight past it. "There it is!" Alison shrieks with relief and delight, we haven't headed off on some wild assam laksa soup chase after all.

We take a seat right near the action, right near an auto onion chopping machine that makes the task of shredding easy.

Everything is prepped ahead, onion, lettuce, mint, ginger flower are chopped and a pile waits inside each bowl. The head cook in his white hat is ultimately in charge though, making each bowl up. He is fast, but we can't help but wonder is he always careful?

The soup when served is thick with fish and fragrant, the noodles are just right. We love the small sized servings in this part of the world, it just works.

Here's yet another in our excellent series of professional and informative fillums (look out for the wonderful cheesy smile from the chef at the start):

There's another stall across the road which no one was going to, even at 50c cheaper. Shawn has to go to the loo which is a grim prospect in a rickety old market like this. Shawn follows the signs to the loo, holds his breath and enters...

...And it's the cleanest, most amazing public toilet in all of Malaysia. It's not just clean, it's shiny and sparkling. It smells of a floral garden with a reassuring hint of Dettol. The walls are lined with well tended plants and there are framed signs proudly displaying awards in toilet excellence. And it's free!

After such a fantastic rest break, we get some nutmeg juice to get over the heat.

More drink options.

Simple drink serving bag. Nutmeg juice is icey cold and refreshing. It tastes like Golden Circle Lemon Cordial.

The markets are really busy and it's a very hot day - time to get back to Georgetown.

One of our favourite shop fronts. There's so much retro cool around Georgetown.

The security guard at our hotel, secret intense surveillance operation underway.

By evening we've recovered and head out to dinner at Tek Sen, established in 1965 as a small stall and now expanded across two shop fronts.

Tek Sen is super popular and often packed, the service is brisk and tables turn over fast so if you arrive and need to wait it won't be for too long.

The light wasn't photo friendly so here's just one lazy shot. It looked heaps better in real life, honest. We had ginger duck (dark duck meat maryland with the skin on, cooked with long pieces of ginger); double cooked pork (bacon candy, small pieces of pork cut small and cooked in a sweet sauce until so sweet and crunchy); potato leaves with fermented beans; wing beans with sambal and prawns; pork belly with mustard greens and a fried tofu dish. All up around $127 with a few long necks of Carlsberg thrown in.

The serving sizes aren't huge, but the tastes of each dish are. This place is highly recommended for a slap up dinner, excellent restaurant food with an old Chinese shophouse vibe. The double cooked pork was the favourite.

Teksen Restaurant is at 18 & 20 Lebuh Carnarvon.

We love Penang.


  1. 5 breakfasts!!! I am jealous. Fantastic write up as usual =)

  2. U guys done it again. Two of my favourite things, food and kuching.

  3. I have to say, Penang is possibly the food capital of the world! I crave returning there just to eat. I'll remember that taste of Assam Laksa as long as I live.


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).