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 serve 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 at 42, Lebuh King, 10020 George Town, Penang | T: +6012-424 6681
  • 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 Restaurant 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

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 soy 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.

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 soy 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 food courts and coffee shops.

Char Koay Teow

char koay teow © Adrian Cheah

The original recipe was said to have used only garlic and soy 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. 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 soy sauce. 

Char Hor Fun (Sar Hor Fun)

char hor fun © Adrian Cheah

This dish consists of thick flat rice noodles accompanied by vermicelli wok-fried on high heat with lard, seasoned with dark and light soy sauces until slightly charred. With a good bone broth (either pork or chicken), a tasty gravy is cooked with a host of ingredients including chai sim (choy sum), prawns, thin strips of pork and slices of pig’s liver as well as fish cakes. The gravy is then thickened with tapioca flour and egg (if desired) before being poured over a plate of smoky hor fun. Prior to serving, the dish is topped with slices of char siew (Chinese barbecue pork) and a dusting of white pepper. It is also served with some slices of preserved green chillies.

Chee Cheong Fun

Chee cheong fun is a thin sheet of steamed broad rice noodles rolled into a thick stick. It is served with a sweet sauce, a chilli paste and topped with sesame seeds. Chee cheong fun is available at most food courts, each stall offering their own secret sauces. One of my favourite stalls is located at Genting Cafe in Island Glades. The peanut butter sauce is truly delicious. If you come across chee cheong fun served with cockles curry, order and relish it. 

Curry Mee

Wheat base mee in spicy coconut curry soup, garnished with beansprouts, prawn, cuttlefish, cockles, beancurd and mint. 

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. 

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. 

Joo Hoo Eng Chye

Steamed cuttlefish served with hei tay (jellyfish), kang kong, sesame seeds, groundnuts and sweet sauce. Available at most hawker centres.

Koay Chap

A special rice noodles (different from koay teow) served in a soup-based dish with duck meat, beansprout and hard boiled eggs.

Koay Teow Th'ng

Rice noodles in savoury soup with beansprouts, fish balls and slices of chicken. 

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.

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.

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

Sri Bahari Hainan Chicken Rice – legacy on a plate

Sri Bahari Hainan Chicken Rice © Adrian Cheah

Hainanese chicken rice is an uncomplicated dish that comprises succulent poached chicken and aromatic rice cooked with chicken fat and stock accompanied by a chilli dipping sauce and a bowl of clear chicken soup. Some vendors may also serve it with other condiments like a ginger dipping sauce or some thick soy sauce.

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Lao Hakka Cafe: a culinary haven of traditional Hakka flavours

Lao Hakka © Adrian Cheah

At Lao Hakka, the unpretentious Hakka cuisine comes alive, with each dish serving as a testament to the transformation of ordinary ingredients into extraordinary experiences. The cooking style of the Hakka people, also known as Hakka or Kuh-chia cuisine, originated mainly from the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi and Guangxi. Its comforting home-style dishes are known for their distinct flavours and aromatic meat-centric options such as stuffed tofu (yong tau foo), braised pork belly with taro and stuffed bitter gourd. The Hakka cuisine primarily features rice, pork, tofu and preserved vegetables. Of course being in Penang, some local favourites such as crispy belacan chicken and savoury gulai tumis (fish curry) are also featured on the menu.

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CRC Restaurant – a culinary icon among Penangites

CRC Restaurant © Adrian Cheah

In the 1900s, a group of Chinese sports enthusiasts established the Penang Chinese Recreation Club, a heritage clubhouse. Located at its premises in Victoria Green are two dining outlets – CRC Restaurant and CRC Victoria Cafe. Situated across the road from CRC is the "new" CRC Chinese Restaurant, sharing the same building as the North Malaya Cheah Si Chong Soo. Today, both the "old" and "new" CRC Restaurants are popular choices among Penangites for family meals, birthday celebrations as well as wedding and corporate dinners.

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Indulging at the award-winning Chin's Cuisine

Chin's Stylish Chinese Cuisine © Adrian Cheah

Chin's Cuisine represents owner Dave Chin's unique interpretation on Chinese cuisine, primarily inspired by Sichuan and Hunan flavours. Dave and his team of chefs draw inspiration from the vast treasure trove of Chinese cuisine, a culinary tradition that has evolved over thousands of years.

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Savoury Cantonese-style dishes at Zen Xin Vegetarian Restaurant

Zen Xin Vegetarian © Adrian Cheah

Zen Xin Vegetarian Restaurant is a vegetarian restaurant located along Nagore Road in the heart of George Town. One thing that strikes me when dining at a Chinese vegetarian restaurant in Penang is the creativity involved in preparing innovative vegetarian alternatives that closely resemble traditional faux meats or seafood dishes. It is almost like you are eating the real thing, from texture to taste! Using various plant-based ingredients such as tofu, seitan, mushrooms and soy-based products, the chefs are able to create wonderful dishes.

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An unforgettable birthday bliss – indulging in avant-garde dishes at Maple Palace Chinese Restaurant

Maple Palace Chinese Restaurant © Adrian Cheah

When choosing a venue for her birthday celebration, my daughter Jean immediately suggested Maple Palace and it is easy to understand why. Located in the heart of George Town, Maple Palace Chinese Restaurant goes beyond traditional boundaries, offering avant-garde dishes that redefine Chinese cuisine in terms of both flavour and presentation. Under the guidance of owner Loy Tan and his skilled chefs, the restaurant's innovative techniques and use of authentic ingredients create an unforgettable and mouth-watering dining experience that leaves a lasting impression.

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A luxurious 6-course treat for Mum at Maple Palace Restaurant

Maple Palace © Adrian Cheah

Mum turned 89 this year and I was only too glad that I was able to celebrate her birthday at Maple Palace Restaurant with a scrumptious top-notch feast. Although owner Loy Tan was overseas when I contacted him, he was obliging enough to curate a luxurious 6-course menu for Mum. The individual serving of each course was beautifully presented, making it a delightful visual feast to whet the appetite.

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Deliciously authentic Hainanese chicken chop at Hai Onn Restaurant

Hainanese chicken chop © Adrian Cheah

Hai Onn Restaurant at Jalan Burmah is one of the few Hainanese kopitiams (coffee shops) left in George Town. Although there are two original signages at the entrance of the kopitiam with "Hai Oan", the correct spelling of this restaurant is actually "Hai Onn". This only goes to illustrate how forgiving the owner was in agreeing to carry on with the typographical error in the company name.

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Hainanese Delights serves up nostalgic cuisine of the colonial British era

Hainanese Delights © Adrian Cheah

In the 1920s, the Hainanese were among the last Chinese immigrants to arrive in Penang. Since other dialect groups had already established control over most trades, the late comers ended up as cooks and houseboys (domestic helpers) in British homes and establishments. The Hainanese cooks were taught on-the-job how to prepare British dishes and were also introduced to local ingredients and spices. They eventually evolved their cooking repertoire, infusing their creations with local flavours to suit the taste buds of Penangites and the colonial British. Thus, Hainanese cuisine in Penang, and at large, in Malaysia and Singapore, is unique in its own way and cannot be found elsewhere, not even in Hainan Island.

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Boey Chong Kee Restaurant – serving no-frills Cantonese-style cooking

Boey Chong Kee Restaurant © Adrian Cheah

Although the signboard on the right of the restaurant reads "Beoy...", it was a typo error Mr Boey Chong, owner of the restaurant must have missed when he commissioned it in the 1960s. “Kee” stands for 记 which means shop in Chinese. Serving classic no-frills Cantonese-style cooking, this quaint restaurant is located at one of the shop lots on the ground floor at People's Court off Lebuh Cintra/Campbell. Till today, it is still very much a family business and is run by Mr Boey’s granddaughters, the Chan sisters.

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Muah chee – truly irresistible moist and elastic humble-looking morsels

muah chee © Adrian Cheah

Muah chee, a traditional dish made of glutinous rice dough that stretches like elastic bread dough, is moist, soft and pillowy. The bite-size pieces are coated generously with a powdery mix of toasted crushed peanuts, toasted sesame seeds and granulated sugar. Prior to serving, some fried shallots (optional) could be added along with a sprinkling of white, or black sesame seeds.

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Varieties of char hor fun for different palates

char hor fun © Adrian Cheah

Hor fun is a versatile type of rice noodles made from rice flour, water, salt and cooking oil. Although hor fun in itself is rather bland, it is able to absorb the flavours of any meat or stock it is cooked with. Its soft, slippery yet chewy texture is key in a few popular street food specialities here in Penang – char hor fun, dry stir-fried beef hor fun, steamed fish over hor fun and hor fun with pek cham kay (poached chicken).

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