Our local guide to eating out in Georgetown Penang, came from the most unlikely of sources and in the most charming of forms – a good, old-fashioned, hand-written letter from Madeleine, the mother of the owner of our hotel.
If you’re a regular Grantourismo reader you’ll know that when we spend time in cities for stories we try to identify resident experts native to the place to interview for our local guides. For our eating out guides, we tend to get tips from chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, bloggers, or foodies. After we did a street food tour the first day in Georgetown, our guide seemed the most obvious choice. And then we met Madeleine…
A Local Guide to Eating Out in Georgetown Penang
I hadn’t seen such lovely handwriting since I read my nanna’s letters almost a decade ago, now packed away in our storage unit in Dubai. I can’t even recall the last time I received several pages of anything hand-written on ruled paper.
The novelty of the gesture was as much a delight as the contents of the plain white envelope the reception staff handed me with an apology from Madeleine that unfortunately she couldn’t meet me.
Terence had had the pleasure of meeting Madeleine before me. He’d been working in the lounge at The Edison Hotel, where we spent our eight nights in Georgetown, while I’d been upstairs in our room doing the same. The hotel owner Eugene Tan’s parents, co-owners in the property, were also in the lounge, entertaining a large group of friends from Singapore.
Not even Terence’s text message that they were sharing around freshly baked samosas could entice me down and away from the post I’d promised to write up on the interview with Joe Sidek, director of the Georgetown Festival, which had been our main motivation for returning to Penang after 15 years.
The next morning, as Terence stood on a corner taking photos of a stall where we’d just polished off yet another char kway teow, and I checked out the porridge joint next door, Madeleine appeared and stopped to ask him where we’d just eaten.
Elegantly dressed, handbag over her arm, lipstick on, and hair perfectly coiffed in the same style as my grandmother who used to write me those wonderful letters, Madeleine looked like a woman who was on a mission. And she was.
Madeleine had been taking their Singaporean friends out eating in Georgetown for every meal that they’d had on the island. While some friends had returned home, some remained, and she was out scouting more spots.
Still, she spent some time briefing Terence on where we needed to eat, pointing out that the place I was checking out was very good, but so was the one next to it, and sharing further tips.
The next evening, Terence and I did what we unfortunately occasionally do. After getting so involved in our work that we’d lost track of the time, we looked at our watches and suddenly realised it was late. Too late for dinner? We hoped not. We dashed downstairs to find Madeleine and her husband and friend, who had just returned from their evening meal, at the reception desk.
Realising our predicament Madeleine recommended the Nyonya restaurant they’d just dined at and had the staff make a call. Too late! They were closing the kitchen in 15 minutes. Madeleine opened her handbag and pulled out a stack of business cards. The next half hour was spent calling restaurants to try to secure tables.
Over the days following, whenever we bumped into Madeleine in the hotel, she’d stop to ask, “Where did you end up eating?” or “Did you get to that Nyonya restaurant?” It was obvious that Madeleine was the perfect candidate for a local guide to eating out in Georgetown, Penang, and so I proposed an interview.
While Madeleine said she’d love to help, she was concerned about the time. We had only a couple of days left and she said she needed time to think about the hawker stalls and restaurants she’d recommend and to go and collect their business cards. I told her it wasn’t necessary, that I’d look up the addresses and all we needed to do was an interview and shoot her portrait.
However, on our final day, the front desk staff presented me with an apology from Madeleine and a white envelope. Inside were neatly organised business cards bound in rubber bands and the handwritten letter which we decided should become our Local Guide to Eating Out in Georgetown Penang.
It turns out we could be returning to Georgetown sooner than we expected. On the next trip we’re not only going to try the spots in Madeleine’s guide that we didn’t get to, Terence is also going to try to shoot that portrait. In the meantime, here’s a Local Guide to Eating Out in Georgetown, Penang from Madeleine, the hospitable co-owner of The Edison.
A Local Guide to Eating Out in Georgetown Penang
Madeleine rather charmingly titled her letter:
Local Eating Places of Penang
Penang Island is known to be the food paradise to most tourists from the neighbouring states, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and as far as China, who will come to this island for the main reason beside sightseeing – to taste the different types of delicious hawkers and restaurant food. The Penangites are delighted to see more of our European guests trying out this food!
To name a few of the local favourite meals that Penangites will eat throughout the day, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner, or supper, just to name a few, are: Char Kway Teow, Penang Assam Laksa (sour gravy made from fillet of fish and local herbs), Curry Mee, Wan Tan Mee (‘mee’ is the local name for noodle), and Kway Teow Soup (the ‘kway teow’ is a white coloured flat noodle and this noodle is also used for Char Kway Teow; ‘char’ means fried).
For the past 30 years I noticed the changing trend of the more affluent palate of Penang younger generation. They are the ones to influence their parents to eat the European way, eg. English breakfast, sunny side up eggs and sausages, omelette, toast, cereal, yoghurt, etc, with coffee or tea. As for lunch, sandwich and soup. Dinner: spaghetti, stew, chicken, lamp chop, etc.
The enclosed cards below are for Penang’s famous hawker food. Note that all of these stalls started their businesses in push-carts stationed along the side of roads and now most of them have upgraded into the shop lots.
- Hon Kei Food Corner, porridge and noodle shop, 43-45 Kampung Malabar
- Beef noodle soup from Kafe St Loo, Lebuh Carnarvon
- Dumpling and red bean soup from Cintra Food Corner, 40 Lebuh Cintra
- Soup Hameed, which is actually the Indian mutton herbal soup, at 48 Penang Road, opposite Merchant Hotel
- Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul for ice kachang, Lorong Selamat
- The very popular hawker stalls at Lorong Selamat
- Penang Ah Teik Durian Stall at Lorong Susu that opens 365 days a year! When not in season one has to call and check whether there are any durian for sale. Ah Teik: 012 438 3881.
There are many small restaurants around Penang Island that you can visit if you are prepared to be ‘slaughtered’ by taxis who are not willing to charge by their metres.
The restaurants that I have stated are a few of my favourites that I will bring my friends to and there are quite a few near the Edison, Georgetown, which you can to by foot or jump into a taxi which will not cost you ‘a hand and a foot’.
For Nyonya / Peranakan Cuisine
- Auntie Gaik Lean Old School Eatery, 1 Bishop Street, 012 449 2121
- Nyonya Breeze, 50 Lorong Abu Siti, 04 227 9646
For Hokkien / Cantonese Penang Flavour
- Tek Sen Restaurant, 18-20 Lebuh Carnarvon, 012 981 5117
- Foong Wei Heong, 23-25 Jalan Sri Bahari, 04 261 1918
- CRC Chinese Restaurant, 22 Pangkar Road, 04 227 8777
- Yeng Keng Café, 362 Chulia Street, Yeng Keng Hotel, 04 263 3177
- Ocean Green Restaurant, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, 04 227 4530
- Hai Boey Seafood, 29 MK 9, Pasir Belanda, Teluk Kumbar, 013 488 1114
At the end of the list, Madeleine wrote:
I hope what I have compiled is of help to you. You can always write to me if you need more information and I will try to help.
Madeleine left her various contact details at the end.
The woman who wrote that charmingly old-fashioned, hand-written, three-page letter also gave me her thoroughly modern WhatsApp number.
Have you been to the Malaysian island? Do you have any favourites that you would have added to Madeleine’s local guide to eating out in Georgetown Penang?