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September 27, 2013

Penang’s Street Food Delicacies: Survival Guide For Vegetarians


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The land of oyster omelettes, fruit salads covered in prawn paste and slurpy spicy soups containing an obligatory dash of chillies and fish flakes, not to mention various kinds of tough-to-identify meat strips, can be a little tough to navigate for newbies to Penang. Prepare to eat a lot of fresh fruit (by themselves) and rather strange looking (and tasting!) desserts…Don’t worry though, there are plenty of Western-style as well as more familiar Thai eateries if you get too spooked by Penang’s thriving street food scene – an irrepressible and complex mix of Indian, Malay, Chinese and Thai cuisines.

Ais Tingkap

Basically this is a kind of delicious local slushy drink, which you will doubly appreciate when experiencing the constant humid heat of Georgetown. This refreshing concoction consists of sugar syrup, both juice and flesh of a coconut and sweet basil, plus a fruit of your choice. My personal favourite is the ultra-pink dragon fruit version…

Durian’s Galore

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A scary and foul-smelling (by Western standards) yet curiously vanilla-caramel flavoured fruit, a durian is a must to try if you’re lucky to be in Penang while it’s in season (roughly from May to July). This incredible fruit is a complete meal in itself, and the home-made durian ice-cream is simply obligatory to sample – despite all appearances to the contrary, you will not regret it!

Mee Koo Sweet Buns

If you see stalls covered with pretty pink buns popping up all over the place, you can be sure there is a religious festival of one kind of another about to start in the region. The semi-sweet buns are available plain, or with sesame-peanut or sweet lotus seed paste fillings, and symbolise longevity, so they are also ubiquitous during birthday celebrations!

Popiah

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This is a delicious kind of a fried wrap, and the big plus of it is that the vendor might not wince if you request it to be vegetarian. The fried dough skin contains a filling of lettuce, french beans, fried shallots and turnip, plus a generous dash of chilli and plum paste (crab meat, sausage and egg can be optional).

Tee Kueh and the Gorengs, or Fried Addiction

Tee Kueh is another kind of sweet cake, consisting of three layers of ingredients: sticky rice, sweet potato and yam, assembled using a magic formula designed to successfully seduce you. It is often sold on stalls which also offer cempedak goreng (deep fried jack fruit) and pisang goreng (fried banana) – the other justifiably famous and addictive options in this guilt-inducing snack category. Try them once, and you’ll likely be hooked for life. Thankfully getting to Penang is easy, so this is just some extra motivation to book your flights now, if you need it!

Chowrasta Bazaar

If you get desperate, drop by the Chowrasta Bazaar on Georgetown’s Penang Road (open until 5.30pm). Here you can stock up on dry snacks to carry with you in case you get peckish and there are no veggie options anywhere in sight. There are plenty of choices here, including sun dried fruit like mango and papaya, ginger bites, nuts, and many kinds of local biscuits and candy.

If you’d like to find out more about travel to Penang and Malaysia, travel sites including Flight Centre can provide information and advice on flights, accommodation or holiday packages.

Author: Patricia Bieszk+ is a freelance writer who can’t stop herself from indulging in street foods, wherever she goes.

Image Credit: 1, 2, 3.

General Thoughts, Vegetarian Food

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