Eat Drink George Town, Penang

So much beauty in one location…….

No doubt George Town is reinventing itself and if those water-coloured walls could talk, they would easily tell the world some wonderful stories.  Although pockets of this ancient city have become mere shadows of its former self, for me, there will always be much charm found in the dilapidated and untended.  Perhaps those same story-tellers will also belie those delicate and intricate old tales with a sneer of indignation for all that has been (and continues to be) lost to gentrification, urban renewal and re-development.

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Drink George Town…….

A lot of entertainment can be found from just wandering the streets and during my strolls I sipped water, drank cocktails and downed cold beer………anything to combat that heat.  I also had some pretty impressive coffee as believe it or not, Penang is fast becoming a coffee capital.  The love affair Malaysia is having with barista made coffee, which of course I intimately acquainted myself with, is to be saluted.  And the ice coffee you ask?  Well that was a ’nuff said’ experience 🙂

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There is no other way to describe this iced coffee than to say it was as all great iced coffees’ should be – ‘black as hell, strong as death and as sweet as love’…….

Okay, I am about to show my age though my dislike for the many newly renovated areas of George Town where the latest bar (trendy as shit but indistinguishably dull in their lack of charm, ambiance and character) are cropping up.  These places are fast becoming the latest hang-outs for the chain smoking, fake retro wearing, self-absorbed, selfie snapping hipstercriticals of the travel world!   And you know who you are!!

Given that statement, it would be fair to say I do so much prefer the grime of the past and that which is well beyond its used by date and the Hong Kong Bar (and all other bars similar) are a perfect example.  Unmatched in grunginess with decaying memorabilia, dross and dust along with their tired and overly harangued bar staff these dive bars are worthy the indignity of oneself morphing into tommy tourist mode for an hour or two……….

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Amazing who you will find while wandering the streets looking for dive bars…….

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But dig a little deeper and you will discover some lovely old school and deco inspired cocktail bars, wine bars and lounges all lambent and charmingly quiet, which offer up the perfect Negroni.  Which by the way, should always be enjoyed with a perfectly beautiful George Town sunset.

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I think this cocktail, appreciated after a ‘monkey moment encounter’ (in a later post and trust me, I needed a drink after that) was hard to top…….

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Eat George Town…….

When I travel, food often becomes the central focus but its not just about the eating for sustenance or the enjoyment of the moment.  This is more about the interaction with the locals, the culture and the finding of life in its simplest of forms.  Somehow too, the world of food I find myself in is often noisy and almost volatile with the banging of those big simmering pots and pans, the almost brutal cleaving of meat and the din of place.

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I am well aware of the general food travel rule (one of many travel ‘rules’ I tend to ignore) which goes along the lines of this – ‘if you can’t peel it, cook it or boil it then don’t eat it!’ .  I have quiet often thought that rule through when on the other side of the world only to realise I always end up enjoying a great meal which has come from a dodgy looking hawker stall yet been equally rewarded with a serious bout of food poisoning from a 5 star restaurant!  My tip:  It always pays to take risks……..

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My top must try food when in George Town: 

ANY hawker, street cart or street stall.

DITTO on Little India and Chinatown.

When it comes to breakfast, George Town has it covered.  Congee, a milky rice porridge that can be eaten any time of day or Bak Kut Teh which is a rich pork and herb broth brewed for several hours and served with pork ribs.  But for me, there is no going past Roti Bakar or Roti Canai.  Find yourself a humble looking food stall swarming with locals (you will see the trishaws and motorbikes parked out the front) and share a table to enjoy a generous, piping hot serve of roti with either sunny-side-up runny yoked eggs or a liberal scoop of curry.  With a plastic tumbler filled with iced Milo, breakfast does not get any better than this.

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Dim Sum is traditionally served for breakfast in old teahouses and heritage shop-houses in Chinatown.  Step back in time to find old cracked and tannin stained tea pots, no air-con and where quite grumpy elderly ladies brilliantly maneuver large metal trolleys around often-times 1950’s era laminex tables.   Amazing steam pork buns, dumplings, black mushrooms, bitter gourd, sticky rice noodle dishes, chickens feet and of course those wonderful sunshiny yellow egg tarts.

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Char Koay Teow is possibly Penang’s most famous street food dish and it will never taste better than sitting on a kerb in a narrow back street right outside the hawker stall which made it.

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Asam Laksa is another icon of Penang with its thick rice-based noodle and aromatic broth.  This dish really is DIVINE and if you are serious about your food, you can also ask that the intestines and offal be added.

And for the not so faint of heart (and if you are a serious fan of the whole nose to tail experience), then there are crispy pork intestines, tongue and even pigs blood cakes to savor on your culinary journey…….

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As much as I love anything gin laced, amber in colour and cold or those bitterly sweet strong coffees’, the very best companion for any meal in George Town is tea………xx

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