Monday, March 26, 2012

Asia's 10 greatest street food cities

To those in the know, Penang is one of the world's top dining destinations. And street food--or hawker food, as it's locally known--is the city's big draw. Penang hawker food reflects the multicultural makeup of the town itself, which boasts citizens of Chinese, Malay and Indian descent. You'll also find a distinct Nyonya cuisine in Penang, the fusion food that has resulted from the intermarriage of Chinese and Malay immigrants.
One thing that unites Penangites of all backgrounds is their love of good food. The streets of Penang are lined with hawker stalls, coffee shops and hawker centers where multiple vendors offer their specialties.
Penang_Assam laksa
Penang’s personality in a bowl.

1. Penang assam laksa

Assam laksa is so closely associated with the city that it is often called Penang laksa. The fiercely contrasting flavors of this soup -- fishy mackerel, sour tamarind and fiery chili -- come together perfectly in assam laksa. It's served with chewy white noodles and garnished with fresh mint, shallots, cilantro, cucumbers and sweet pineapple. You can find assam laksa outside of Penang, of course, but it's never as sour and certainly never as delicious.
Try it at: Cecil Market Food Court, Lebuh Cecil, Penang
Penang_Hoikken mee
Chinese goes Malaysian.

2. Hokkien mee

It may have its roots in the Fujian province of China, but the Hokkien mee you'll find in Penang is deliciously different. The soup is a fragrant, fatty prawn-and-pork-bone-based broth served with a combination of chewy yellow egg noodles and thin, white rice vermicelli. Topped with hard-boiled egg, small prawns, fish balls, crispy fried shallots and spicy sambal, the dish is one of the few perfect breakfast foods in existence.
Try it at: Beach Street (between Magazine Road and Prangin Road Ghaut), Penang
 Penang_Wantan Mee
All together now.

3. Wonton mee

You'll find variations of wanton mee, a dish of Chinese origin, all over Asia, but the one in Penang leaves them in the dust. Springy egg noodles are served al dente with a sticky sauce made from soy sauce and lard oil, with a spoonful of fiery sambal on the side. It's topped with pieces of leafy green Chinese kale, sliced green onions, pickled green chilies and wontons. The wontons are either boiled or steamed, as you'll find them elsewhere in Malaysia, or fried, in a unique Penang twist. If you prefer, you can also order wanton mee "wet," meaning the noodles are served in a rich broth.
Try it at: Lebuh Chulia (in front of furniture shop), Penang

Penang_Nasi Kandar
Rich flavor for not-so-rich eaters.

4. Nasi kandar

Nasi kandar, a dish of Indian Muslim origin that’s now a Penang specialty, used to be peddled by men carrying containers full of rice and curry on poles balanced on their shoulders. Today it’s most often found in small restaurants that spill out onto the street. This richly spiced meal features various meat curries and gravy over white rice -- prawn curry is especially popular.
Try it at: Line Clear, Alley next to 177, Jalan Penang, Penang
Fruit salad, Penang-style.

5. Rojak

A dish that sounds unappetizing but tastes wonderful, rojak is a fruit salad with pieces of fried crullers and topped with a thick, sweet sauce made of black shrimp paste and crushed peanuts. Sweet pineapple, green mango and papaya, rose apples, jicama, cucumber and guava are tossed in to the dark sauce, which has the consistency of molasses. The combination of sweet fruit and savory seafood is confusing but surprisingly good.
Try it at: Gurney Drive Hawker Center, Persiaran Gurney, Penang
So tasty, you don’t even need the dipping sauces. But try 'em anyway.

6. Lor bak

A Nyonya dish that is a specialty of the Chinese of Penang, lor bak is minced pork that has been marinated in five-spice powder before being wrapped in soft bean curd skin and deep-fried. Lor bak is served with two dipping sauces, a spicy red chili sauce and a gravy thickened with cornstarch and beaten egg called lor.
Try it at: Jalan Johor (near Jalan Dato Keramat), Penang
Penang_Curry mee
More ingredients, more taste. Forget about the more calories.

7. Curry mee

Sometimes called curry laksa, curry mee is an amazing spicy coconut curry soup with yellow egg noodles and rice vermicelli. The soup is rich and a bit sweet; it's definitely not for calorie counters. Each bowl has at least a few of the following: chicken, tofu puffs, prawns, pork blood, cockles and cuttlefish. Garnished with fresh mint leaves and a spoonful of peppery sambal paste, curry mee is, at its best, transcendent.
Try it at: Lebuh Cintra between Lebuh Campbell and Lebuh Chulia, Penang
Penang_Char kway teow
Even better when served on a banana leaf.

8. Char kway teow

A Penang specialty, char kway teow consists of long, flat rice noodles stir-fried in a hot wok with soy sauce, fresh prawns, cockles, scrambled egg, bean sprouts and green onions. The dish is commonly served on a banana leaf and is one of the most popular hawker dishes in town.
Try it at: Pulau Tikus Night Market, Jalan Pasar, Penang
Penang_Koay chiap
Taste the adventure. And the ears, tongue and blood.

9. Koay chiap

This fragrant pork and duck soup is flavored with star anise and cinnamon and filled with the parts of the duck and pig that many prefer to avoid: ears, tongue, liver, intestines, blood. The rice and tapioca noodles, or koay chiap, are handmade and the soup is served with a hard-boiled egg, sliced green onions and spicy chili sauce. Usually served at night, this is a delicious dish that rewards the adventurous.
Try it at: Kimberley Street Duck Koay Chiap, Lebuh Kimberley, Penang
Penang_Ice Kacang
Beans and corn for dessert? Some might say.

10. Ice kacang

The perfect refreshment on a hot day, ice kacang is a shaved ice dessert topped with red bean, grass jelly, sweet corn and attap chee (palm fruit). Sugar syrups and condensed milk or coconut milk are then poured over the ice to sweeten the dish. A Penang variation on this Malaysian dessert is the punchy addition of shredded nutmeg, a native fruit.
Try it at: Gurney Drive Hawker Center, Persiaran Gurney, Penang