Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
Ah Penang, Malaysia’s tourism jewel. It’s certainly been widely recognised as a great place to visit, featuring in the Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016 list, the Huffington Post‘s list of top 12 places to live or retire in 2016, and in CNN’s 2016 list of the hottest street foods in the world.
Google best places to eat in Penang and you’ll be hit with millions of recommendations. There are so many standout places to eat and dishes to try in Penang that you could happily spend a year eating your way across the island.
Unfortunately, when you’ve got just one afternoon in town, and only limited stomach space, what do you do?
That was the situation the Happy Gwailo and I found ourselves in a couple of weekends ago. We had escaped on a romantic weekend getaway just by ourselves before going home to face the family hordes, and only had one full day in Georgetown. We had planned to have a mini food tour in the city, with half a dozen stops on our list. Unfortunately, Penangites seem to like eating early, and half the places were closed by the time we got there at around half past one in the afternoon.
Only one of the places on our list was still open – Joo Hooi cafe near KOMTAR, Malaysia’s first skyscraper. The original plan was to go to Joo Hooi for their famous chendol, then move on to the other places on the list. And yes, this is a very Malaysian thing – we will go out of our way to have “the best” dish, rather than settle for an inferior substitute that’s closer to home. Instead, we ended up having my top three favourites all in the one cafe.
Remember what your parents told you about not having any ice at roadside stalls in developing countries? Well disregard that advice, because this chendol is worth it.
So what is chendol? It’s a really refreshing, sweet drink made with shaved ice and topped with healthy dollops of sweetened red beans, gula melaka or liquid palm sugar, coconut milk, and of course, chendol or the green jelly “worms” made out of rice flour. On a hot day (and it’s always hot in Penang), there’s nothing better than a bowl (or two) of chendol to cool you down.
In a little alley next to Joo Hooi cafe, you’ll find the famous Penang Road Teochew chendol. Several chendol stalls line both sides of the tiny alley (be careful, because the alley is still open to cars), but the best one (and the one with the longest lines) is against the wall of the Joo Hooi cafe. Even though the stall is outside the cafe, you’re allowed to order a bowl and enjoy it inside.
2. Asam laksa
Also known as Penang laksa, asam laksa is a delicious noodle dish in a spicy and sour fish broth. It was named as one of CNN’s top eight most popular street food dishes in the world, and the hawker stall in Joo Hooi cafe serves up some of the best.
The noodles are served with a prawn paste and topped with cucumber, pineapple, red onion, chilli and mint. For those unfamiliar with Asian flavours, this dish may be a little confronting but give it a try – it is truly delicious.
3. Cha Koay Teow
This dish is a must-try in Malaysia, and Penang serves up some of the best. Flat rice noodles are fried in a wok over high heat with lap cheong (chinese sausages), prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and eggs to produce a fragrant noodle that’s so yummy there won’t be a scrap left on your plate. If possible, order the version with duck egg – it really makes the dish. Luckily, the cha koay teow stall at Joo Hooi Cafe does just that.
When you’ve got limited time in Penang, or just can’t be bothered to traipse around in the heat to find the very best that Penang has to offer, Joo Hooi Cafe is a great option. It’s got a selection of Penang’s best street food dishes, and they are all delicious. At the very least, you have to try their chendol – that is truly one of Penang’s best.
Joo Hooi Cafe
475 Jalan Penang
Open Friday to Wednesday 11am – 5.30pm
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