Heritage on a Plate

Friday Flashback: Our 3 Favourite Dishes at Mandarin Cafe

Food Tour, Penang FoodDanny MahesComment

Hey, guys! This week, I'm bringing you back in time to a lovely lunch date at the Penang suburb of Island Glades.

We're headed to the Mandarin Cafe, a place locked in a bitter lunchtime struggle with their arch-nemesis, the Genting Cafe. It is an epic conflict for the best roast duck rice, a thunderous battle of char koay kak supremacy, a buffet rice saga for the ages.

OK, maybe it's actually more like some friendly competition between two very popular food places during lunch. But that means the food. is. fantastic.

1. Penang Hokkien Roasted Duck Rice

hop penang food tour hokkien roasted duck rice 2

One of the most popular lunch dishes in Penang is the roasted duck or chicken rice.

You'll find stalls from George Town to Batu Feringhi selling this quick, delicious and nourishing dishes for crowds of hungry locals.

In Penang, we prefer the roasted style. In other parts of Malaysia, like Ipoh, you'll find that steamed chicken is more common.

But one thing we can all agree on is that juicy, crackling, sweet roasted pork belly is a real treat.

I like to get my roasted duck or chicken rice with sio bak, the Penang Hokkien name for roasted pork belly, or siu yuk as it is commonly called in Cantonese.

 I took a lot of time to make sure this picture makes you hungry

I took a lot of time to make sure this picture makes you hungry

2. The Popular Lunch "Nasi Ekonomi"

In a hurry or on a budget? We have a dish for that.

 Sweet and sour pork with crunchy shallots, okra sambal, fried long beans and steamed cauliflower with mushrooms. This was some good eating.

Sweet and sour pork with crunchy shallots, okra sambal, fried long beans and steamed cauliflower with mushrooms. This was some good eating.

Behold, the ultimate in mix 'n match goodness. The "nasi ekonomi" (literally Economy Rice, meaning it's cheap) is a buffet style lunch time dish with vegetable, meat, desserts and even sweetmeats or "kueh".

Small shops or vendors may have 10 or 12 dishes, but really popular lunch places can have up to 30 different dishes for you to choose from.

The Nasi Ekonomi is an elegant way to appeal to customers from different economic background. Having a tight month? Pile up on vegetables and cheaper meat dishes. Got your bonus in? Go to town with crackling pork, roasted chicken, wild boar and more.

The Malay community also has a similar approach which is called "Nasi Campur" or mixed rice. I'll get you caught up on the various Penang nasi campur soon :)

3. Char Koay Kak

 Spicy, savoury, tangy, crunchy and accentuated with fried pork belly, egg and cockles. Garnished with crunchy salted turnips and served on a fragrant banana leaf. You have to try this stuff.

Spicy, savoury, tangy, crunchy and accentuated with fried pork belly, egg and cockles. Garnished with crunchy salted turnips and served on a fragrant banana leaf. You have to try this stuff.

It is difficult for me to express just how much I love a good char koay kak. It's all the great flavours of Penang food beautifully expressed in one dish.

These grilled rice cakes (in some places, it's radish cakes. But in Penang we like the neutral flavour of rice) can be found throughout the day. We'll have them for breakfast, lunch and supper. The spicy, fragrant aroma will immediately make you hungry, regardless of the time of day.

The char koak kak at Mandarin Cafe is probably one of the best I've ever had. My other favourite is at Lorong Macalister in the mornings. I usually get the duck egg option and thank my lucky stars the whole time I'm having it.

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Ok, that's it for this week! I'll be back again next week with some more food picks for great Penang eating. Safe travels and good eating!

There's a lot of good food in Penang. The Friday Flashback series will help recap some of our recommendations and help you decide which delicious dishes to have on your trip to Penang. For more food favourites, read Part 3 of our Friday Flashback series.