PENANG’S GASTRONOMIC DELIGHTS are world-renowned. But somewhat biasedly, these are often limited to the offerings found on the Island. The food scene in mainland Penang is a terrain ripe for culinary adventure and as someone who was born here, I am passionate about helping fellow foodies discover its amazing food, starting with these five highly recommended eateries:
BM Yam Rice Kopitiam (大山脚芋饭专卖店)
BM Yam Rice Kopitiam can be found on Jalan Murthy, an inconspicuous little turnoff a few hundred metres down the road from the Bukit Mertajam Hospital. The non-halal storefront cannot be missed with its big boiling pots of soup and a small army of cooks and servers, all clad in bright pink.
Customisers can pick and choose the ingredients for their sour pork broth; the options vary from juicy pork meatballs to offal and organ meats. There is also the choice to add on black vinegar braised pork belly and tofu stewed in a rich dark soy sauce. But the star of the show is definitely their signature yam rice. There is a delicate smokiness to the rice that is enhanced by the nutty earthy flavour of bite-sized yam pieces, making this a mainland crowd favourite. Be sure to come early though, as the dish is usually sold out within the first two to three hours of opening.
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Opening hours are from 9am to 3pm, from Thursday to Tuesday, but expect a short wait when visiting on weekends as this is a regular family eatery.
Pink-clad cooks at the BM Yam Rice Kopitiam.
Their signature yam rice pairs perfectly with a steaming bowl of sour pork broth.
Liang Khee Restaurant
Liang Khee Restaurant is a non-halal Chinese stir-fry establishment by day which moonlights as a soup eatery from 5.30pm to 2am in the morning, with locations in Bukit Mertajam, Butterworth and Simpang Ampat.
A repurposed ice cream fridge holds an assortment of vegetables, non-halal meatballs, chicken and fish which are then paired with your choice of noodles and soup base. There are eight different types of noodles to choose from and four different soup bases, including herbal and clear broths, as well as two styles of Tom Yam. While their Bangkok-style Tom Yam is closer to the authentic version found in Thailand, they are best known for their take on the classic spicy soup.
The perfect balance of sour, sweet and spicy from the fragrant lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves is what makes Liang Khee's signature Tom Yam soup a favourite among their regulars. A fair warning should be given as the soup can be quite spicy for those with a delicate palate. It is also important to note that everything is served in extremely big bowls, guaranteed to satisfy late-night supper cravings. Additionally, other small snacks such as fried ice cream – a deep-fried breaded ice cream sandwich – are available at affordable prices.
Pay a visit to Liang Khee and discover why Penang mainlanders and many south Kedah folk love to get their Tom Yam fix here.
WARNING! The soup can be quite spicy for those with a delicate palate.
A repurposed ice cream fridge holds an assortment of vegetables, non-halal meatballs, chicken and fish which are then paired with your choice of noodles and soup base.
Nasi Campur Permai Tepian
A hearty plate of nasi campur waiting to be tucked into.
There is no better way to enjoy delicious Malay kampung-style cooking than a hearty plate of Malay mixed rice. Nasi Campur Permai Tepian is famous among local Malays. The eatery opens at 7.30am daily except on Fridays and even in the early hours, customers can be seen filing through the check-in line to scan the MySejahtera QR code and to have their body temperatures taken.
Once through the check-in process, they get their plate of rice from the rice station before heading to the fried and vegetable stations where items like fried sambal catfish and chicken, as well as an assortment of stir-fried vegetables can be found. Close by are big steaming pots of gulai and kuah, filled with beef, chicken, cuttlefish, prawns and fish. There is also an ulam station where customers can pick and choose herbs and vegetables along with different sambals; my favourite is the especially addictive sambal kicap bawang.
Once you have your food, find a seat either under the covered rafters or in the open air area that faces a small river. Servers will take your drink orders and the warm and friendly owner will come around to greet you and tally up the bill. The eatery closes at 3.30pm and they only cook once in the morning, so be sure to come by no later than noon to get a piping hot lunch and to sample the delicious Malay fare.
Kirtiga Meals Restaurant
With two locations in Bukit Mertajam, Kirtiga is a frequented spot for the Indian community on the mainland. They specialise in South Indian Banana Leaf cuisine with some Kerala staples, as well as a la carte biryani and curry dishes – all are affordably priced.
The Banana Leaf option comes with a Thali set and pappadam. Their juicy and tender Chicken 65 is well-seasoned, while their Gobi (cauliflower) Manchurian is on the saucier side. Their fish curry is properly spicy and not overbearing on the palate. The Nalli Yelumbu (mutton marrow) is cooked in dry peratal gravy style and the shanks yield delicious marrow morsels that add a rich umami to the entire meal. As for beverages, the chai and cardamom teas come highly recommended, as well as the mango lassi and the sour-spiced buttermilk moore (pronounce more-uh).
Kirtiga opens daily from 11am to 10pm.
The Banana Leaf option comes with a Thali set and pappadam.
Kulim Road Best Cendol
This bowl of Indian-style cendol has only five ingredients.
Most Malaysians have their favourite dessert stall; and for many Penang mainlanders, that stall is Kulim Road Best Cendol. This Indian-style cendol consists of only five ingredients, but achieving the perfect balance is easier said than done. From the fresh creaminess of the coconut milk and soft chew of the cendol noodle that surprisingly does not freeze under the heap of shaved iced, to the slight saltiness of the gula melaka and caramel-like sweetness of the sugar-stewed red beans, Kulim Road Best Cendol has its craft down to a science.
With lightning speed, bowls of cendol are whipped up and served to the regular queue of customers. A perfect cool-down treat, this unassuming dessert pairs perfectly with a generous platter of pasembur drizzled with a rich peanut sauce.
Kulim Road Best Cendol is located a little ways from St. Anne’s Church, and is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 5.45pm. Be sure to check out their Facebook page and give them a like!
Marcus Dip Silas is an interculturalist and foodie with an interest in international relations and community development. He is currently writing a book on tech entrepreneurs in Penang.