It is a proven fact that nowhere in Asia can ever compete with Malaysia in the street food sector, with Penang and in particular Georgetown’s Chinatown at the top of the culinary list. It looks like all of Penang gathers, every evening, to have a meal in the several hawker stalls that sell a colorful gourmet that reflects the island’s ethnic mix.
Food served include a variety of traditional iconic dishes with exotic names like Curry Mee (noodles), Lor Bak (marinated minced pork rolled in thin soybean sheets and deep-fried), Sotong Kangkung (cuttlefish salad), Char Koay Teaw (stir-fried rice noodles), Pork Satay (quite rare in Malaysia, but still sold in Penang), Lok Lok (hotpot shabu shabu) and more. With the variety being so huge, it is pointless trying to discover what each dish contains, so the going rule is: try it and see. Dishes are so cheap that at an average of one dollar each, you could not go wrong!
Tourists and locals alike join in this culinary fare, gulping down with wooden chopsticks bowls full of noodles, soups, marinated pork, fried fish and pork balls, food cooked in huge woks and violently beaten and stirred by dedicated, Chinese elderly in shirts and shorts, while middle-aged grumpy family members run around the tables serving dishes, cashing in immediate payments (first pay, then eat!) and collecting dirty bowls from vacated tables that get occupied immediately after by hungry mouths.
I learn from a local family that one of the stalls here serves the best noodle soup in the whole of Penang. At the stall the line is long and the scene is frantic, with the elder forefather, hunchbacked after the so many years of food making, fills in hundreds of bowls with fresh meals. We order our meal and sit patiently, sipping a fruit shake.
Around us, charcoal fires flame up and gas fires work on full power, heating huge woks and frying pans where the soups cook endlessly; clouds of smoke and smells billow up permeating the air, while a ceaseless coming and going of people pick their choice and happily eat, eat and eat.
The first drops of rain start to fall, and the patrons rush to move stools and plastic low pavement tables under the covered pavements. We are now close to the shop houses walls, sitting and rubbing shoulders with diners of all nationalities who mingle at the tables; our cameras, notebooks and bags are on the floor behind us. All of a sudden, a car stops and looks at us, honking the horn. A brief instant after asking ourselves what this is all about, we hear the sound of a padlock unlocking, an iron door opens behind us and a young woman looks at us, smiling, wondering how she is going to get out of her house with our things and ourselves totally blocking the way. We start laughing in unison and move a bit to allow her through.
We then enjoy our dinner while the Chulia traffic that includes bicycles, rickshaws, cars and motorbikes buzz by splashing rainwater. And my bell is full like that of a penangite!