Photo Food Essay: Robyn’s George Town

I AM NOT SPECIFICALLY a food blogger, but Robyn Eckhardt is. A friend I trust in all matters of Asian cuisine—we’ll call him Eldma—pointed me in the direction of Ms. Eckhardt’s blog, Eating Asia, which she has been running with her photographer-husband for enough years to make any journo jealous. They’re quite good at what they do, and so when V and I decided to return to George Town, Penang, a city we remember as one of our favourites in the world, and which also happens to be where The Asian Eaters have decided to plant themselves, I did not think twice about signing up for their food tour.

Alas, the duo is Eating Turkey this week, but Robyn pointed me to her self-guided food tour published in the Wall Street Journal a few years back. It is comprehensive and a bit overlong, but has undoubtedly boosted some local spots’ popularity among tourists. (There has been a marked increase in white-person traffic at Lean Thye’s morning rush hour, I suspect; a man asked how I found it, and I showed him the article on my phone. “Ahhh,” he nodded in understanding, and, despite knowing little English, knew this much: “The Wall Street Journal.“)

All the food is good, sure, but certain personal tastes will make some seem better than others, which isn’t always fair because it’s all very decidedly different. But as far as a walking tour of one of the most romantic, affordable, sophisticated and diverse cities in the world, our stomachs regret nothing. Below are some of the sights you might come across if you follow her lead, and give a taste of what Penang has to offer.

lor mee lean thye

A man sips milky coffee at Lean Thye, a morning hotspot known for its lor mee.

lor mee george town

The lor mee in question: soft pork marinated spicy soy gravy over egg noodles might not be everyone’s favourite breakfast, but damned if it doesn’t fill you up ’til lunchtime.

thosa dosa thosai

No utensils allowed: thosa in Little India. Rip ‘er off and dip away.

dim sum aik hoe penang

Nothing’s too fried at Aik Hoe, where dim sum is cheap and they really, really don’t expect tourists.

malaysian food

A man full of dim sum contemplates his life at Aik Hoe. He seems to be thinking, “Not bad.”

malaysian coffee kopi

Sweet kopi, further sweetened by a bottom layer of condensed milk. Locals consider it an appetizer; we treated it as dessert.

Toon Leong Coffee Shop

A local dunks his bread into tea at Toon Leong Coffee Shop.

nasi kandar malaysia

The impossibly soft nasi kandar, slow-cooked Indian-style chicken bathing in a moderately spiced sauce, at Toon Leong Coffee Shop.

george town penang

Just a bike. Splash of colour, y’know?

cendol durian

Cendol, a signature soupy dessert in Southeast Asia. Slimy sweet mung-bean-flour noodles wade around in a coconut milk broth that’s good enough to drink on its own. Beware: Something this dish is sneakily served with durian, which some people (for reasons beyond me) actually enjoy, and it ruins the whole thing.

Shong Hor Hin Medicated Tea Shop

The mother of the shopkeeper at Shong Hor Hin Medicated Tea Shop prepares garlic for their signature teas.

malaysia medicine tea

The medicinal tea itself: bitter tea, apparently brewed from 40 herbs, leaves and flowers, alongside a sweeter cinnamon-flavoured companion.

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