Glorious food: Chinese cuisine

Penang's Chinese gourmet dishes

Penang Chinese cuisine © Adrian Cheah

Chinese gourmet cuisine is widely regarded as one of the world's finest and the fine dining establishments in Penang mostly serves this cuisine in its authentic form with recipes handed down through generations. In general, there are four main influences in Chinese gourmet cuisine originating from the different regions of China – Hakka, Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew.

With its roots in the imperial palace and filtered down to the private homes of the rich and powerful and to the restaurants where the privileged entertained, Chinese gourmet dining tends to be lavish and opulent affairs with 8-course and 10-course menus. Peking duck, Beggar's chicken as well as abalone, scallops and fish maw-inspired dishes are some of the more popular choices among the locals.

Penang Chinese cuisine © Adrian Cheah

Chinese restaurants in Penang are popular for banquet functions such as weddings and anniversary celebrations or business lunches or dinners where deals are clinched and favours curried. But for the occasional diner who just wants to have a treat, Chinese gourmet cuisine is still very much affordable with a la carte choices or set menus. Here is a list of restaurants in Penang serving great Chinese cuisine (in no particular order): 

  • Maple Palace Chinese Restaurant at 47 Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, George Town | T: +604-2279690
  • Starview Restaurant at 341, Dato Keramat Road, 10150, George Town | T: +604-2266544
  • Ang Hoay Lor Restaurant at 260, Jalan Brick Klin, George Town | T: +604-2624841
  • Chin Bee Tea Restaurant at 124, Lebuh Noordin | T: +604-2611761
  • Chin's Chinese Stylish Cuisine at Tanjung City Marina, Church St. Pier, 8A, Pangkalan Weld | +604-2612611
  • CRC Chinese Restaurant at 22, Jalan Pangkor, George Town | T: +604-2289787
  • Double Good Restaurant at 28 A, Jalan Tun Dr Awang, 11900 Bayan Lepas | +604 643 4188
  • Dragon-I Restaurant at No. 2F-115-118, Queensbay Mall, Jalan Persiaran Bayan Indah | +604-6466888
  • Foong Wei Heong Restaurant at 25, Jalan Sri Bahari, George Town | T: +604-2611918
  • Goh Swee Kee RestaurantAT 5, Jalan Sri Bahari, George Town | T: +6012-4296736
  • Golden River Restaurant at 6, Jalan Sungai Emas, Batu Ferringhi | T: +6012-4428880
  • Hainanese Delights Restaurant Penang at 1926, Heritage Hotel, 227, Jalan Burma | T: +604-2261926
  • Hei Yeong Seng Chinese Restaurant at 207-221; 231-245, Jalan Burma, George Town | T: +604-2293623
  • Hua Hee Restaurant at 4c-1, Tingkat Kenari, Taman Desaria, Sungai Ara | T: +6017-5352700
  • Jade Palace Restaurant at Lot 163D Level3 &4, Paragon Mall, Jalan Kelawai | T: +604-2189191
  • Ming Garden at Lot 77-2-28, Penang Times Square, Jalan Dato Keramat | T: +604-2269977
  • Tho Yuen Restorant at 92, Lebuh Campbell, George Town | T: +604-2614672
  • Tek Sen Restaurant at 18 Lebuh Carnarvon, George Town| +6012-9815117
  • Zhong Hua Restaurant at 488D-G-18-19 Jalan Burma, George Town | T: +604-2299818
  • 747 Hainanese Restaurant at 2, Peel Highway, George Town | T: +604-2296228

Besides Chinese banquets, here are some recommended Chinese dishes at street stalls and hawker centres.

Bak kut teh

bak kut teh © Adriab Cheah

Chunks of pork ribs, pork belly, assorted mushrooms and bean curd slow-cooked in a dark, aromatic Chinese herbal broth infused with spices is served with plain steam rice or yam rice. Bak kut teh literally means “meat bones tea” in Hokkien. On the side, mix up a batch of your own dipping sauce with diced garlic, sliced red chilli, bird's eye chilli, dark and light soy sauce. Remember to order a plate of eu char koay (deep-fried puff breadsticks) which goes well as a side dish. Bak kut teh is popular in Penang for breakfast and supper.

For the best bak kut teh in town (in no particular order):

  • Coffee Island at 77, Persiaran Gurney | T: +604-2272377
  • Gurney Carnation Bak Kut Teh at 63, Persiaran Gurney | T: +6012 553 3927
  • Zealand Bak Kut Teh and Seafood Restaurant at 62-65, Persiaran Gurney | T: +6017-4738877
  • Yi Xiang Bak Kut Teh at 88, Jalan Macalister | T: +604-2298131
  • Hong Xiang Bak Kut Teh at 88, Jalan Macalister | T: +604-2298131
  • Bak Kut Teh Good Master at 134, Jalan Tembikai, Taman Mutiara | T: +6012-4235896
  • Beng Heang Bak Kut Teh at 554-S Jalan Ayer Itam | T:+604-8291906
  • Delima Mas Cafe at Gelugor 2, Lorong Delima 6, Green Lane Market | T: +6016-4433304
  • Khoon Klang Bak Kut Teh AT 320 J, Jalan Perak, Taman Desa Green
  • Lai Xiang Bak Kut Teh at 90, Lintang Mayang Sari 4, Bandar Bayan Baru, Bayan Lepas | T: +604-6439968
  • Tiong Lor Bak Kut Teh at No. 51, Lorong Madras | T: +6016-4742930

Bak Chang

Steamed glutinous rice with soya sauce wrapped in bamboo leaves and stuffed with pork, mushroom, dried prawns, salted egg yolk or just white beans. Oily and high cholesterol delight which is a specialty during the Bak Chang festival (fifth moon of the Chinese calendar). Available all year round at roadside stalls in Swatow Lane in the afternoons. Prices range from RM2.50 to RM5.00 per chang.

For the Nyonyas they have their own version of chang – pua kiam tea. Still made of glutinous rice but the stuffing differs from that of the traditional bak chang. No soya sauce is being used leaving the chang white.

Dim Sum

Translated literally means “to touch your heart”. Many beautiful variations of small steamed dumplings made with pork or pork ribs, and dough with meat and prawn fillings. Try also chee cheong fun, broadsheet rice noodles rolled and steamed with prawns, served with light soy sauce. This breakfast fare, is now available in the evenings as well. Price differs from restaurant to street stalls, depending on the number of variations consumed.

For the best dim sum in town (in no particular order): Tho Yuen at 92, Campbell Street; and coffee shops along Chulia Street, Kimberly Street, Gottlieb Road, Anson Road and Bali Hai at Gurney Drive.

Dumplings or pau

Dumplings with meat – the Chinese version of the American burger. Other variations include sweet paste instead of meat. Best eaten when warm. Available at most coffee shops.

Char koay teow

The original recipe was said to have used only garlic and soya sauce with lard and was rather popular among labourers. The high-fat content and low cost of the dish made it attractive to them as it was a cheap source of energy.

Char Koay Teow

Today, this plate of flat rice noodles has succulent prawns, a handful of bean sprouts, seeham (cockles), a few slivers of Chinese waxed sausage, a dollop of ground chilli paste, kuchai (garlic chives) and an egg, all fried up with chopped garlic in a large spoonful of lard and some good black soya sauce. Click here for the full story.

Chee Cheong Fun

Broadsheet rice noodles rolled and steamed. Eaten with sweet sauce and sesame seeds. Super cheap snack for RM2.00 to RM3.00 per plate.

There is a stall at the New Lane hawker centre which serves chee chong fun with curry and cockles in the evenings. Taste good and different.

Curry Mee

Wheat base mee in spicy coconut curry soup, garnished with beansprouts, prawn, cuttlefish, cockles, beancurd and mint. Price per bowl: RM3.00 to RM4.50 .

For the best curry mee in town (in no particular order): Corner coffee shop in Lorong Seratus Tahun off Macalister Road in the mornings; hawker center opposite of the Ayer Itam market in the mornings; hawker centres at New Lane, Bangkok Lane and Gurney Drive.

Fried Oyster

Oyster omelet with spring onions and mixed sauce. High cholesterol goodie for the brave-hearted glutton. There is only one stall in Penang that stands tall when compared with others here in Penang. Situated in Carnarvon Street, he sells only in the afternoon and you must taste it to believe it. Also available at most hawker centres.

Hokkien Char

Fried wheat base mee with dark soy sauce and strips of meat, prawns, liver and vegetables. Goes very well with sambal belacan.

Hokkien Mee

Wheat base mee in a special prawns and pork bones enriched soup garnished with beansprouts, kang kong, prawns, egg and pork. Another popular dish for RM3.00 to RM4.50 per bowl.

For the best Hokkien mee in town (in no particular order): Coffee shop along with the Ayer Itam bus terminal in the mornings; hawker centres at Gurney Drive and New Lane.

Jawa Mee

Blanched noodles served with tomato-based gravy, garnished with beansprouts, potato, beancurd, egg, prawns, deep-fried flour paste and sprinkled with groundnuts. The fried version is also available on request at most places. For extra kick squeeze in a little lime juice. The price per bowl is about RM3.00 to RM4.50 .

Joo Hoo Eng Chye

Steamed cuttlefish served with hei tay (jellyfish), kang kong, sesame seeds, groundnuts and sweet sauce. About RM5.00 to RM8.00 per plate for two persons. Available at most hawker centres.

Koay Chap

Special rice noodles (different from koay teow) are sed in this soup-based dish which is served with duck meat, beansprout and egg.

Koay Teow Th'ng

Rice noodles in savoury soup with beansprouts, fish balls and slices of chicken. Another popular dish for RM3.00 to RM4.50 per bowl.

For the best koay teow th’ng in town (in no particular order): Opposite of the Ayer Itam Police Station in the mornings served with slices of pork, minced pork, liver and fish balls; Coffee shops in Hutton Lane, most hawker centers and New Lane hawker centre served with duck meat.

Lok Lok

Lok lok means "dip dip", a hawker version of a steamboat dinner. A wide selection of fresh uncooked food such as seafood ranging from cuttlefish to crabsticks, meat and vegetables are dipped into a central pot of boiling soup to cook. The cooked bits of food are eaten off the skewer after dipping into a nut-based sauce and the cost is calculated according to the number of colour-coded skewers used.

Char Hor Fun

Rice base noodles cut thicker (koay tiau) mixed with bee hoon, fried with garlic and dark soya sauce topped with thick gravy and strips of meat, prawns, liver and vegetables.

Prices for both dishes range from RM3.50 to RM5.00 per plate.

Wan Tan Mee

Cantonese egg noodles served with soup or “dry”. Garnished with pork or wan tan – shrimp balls wrapped in thin dough, vegetables and char siew, strips of sweet grilled pork meat. Try the green preserved chilli. It goes well with the noodles. About RM3.00 to RM4.50 per serving.

For the best wan tan mee in town (in no particular order): Corner coffee shop in Pulau Tikus opposite Church of the Immaculate Conception in the mornings and hawker centres at New Lane and Gurney Drive.

Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah © All rights reserved
Updated: 5 April 2019

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kee chang © Adrian Cheah

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