A guide to the cuisine of Penang, food capital of Malaysia

Thursday, 5 April 2014 1:38 PM

If you're a keen foodie, the state of Penang in Malaysia is one of the most exciting places to travel to. Its fascinating medley of cultures is reflected in its cuisine; read our guide to discover the key things to know about food in Penang.

While on other Malaysia luxury holidays you might expect to treat yourself to fine meals in upmarket restaurants, this is not the way to approach dining in Penang. Indeed, this is a destination famous for its 'hawker food' - which basically means food from street stalls.

This is where you will find the finest examples of Penang cooking, which takes its inspiration from Chinese, Indian, Malay and Nyonya foods. So, expect to taste dishes with flavours from all these cultures - and a heavy focus on desserts. In fact, sweet treats are a big part of the food culture here, so make sure you get your sweet tooth ready.

The most popular dishes you'll come across are based on fish and other seafood, primarily as fishing makes up such a large part of the local economy. You're likely to see ikan bakar come up a lot - this is simply a broad term for any kind of grilled or barbecued fish.

A particularly interesting option to try, otak-otak is a kind of fish paste or mousse, which has been wrapped in banana leaves and then grilled. The mousse itself is flooded with flavour, having been made with a combination of spices, herbs, kaffir lime leaves and coconut milk.

Noodle soups are also popular, while you'll find sweet potatoes cropping up in a lot of local food. One noodle dish to make sure you sample is Penang Laksa, consisting of a spicy and often sour fish soup filled with thick rice noodles and finished with garnishes such as pineapple, onions, cucumber and shredded lettuce.

If you're keen to try some meat, it is certainly worth tasting the local tari burgers, which can be made up according to your personal tastes, while satay dishes are another staple. Satay is a traditional Malay food, which you're likely to have tried at some stage as it has become popular in the UK, consisting of meat grilled over hot charcoals. Sometimes this is served with a Malay rice cake, known as a ketupat, but usually you'll be given a sweet and spicy peanut sauce to enjoy it with.

The local sweet dishes are typically rich, usually containing coconut milk and sugar. One particularly popular item is the Chinese-inspired ching pu leang thang shui, which contains a rich syrup, sweet potatoes, ginkgo and melon - among many other ingredients.

So, if you're staying in a luxury hotel in Penang, don't stick to the restaurants - try some hawker food for an authentic gastronomic experience.

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