Heritage on a Plate

Penang Food

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.

***

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.

 

Intermission: Some Penang Food Favourites!

Food Tour, Malaysian Food, Penang FoodDanny MahesComment

Hello! This week I wanted to take a break from our regular Penang in Pictures and Friday Flashback series, and show you some gorgeous food pics. Oh, and if you don't already know, the "intermission" is from old films they used to show at the cinema. Typically, midway through the film there'd be a 5-10 minute cut for toilet breaks. That's when you'd go out to stretch your legs and top up on the cinema snacks like chickpeas and sugared nutmeg. It was pretty cool!

Penang Kopi (Local Coffee)

if you've met me or been on one of our food hops in Penang, you'll know that I'm addicted to the local coffee. This stuff is so good. The local coffee, or kopi as we call it here, is often flavoured with spices, butter and palm sugar. If you walk into a shop and ask for kopi, you're in for a wild ride. Flavours can range from nutty and sour to sweet and spicy. It usually comes with condensed milk and sugar, so you might want to ask for less sugar, or strong and black with no sugar or milk to really savor the flavor.

hop penang food tour coffee kopi

Nyonya Otak Otak (Braaaaainnnsss)

When the zombie apocalypse finally rolls around, I'll be well prepared. By which I mean that decades of enjoying the Nyonya Otak Otak in Penang will have prepared me to consume brains as a zombie.

The dish is actually made from mashed fish and flavoured with spices, curry powder and in Penang, daun kaduk (wild pepper leaf). It's steamed in banana leaves for the Nyonya version, which has the consistency of a nice custard. The Malay community will grill it, giving it a more solid texture quite similar to fish cake.

The name itself means "brains" in Malay, due to its... well, brainy look. The otak otak is notoriously difficult to photograph, so I'm pretty happy this shot came out looking anything other than a brainy pile of mush :P

hop penang food tour nyonya otak otak

Penang Nyonya Assam Laksa

These pictures were initially part of the Laksa Shootout series, but I decided they were a little too specific. I wanted to capture the range of colours and ingredients, and the little quirks at different shops.

hop penang food tour assam laksa

This picture is from the Penang Road Famous Laksa, and I really loved how the colours from the mint, shallots, torch ginger flower and pineapple (!) really came together.

hop penang food tour nyonya assam laksa 1

This is from the other laksa place just up the road, and I really loved the detailing on the chopsticks. It gives the place it's own personality. I've become aware in the last few years about how strongly we are conditioned to consume without pause, with no chance to take a breath and critically examine the things around us. Things like this remind me that this isn't just another laksa on the list. It's a place with it's own character, personality and history.

Something to remember as we explore this beautiful world together. Safe journeys and good eating.

Friday Flashback: Our Favourite Penang Food Part 3

Food Tour, Penang FoodDanny MahesComment

Hey, guys! Another Friday, another food flashback here. I hope your week has been going very well, and that you're going to be getting some much needed rest for the weekend (or some much needed excitement?) When I was going through pictures for this week's FF, I came across some really delicious rice dishes that I haven't had in a while. I'm putting them up so you can go find them if you're in Penang for the weekend. But I'm also putting them up as a reminder for me to go eat them again soon :P

Penang Nasi Campur

In Penang, we're big on rice especially during lunch time. The nasi campur or "mixed rice" concept is flexible, affordable and nutritious. It's like a buffet of dishes and you can choose the ones you fancy to go with your serving of white rice (sometimes cooked with ginger, or with butterfly pea flower.)

One of my favourite nasi campur places in the afternoon is Pak Yusof Nasi Melayu at the Traders Cafe on Jalan Macalister. The picture below is from 2017, and you could say this was a pretty light meal compared to my usual visits. I took some fried fish with sambal (chili paste and lime) sauce, tauhu sumbat (stuffed fragrant tofu), bean sprouts and egg. But they have easily 20-30 different dishes out for the weekday work crowd.

 Behold the seductive glow of carbohydrates

Behold the seductive glow of carbohydrates

Penang Pork Rice

Nestles in one unassuming corner of Lebuh Chulia is probably one of the most popular pork rice shops on the island. Wai Kee Char Siew sells pork rice every afternoon and the place is filled to the brim with hungry, expectant fans. You'll have to come early, around 11.30am, just to get a spot. Once the crowd starts going, there's an average 15 minute wait before you get a table.

Just a note about this (very overexposed) picture. I was still fiddling around with camera settings and trying to figure out how to take semi-decent food pics at the time. So, it's not really my best work. But I figured it was... informative?

hop penang food tour pork rice

Kailan Pork Rice

Ok, stay with me here. I know it looks err humble. But this here is one of my all time comfort foods. It's made in a little stall at the KOMTAR building on Jalan Magazine, by a husband and wife couple. Chopped and steamed kailan, with salted fish and roasted pork belly, served with piping hot white rice and a sour-spicy Thai chili sauce on the side. It's crunchy, salty, so pork-fatty good. When I'm having a bad day, this and a cup of iced Kopi makes it all better.

hop penang food tour kai lan pork rice

Ok, that's it for this week! I'll be back again next week with some more food pics rummaged from the depths of my memory as well as my SD card. Eat well!

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 2 of our Friday Flashback series.