Penang, a small island off Malaysia’s north-west coast, could quite well be one of the most multi-cultural places on earth. Established as a British colonial port in 1786, Penang became an important trading post, attracting a host of ethnicities from Canton to Kerala. Many stayed, creating a rich mélange of cultures, and an even richer array of foods.
Here within, some of the island’s favourite breakfast snacks.
CHAR KOAY KAK
Fried radish cake is synonymous with breakfast in the former Straits Chinese cities of Penang and Singapore and even served as a breakfast dish on Singapore Airlines. Maintaining similar characteristics to the illustrious Penang snack, char koay teow, char koay kak entangles cubes of homemade rice cake with radish fried with bean sprouts, pickled radish, soy sauce, an egg and chilli paste. It’s substantial, extremely delicious and definitely not diet food. Try it at the street food cart outside Kedai Kopi Seow Fong Lye, 94C, Lorong Macalister, George Town
This Indian influenced flatbread is widely agreed as one of the island’s most popular breakfast dishes. Its origins are less decisive; the word canai coming from either channa, a dish made of chickpeas in spicy gravy from Northern India with which this type of bread was traditionally served; or the Malay word to mean "rolled out dough". Made from paper thin dough that is folded and fried on a tava, roti canai is sometimes referred to as "flying bread" from tossing and spinning the dough to get it paper thin. A good roti should be flaky, not doughy. They can be filled with, among other things, egg (roti telur), banana (roti pisang) or sardine (roti sardin) and are served with dhal, or a piquant curry. Try it at Special Famous Roti Canai, 56 Jalan Transfer, George Town
CHEE CHEONG FUN
Literally meaning pig intestine noodle (as the noodle resembles the small intestine of a pig, not because it includes pig intestines), this dish is originally from Canton and Hong Kong, where sheets of flat rice noodle are rolled with meat or vegetables. In Penang chee cheong fun is unfilled; the rolled noodles are instead liberally doused in sweet sauce, chili sauce, a dash of sesame oil, a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds, fried shallots and a black shrimp paste called hae ko, which gives it its unique Penang characteristic. Try it at Kedai Kopi Seow Fong Lye, 94C, Lorong Macalister, George Town
Literally meaning pulled tea, tea tarik is strong black Ceylon tea mixed with sugar and condensed milk that is poured through the air between two cups until it reaches a rich, frothy texture with a foamy head. The pulling process cools the tea to optimal drinking temperature and helps to mix the tea with the condensed milk. Tea pullers also assert that it give the tea a better flavour. The ability to drag a long stream of tea above patrons heads without spilling a drop is both an amusing novelty and the mark of a skilled puller. Teh tarik is recognised - along with nasi lemak - as part of Malaysia’s heritage by the government. Found at most hawker stalls.
Literally meaning “rice and cream” in Bahasa Malay, this pile of rice cooked with coconut cream and served with an assortment of condiments- boiled egg, roasted peanuts, dried anchovies, cucumber and sambal- rich chilli sauce- is Malaysia’s national dish. Toss the ingredients so they coalesce; the crumble of the egg offsetting the pungent fish, crunchy peanut, tongue tingling sambal and creamy rice. Try it at street stall in front of Standard Chartered, Beach Street, George Town.
Originating from Kilakarai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the main part of this hearty dish is rice boiled together with lentils, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and mustard seeds, then served with a side dish of dhal cooked with onions, potatoes, eggplant and curry leaves. It is also often eaten with other side dishes like beef, fish curry or chicken curry. Nasi dalcha is also known as nasi ganja for putting breakfasters in a fabulous mood for the rest of the day, despite the aforementioned herb being illegal in Malaysia. Try it at a stall with no name in an alley off the top of Hutton Lane, George Town