Let us take you a short ways away from home today, a little further north from the common hangouts in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur. Welcome once again to Penang, Malaysia.
When talking about Penang, the first things that come to mind are Penang Laksa, Penang Black Sauce Hokkien Mee, and/or the Penang Road Famous Chendol. I’m sure I got at least one right.
Penang. Rows upon rows of art. Back-alley wall paintings of children immortalised, perpetually seen trying to climb out of open windows. Half-bicycles popping out of the walls ferrying 2-dimensional locals and tourists along the concrete canvas. Turn the corner and you’re at another isle of this outdoor museum. The best part: you can eat anywhere in this museum.
Enter Lebuh Keng Kwee, the location of some of the lesser known street food in Penang. Home to the Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol, Lebuh Keng Kwee houses the Heritage Night Market that features food from some parts of the region like Thailand. Think Haji Lane or Arab Street but less congested.
If you cannot locate the chendol stall, look for the perennial queue. At just RM3.20, this not-so-little blue bowl of goodness is not something you should simply walk away from. With a sweetness that’s just right, and a splendid proportion of ice to ingredients, you would want to get a second bowl, if only the first bowl was not so filling. The place attracts more people than it can house, so do note that you may have to eat standing if you do decide to visit the stall.
Stroll a little further down the road, past the live music and craft goods stores that line the street, and you will meet with a wonderful sweet waft of meat. Reminiscent of street food in Bangkok, Thailand, there is even a stall that grills an assortment of sausages and the sweet, succulent pork skewers. It may not be something born of Penang, but it deserves an honourable mention! Traditionally prepared street food that is, in kind, prepared on the streets, is slowly becoming a long-forgotten legend.
These days, we get mass-produced meats that lack the human touch, such as meat skewers from Tori-Q and the like (no hate on the brand, I love Tori-Q), and we don’t get to enjoy – or suffer, whichever you prefer – devouring our snacks while immersed in the warm, old-school community anymore.
Remember these kinds of stalls? They were undeniably one of the coolest things to own back in the day. Don’t like your location? Take your business with you, why not! Muah Chee (on wheels) on Lebuh Keng Kwee is made with hard work and the love of a small, prideful business. Made with all earnestness, the people of Penang care about their foodstuff, which is expected. After all, they are known for street food too, and not just street art.
Amidst the insidious, overshadowing cloud of modernity, it is imperative to revisit our roots every once in a while, for the roots are what ground us when the storm comes.
For all its celebration of ancestry and culture, the Heritage Night Market on Lebuh Keng Kwee honours the modern world as well. you can find them on Facebook at HeritageNightMarket. It is ultimately a superb example of harmony between tradition and modernity.