Food Culture, Penang
When in Penang, you will find that chopsticks, spoon and fork or hands are used when eating.
1) Chopstick is used when eating a bowl of noodles. There is often a spoon to scoup out the soup or something difficult to handle with chopstick. Unlike in Japan, it is considered rude to drink the soup with a loud slurp directly from bowl - so use a spoon provided.
Chopstick is also used during Chinese banquet sit down dinner. Children are often given a spoon and fork and an empty plate. If you are uncomfortable with chopsticks, it is all right to request for spoon, fork and a plate. Knive cutlery are not used as food are usually cut to bite size.
2) Spoon is used on the right hand and fork on the left hand. Trying to scoop your rice with your fork is a quick giveaway that you are not "local". The spoon is used primarily for rice and the dishes and the fork to assist like a "knife". Watch how a local does it...
3) Hands. Some times water is given to rinse your hands before eating. Usually you can watch your hands before and after at a wash basin.
Remember to use your right hand only even if you are a left hander. The thumb is used to "shovel" the rice into your mouth. Again watch how the locals do it. If you are not comfortable, it is totally acceptable to request for a spoon and a fork.
Hands are often use when eating crabs or shelling prawns or eating a fried chicken wings. When eating seafood, a dish of tea with lemon is given for washing your hands - do not drink it!
It is an adventure eating in Penang,have fun trying the different ways of eating.
At the hawker centers outdoor or in a coffe shop, you walk around the different food stalls, see what you like an order. Prices is listed. You are given the "small" serving unless you specific "large". Everything will be added unless you specify "no prawn". "no chilly". "no bean sprout (taugeh)". You can request for additional ingredient at extra cost eg. "extra prawn", "extra cockles".
Some hawker centers has table numbers and so remember to say which number. Otherwise, just point or describe your general location and they will look for you.
You pay at your table when the food is brought over.
You are expected to order a drink. Some coffee shops even put a sign that customers will be charge "50 sen" if no drinks is ordered although legislation-wise this is a questionable practise. If there is a group of you, then not everyone has to order a drink - can share or exempt for one or two. For drinks, usually you will be approached and asked what drinks you want. If unsure, you can ask what is available. Alcoholic drinks are expensive in Malaysia and so asked first and what size of bottle. All prices are fixed and so you do not have to worry about being overcharged.
When very crowded, sometimes it is customary that someone may request to share your table if there are vacant seats. Most stalls now use disposal chopsticks or plastic cutlery.
Eating out at the hawker stalls & numerous coffee shops is a way of life for Penang-ites. There are numerous coffee shops, some of which are really old (circa Malaysia's Independence) and have achieved practically "cult" status and a few that have been handed down from father-to-son. Others are famous simply because they serve good food.
Among those that are famous are:
Three Sisters Char Kway Teow on MacCalister Street
Kayu Nasi Kandar, which serves delicious Indian Muslim food 24 hours a day (branch in SS 2, Petaling Jaya and Boxhill, Melbourne)
Gurney Drive Asam Laksa off the man's truck
Chendol & Ais Kacang at Komtar Food Court
Seafood at The Beginning of the World Restaurant (but I've never been able to find it!)
Durians from Pulau Tikus.
Those who have more suggestions or want to add on to this list, please write to me. I welcome your suggestions!
If you are a coffee drinker, I would suggest you to try the taste of the coffee.
Coffee in Northern Malaysia is somehow very aromatic, thick and nice. I prefer Kopi.
Kopi-O: dark coffee with or without sugar.
Kopi : coffee with condensed milk and sugar. It would taste different if fresh milk is added to the coffee. I prefer it with condensed milk.
Kopi-O peng: dark coffee with or without sugar with ice cubes added. A cooling and refreshing drink in the hot weather.
Kopi-peng: coffee with ice cubes added.
Note: People up North of Malaysia drink very sweet coffee. You can tell the coffee server to reduce the sugar for your coffee.
Dotted aroung Penang (and Malaysia for that matter) you will alwasy find roadside stalls selling all manner of food and personal items.
It's a bit like an older and more traditional version of a 7eleven store.
In this local custom tips, I will show you some of the food that originate from Penang and are famous.
This is a lok-lok stall. You simply pick up one of the sticks of food that you fancy, dip it into the boiling water first to cook it. Then dip into the chilli sauce and sweet sauce provided. Delicious... I think you need not worry about the food being unhygienic, cos the food is cooked by you.
I have enjoyed the famous penang char kuay tiao so much and I have forgotten to take a picture of the hawker. oops... Usually you can see the hawker frying the kuay tiao with huge fire. Adding and stir frying the ingredients, add the kuay tiao and sometimes yellow noodles, stir fry in one hand, tossing the kuay tiao into the air using the other hand...
It is a plate of stir fried flat and broad rice noodles with dark soya sauce with cockles, lak cheong (something like pepperoni), sliced fish cake, and bean sprouts. yumm....
You can also see "Penang Char Kuay Tiao" in Singapore, but the best is still in the birthplace - Penang. The real Penang version taste a little bit salty. Sometimes, "bak you pok" (crispy deep fried pork skin - very fragrant and tasty) are added and it adds more fragrant and taste to the kuay tiao. As it is oily and unhealthy, some people request not to have it, but I love it. The Singapore version taste a bit sweet, not salty. People from Penang do not like the sweet taste. However, I just love "Penang Char Kuay Tiao" salty or sweet. :-)
Those who travel around Penang, you should try out Penang Local food like Hokkien Mee, Laksa, Char Koay Teoh. This 3 is the top famous local food for penang. One of the restaurant had been operate for more then 30 years located at Island Glades, Genting Restaurant have all those 3 mentioned dish yet pretty delicious. On top of that, you can also try variety other food like Chee Chong Fun, Curry Mee, Wan Tan Mee, Jawa Mee, Mua Chee and so on at that restaurant as they are pretty delicious also. Conclusion, all the food in this restaurant is delicious. A lot of visitor from other state who drive themself to Penang usually will stop by this shops as it is just on the way from Penang Bridge. Usually weekend and public holiday will be crowded with a lot of visitors. In Chinese New Year time frame will be terrible, you will find hard time just to look for a small table to squeeze as many people as your have, but still a lot of people willing to wait just because they miss all penang food.
Live eels are worth more than dead ones, so when they are transported, they are kept alive with a little water and oxygen. Some diners even choose to have the specimen prepared in such a way, that it is still alive upon consumption. Apparently to 'look them in the eyes while you eat them, is to gain their soul and fighting spirit.' In other words - ***.
"Not everyone eats them live, but it's good for the sex," he smiles knowingly. As wonderful as Malaysia is, after what I've seen in Ipoh and Penang, it will not be getting my vote for humane animal treatment. I've said it before and I'll say it again - culture is no excuse for cruelty.
Cooked cuttlefish with boiled kang kong (vegetables) mixed with a special sweet peanut sauce. My favourite!
The cooked kang kong and cuttlefish are cut into a bowl. Then a prawn paste if mixed up with some water and chilli (if you desire) and the mixture is stirred and properly mixed. Then the mixture will be served on a plate, topped with lots of crushed peanuts. Mouth-watering...
Just pick and mix.
Served with a special sauce, and loads of vegetables (mainly turnip).
It is like an indian rojak. You just pick the type of food that you fancy, for example, prawn cracker, dried eggs, etc. Then give it to the stall owner. He will then cut them up into bite-sized, then topped it with load of shredded turnip, and a thick, sweet and spicy sauce with peanuts. Very delicious...
Mixed vegetables and fruits mixed with a special prawn paste with lots of peanuts. I love this most!
I would say this is a kind of salad that the westerners would call it. The difference is the sauce used and that fruits are added in too. This is not a vegetarian dish though cos the prawn paste is made from prawns.
It is noodles accompanied with a special soup (broth). The main ingredient of the soup is basically fish.
The assam laksa is famous. The noodles is round rice noodles which has a different texture from spagghetti. Try it, you might love it too. Then the broth is added on top on the noodles with some pieces of crushed fish. Then the dish will be topped with some shredded cucumber, onions, laksa flower (dunno how to call it in English, but it is a fragrant flower to make the laksa smell better), freshly cut chilli and some mint leaves. I love it to taste a bit sweet so I will add a lot of prawn paste to it... another mouth-watering dish that I love...
Just a little tip, dinner time in Penang is between 6 and 9 o'clock in the evening. If you arrive later, than it could be, that you're favourite dish is sold out at the hawker centres.