I assume it’s the street food vendors that “make it” or have more capital to start their venture with that operate from Hawker centres, along with dozens of other traders. These large cavernous spaces have hundreds of seats offering a wider clientele base than the dozens of seats the vendors have on the street.
There are easily a half dozen of these hawker centres within walking distance of historic Georgetown, some are daytime only, focusing on the office worker lunch trade. The evening only centres often have some form of entertainment, to encourage merriment and in turn more eating and drinking.
With so many hawker centres and so many stalls there is an absolute glut of choices, everything I had the chance to try was excellent, luckily the portions aren’t huge.
Nasi lemak – Nasi lemak is a tasty composite dish of ginger rice, dried anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg and sambal, cucumber is often served on the side. Nasi Lemak from a hawker centre will often come with all the components wrapped in a bamboo leaf, sans cucumber. Easy to take away and to transport, also quick and easy to make in volume. Nasi lemak in a restaurant looks somewhat different, with each of the components set aside from each other. Often served with an additional item, like a fried fish, or some curry. As Nasi lemak from a hawker centre are pre-made for a local palate the sambal kick can be extreme and unavoidable. The restaurant version is great for a first timer or the chilli adverse. I love them both, especially the crispy anchovies.
Mee sotong – Mee Sotong was the first food I ate in Georgetown, noodles with squid, quite simple, yet hard to understand. The Mee Sotong is likely a Mamak dish, meaning these some cross culture influences in play, with Indian flavours blending with oriental tastes. The rich squid stew that tops the noodles is murky brown, slightly sweet and a little tart, the noodles are tossed in an unctuous sauce. I’m not sure how to best describe Mee Sotong, besides excellent, and very fishy, nor do I know how to recreate it. A reassuringly delicious first meal In Georgetown, a great first step on my gastronomic adventure here.
Penang white curry mee – The white curry mee delivered to me the flavours I have in mind when I think of curry laksa, laced with coconut milk, some deep rich curry notes and a great in depth flavour with a chilli hint.
White curry mee has thin egg noodles submerged in the fragrant prawn and coconut broth, the broth is coloured with sambal, a little extra is delivered on the spoon, to stir through as desired. The noodles are topped with squid, fried tofu and cockles. It is a bowl of delicious indeed.
I love the stall, a classic street stall frontage with additional kitchen space behind, so inviting.
Ginger and spring onion frog hot pot – Served bubbling inside a roasting hot clay hot pot the frog pieces are fall of the bone tender, cooked with chicken stock, a good slug of sesame oil, a little star anise, sweet and sticky with kecap manis. Finished with plenty of spring onion, cooked but still retaining some bite, the julienne strips of ginger deliver some reassuring zing. Served with rice it was frustratingly slow to eat, with the claypot keeping the dish very hot for a very long time.
All around Georgetown I found chain stores of a local bakery, selling vast numbers of pre-packaged pastries. Luckily there were also counter services where I could buy them individually, they made a great quick snack in between meals as I explored the town. With interesting locally themed flavours and a distinctive flaky pastry, I tried a lot of them. The pandan salted egg pastry, chicken puff pastry, Ko-cha siew pao, crispy kaya puff, pineapple with mango cube pastry and the trishaw egg tart. I found them most enjoyable.