A friend of mine recently went to Penang for a holiday. When I asked how his trip was, he only had one word for it – eat. Eating is almost like a religion in this island state of Malaysia. Penang is famous for its local cuisine, probably second only to my beloved hometown Ipoh. The best of Penang food can be sampled along the famous Gurney Drive, which was the inspiration for this chain of restaurants now bring the flavour of Penang to Singapore.
What food comes to mind when you think of Penang food? Top of the list for worth foodies would be spicy Penang laksa, refreshing rojak, greasy char kuey teow (fried rice noodle) and fragrant prawn noodles. I was at Changi Airport recently with my Singapore hosts and buddies (hi Terence & Dora!) and we went to sample some of this famous Gurney food right at Terminal 3.
You have never really tasted rojak if you have not tried the Penang version of it. The Penang Rojak is a tantalising mix of cut fruits such as pineapples, pears and cucumbers, sometimes with the added delight of cuttle fish. However, the hallmark of a great rojak lies in its paste. The thick and black shrimp paste is fragrant to a fault; you can smell it from a mile away. Top that up with crunchy bits of peanuts and you’ll have a winner on your table. Some may like it spicy, so some belacan added is never amiss. I like mine “original” as it may. The portion at Gurney Drive was disappointingly small, but the ingredients were superb and the paste, devastating. Perhaps I was deprived of good rojak in Hong Kong (the local version can only be best described as fruit salad), I was probably way too impressed with Gurney Drive’s rojak but hey you like what you get.
Penang Hokkien prawn mee.
The Penang Hokkien Prawn Mee can be found almost anywhere in Singapore, and a truly good one is alas but rare. Gurney Drive did this rendition prawn noodle to a commendable standard. The prawn-based broth was rich and tasty, which went well with the rather well simmered pork ribs, fish cakes and big prawns. The trick about eating big prawns is in its head; you bite it off and suck off its juice. From the look of the prawns (it was Terence’s choice), the prawns did not seem to be fresh, but seem to go well with the other ingredients of a good prawn noodle, which are yellow noodle (and sometime with beehoon), bean sprouts (you can request for more) and kangkong (morning glory).
Seafood fried koay teow.
What Gurney Drive did to distinction, in my opinion, was its Premium Seafood Fried Koay Teow. Fried noodles with enough “wok hei” without too much help of MSG is rare, a feat not every chef can do. The Gurney’s version excelled in this; the pervasive “wok hei” cast a delicious, smokey spell all over the intoxicating mix of fresh, crunchy seafood such as prawns, squids and cockles. The chef has even thrown in generous portions of pork lard (deep fried pig’s fats) which is so calorie-laden, it can only be good. The contrasting texture of silky koay teow (flat rice noodle), cruncy prawns and crispy lards made this a delightful dish. No strands were left unsavoured.
Iced yuan yang.
Also commended on the menu is the iced yuan yang, which is a mixed of milk tea and coffee. I don’t like my tea (or coffee) to be too sweet, and Gurney gets the balance right. It was sweetened to the right degree yet the taste of tea and coffee were distinguishable.
Verdict? Travel down the famous food street in Penang with delightful fares at Gurney Drive. Go for the char koay teow; you won’t be disappointed.