There is nothing quite like eating local food in a different country, and we don’t mean going to a local restaurant. Night noodle markets are a culinary hub for some of the best street grub you will eat and sets you back next to nothing.
Penang is a small island of the coast of Malaysia but it’s night market is bursting with Chinese, Thai, Malay and Indian delicacies. We ate there 5 nights and had a different meal each night.
Set on the main road and 100 metres away from the beach is where you will find locals of all ages serving up there favourite food and specialties. During the day the area is baron, but at night it is transformed into an indoor/outdoor dining hall. The whole surrounding street is littered with market stalls selling everything from watches to clothing to artwork – all to be bargained for.
Initially all of this was overwhelming. Just picture this – you have just spent a magical day lounging by the pool reading you favourite book. You have enjoyed a full body massage in your deck chair and 2 cocktails curtesy of happy hour Your child has been in kids club all afternoon and now its time for dinner. You wander 400 metres down the street from your resort still on cloud 9 from the day you’ve enjoyed. You enter the night markets bustling with street side stalls and the first offer for a watch doesn’t phase you. “No thanks” as you calmly walk past. Trying to not lose sight of your child you slowly walk through the mass of tourists keenly inspecting the clearly fake merchandise.
It’s by around the 10th person to offer you some sunglasses that you realise you are starving. You finally arrive to a massive open area sprawling with tables and chairs and hawker stands filled to the brim with hungry people. Not sure if it’s a restaurant, canteen, takeaway or free for all you stand there awkwardly gazing at nothing and everything. This is where we come in:
Grab a table – no one will sit you and you will be lucky if its clean.
- Remember your table number – you need this to tell to cooks.
- Make friends with the drink ladies. Tip them well when they help you the first time (only $2-$3) and you will have them for your entire stay. They run this place.
- Recon – walk around and get a feel for whats on offer. This may need to be done in 2 missions as someone needs to guard the table with their life.
- Divide and conquer. If you have kids old enough send them out to get what they want. Buster always went with Spring Rolls and Chicken Satay Sticks. By the end they didn’t even ask him what he wanted.
- Try to have correct change or close to it when you order and make sure they get your table number, unless you don’t want your food.
- Don’t over order right away. We found taking our time with a couple of dishes and then ordering again saved us money and from overeating. Do be careful though as popular items like Spring Rolls do sell out quickly.
- If you are taking photos of cooks make sure you ask their permission – they are cooking your food after all.
Most of the cooks in the Night Noodle Market actually chef in restaurants during the day. They are incredible and can be flexible in how they cook it depending on your preferences (chili, herbs etc…).
Last bit of advice is to eat local. You won’t get this food any better than right here so give it a try. The Assam Laksa and Char Keuy Teow are the local specialties and are incredible. There is a Western stand in the market cooking pizza, chips, pasta and kebabs – don’t be those people…
We want to hear from you! We all have different tastes and preferences – what is your go to Asian dish? What is the one dish that when you walk into a Thai/Chinese/Japanese/ Malaysian/Indian etc you have to order? Im a sucker for a curry and Buster can’t help himself when it comes to fried rice. Do you agree?