As Cait mentioned on Tuesday, we’re flying the coop. And not just because of Water Festival and some of the safety risks it comes with large crowds descending on the city, but also because the last few weeks have been packed. With fun and birthdays, photoshoots and launches, and two weeks of field work for me. Oi vey. So my man and I are heading off to one of my favourite cultural and gastronomic smorgasbords in the region: Malaysia! This will be our fourth time in the country of so many different tastes and traditions, and I thought I’d share with you all some of my favourite eats and sleeps!
Penang is pretty much the gastro-capital of Malaysia. And my entire prerogative for going there was to eat my heart out and basque in some pretty cool cross-cultural history ranging from old Chinese shop houses turned boutique hotels to the coolest of 19th century cemeteries. But I’m going to concentrate on the food here, where it’s all about the intersections between Malay, southern and Hakka Chinese and Indian flava flavs.
It’s all about street eats and hawker centres in Georgetown, Penang. And for Malaysia newbies, let the posts from Robyn Eckhardt on her food blog, EatingAsia be your guide. With a heck a lot of notes and recommendations from friends, I went on pretty much embarked on a mission to eat some of the best that Asia has to offer. Many of these dishes are also ubiquitous across Malaysia. Here are some of my faves:
Bacon Candy. Or rather, double cooked pork at a tiny crowded Chinese restaurant called Teik Sen (half a block down fromt he Campbell Street Market at the Kedai Mansion) is pure heaven. It’s incredibly popular among locals and tourists alike so prepare for a wait.
Kopi. Kopi Peng. Tea Tarik. These are some of Malaysia’s best beverages for the thirsty and possible weary traveler from all that walking you’ll be doing in Penang. The best place to get this is at the Toon Leong Coffee Shop (at the corner of Jalan Transfer and Japan Argyle). Start early! This place is only open from early morning to mid afternoon!
Mee Rebus is the best of hakkanese cuisine from the Hameed Pata vendor at Padang Kota Lama, a local hawker centre near the water. These spicey curried yellow noodles with a local sambal definitely need to be accompanied by a tea tarik to wash it all down.
Roti Canai. All the way. One of our favourite Malay street eats is composed of a simple roti fried on the street and a delicious curry sauce to dip all of its oily goodness in. You can pretty much get this anywhere.
Indian eats sit next to the Malay and Chinese eats in Penang. Taxi drivers love going to and will recommend Line Clear (177 Jalan Penang) for their Nasi Kandar during their nightly shifts.
Rice rolls and white carrot cake are pretty much my beat. They’re southern Chinese traditions that will always make my heart warm. Here, they’re called Kuih Ketayap (rice rolls with coconut), chee cheong fun (Hong Kong style rice cake) and char kuih kak (white fried carrot cake), both of which you can get at the outdoor food court off of Jalan Chow Rasta.
Chow Kway Teow. Oh my god. A Chinese-Malay offshoot of my childhood fave: hor fun. You can get a plate of this plate of fried rice noodles with seafood and egg, a bowl of the umami-ful assam laksa (fish curry noodle soup) at Joo Hooi Cafe (475 Jalan Penang), and finish it all off with a bowl of ice cold cendol (a dessert of coconut milk and worm-like jelly noodles). Yum!
Night markets, night markets, night markets! This is when the best family owned food vendors come out. Some of them are so lucrative they’ve been able to finance their children’s university tuitions! Our favourite night market was on McCallister Road. You can get pretty much anything and everything that makes Malaysian street food what it is here. We’re heading to Langkawi in just 72 hours and I’m so excited to go to the Night Market in Temoyang and Kedawang (there is pretty much a Night Market every night).
And these were just a few of our faves! If you’re ever in the region, definitely do make a weekend out of it and head over to Georgetown, Penang!
If there’s one thing I love, it’s a freaking unique boutique hotels of Asia. There’s just so much character in the history of a good heritage hotel or a theme-based modern abode. Malaysia’s might actually be king when it comes to these retreats. Here’s are two which I have loved and another couple of them to look forward to in Langkawi.
Coffee Atelier in Georgetown Penang. What a gem! Recommended by our dear friend Kiira, we arrived very late and were immediately stunned by simply how cool this heritage hotel was. Restored and owned by Stefan and Lorina Gehrig, this hotel of only 6 suites retains its charm as a former coffee roaster and Chinese shop house. Each room is filled with local antiques and furniture. And even though you really don’t need to partake in breakfast given how amazing the food is in Penang, I’d give it a try because it is really delish. We stayed in a 1st Floor loft…which meant four poster bed! (rates vary by season, 100-150 USD/night)
Muntri Mews is just down the street from Coffee Atelier and was another perfect place to roll our suitcases over to. Yet another heritage hotel, this place was also restored to its previous grandeur as a member of the Straits Collection of Chinese architecture in Malaysia. Each room combines history and minimalist modernity in such a clean transition. Plus the service is awesome. (Doubles with a king sized bed available for 100-200 USD/night depending on season).
And since we’re off to the jungles and beaches of pristine Langkawi in just a couple of days, I’m excited to get my relaxation on.
We’ll be spending our first 3 nights at the Tanjung Rhu, recommended by my Malaysia expert friend, Alexa! With 2.5km of white sand beach and five stars to boot, we know this is a splurge. But with 2 weeks logged in the field before, another week when I get back to Cambodia, and an Agoda deal that cuts 72% off the usual rate, I feel like a little luxury is just the thing I need.
After the hitting up the beaches, we’ll be headed to the jungle and staying at a lovely little studio apartment at the Ambong Ambong. Great reviews notwithstanding, I’m excited to use this retreat to launch a deeper exploration of Langkawi and some of the cool surprises it has to offer beyond the beach.
And one place we’ll have to hit up next time comes from a recommendation from Cait. The Temple Tree at the Bon Ton and its more upmarket sister, the Bon Ton Resort, are beyond cool. Unique antique buildings with Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage are this family of hotels’ bread and butter (150-300 USD/night, varies with season). Malaysians really know how to design the heck out of a hotel.
All photos owned by Cait+Tiff unless otherwise indicated.