Penang – Heritage on a Plate

“We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly.”

-Anna Thomas

This quote accurately sums up the PashbyMaul attitude towards food.  Although Alicia does happen to restrict her diet for health purposes, both she and Andrew agree that one of the best ways to experience a culture is through its food.  You can catch a glimpse of Andrew’s die-hard foodie tendencies by reading Alicia’s “Shades of Health Care Gray” post, where you will remember that Andrew ended up in the Italian ER after eating RAW, STILL-MOVING SEA URCHINS on his last day in Senegal.

This adventurous wish to experience authentic culture through cuisine led us to sign up for a unique tour experience whilst on our winter reprieve in Penang, Malaysia.  Booking a spot on the tour Heritage on a Plate: Breakfast was one of our favourite experiences in Georgetown, Capitol of Penang.  The tour is organised by Lein, a Belgian foodie, and supported through Michelle, who has set up her own business in Penang and organises tours and cultural events.

There are two types of Heritage on a Plate tours, and we ended up at the breakfast one by default: there were no dinner tours available during the dates that we were in Penang.  We were very glad to have the breakfast tour because we had been exploring the dinner “hawker stalls” by ourselves, and the breakfast opportunity was new to us.  With a total of only 8 people, this tour was personable and very pleasant.  Lein is very passionate about food and culture and she was a delightful hostess, knowledgeable about Penang culture and all of the food we ate.

We were able to experience three different culinary cultures in just 2.5 hours of breakfast eating: Malay, Chinese and Indian.  It would be great to mention that in Penang, almost no one eats at home.  They eat almost every meal out because the street food is dirt-cheap ($3 for dinner), of amazing quality and very easily accessible to everyone.  We began at a cafe that would otherwise be easy to walk past since it is off the main road.

Cafe #1: Toh Soon Cafe

This cafe is best known for its Iced Coffee.  Trust us, it’s already hot enough for an iced coffee, even at breakfast time!  When ordering coffee in Malaysia, be aware that it will come with tons of sugar and sweetened condensed milk already added.  This is a throw-back to the times when it was too expensive to have a refrigerator, so condensed milk was accessible.  “No sugar” is a request often honoured, but not understood.  “Decaf” does not exist there either!

This is the oven where the Roti is toasted.
Here are thick pieces of roti before they have been toasted.
Here is our roti with kaya, simply delicious!

After our coffees, we began with Roti (Malay word for bread) that was toasted in a small oven and dressed with a local spread called Kaya, which could be described as coconut jam.  This treat was sweet, a great start and a perfect pairing with our iced coffees.  It was also a nice way to ease into our adventurous eating for the day.

Once finished with our Roti, we were offered Half-Boiled Eggs, another common breakfast food.  The egg is basically cooked as if you would make it “Sunny Side Up”, but the ENTIRE egg is runny instead of just the yellow yolk.  The half-boiled eggs come in a bowl, salted.  On the table, you can add white pepper and soy sauce, then mix it all together before eating it with a spoon.  That’s just what we did!


After our Half-Boiled Eggs, we had one final treat to sample before moving on: a little package that’s left on every table for people to eat, or not eat.  If it’s eaten, then it is billed, otherwise it’s left for the next guests.  Wrapped in Banana Leaf or paper, it looks like a little bundle of joy!


Cafe #1: Toh Soon Cafe.  What a great start to our breakfast tour!  One thing we loved about this place: EVERYBODY eats here!  Average people, rich people, tourists, many nationalities, it didn’t matter.  The food was cheap, amazing, and no one was afraid to eat on the street.  The couple who pulled up in their BMW 5 series with designer clothing weren’t the least bit bothered by eating here, neither were the average Malays, nor the Chinese, nor the curious western tourists.

On to Cafe #2: De Tai Tong Cafe, a Chinese Dim Sum place.  Did you know that Dim Sum is traditionally eaten for breakfast, and not lunch or dinner?  That’s just one thing we learned while eating at this cafe.  We were glad to have Lein with us, as she explained what would be great things to try.  One stereotype of Dim Sum restaurants is that the people pushing the carts around are always trying to get you to eat more, and that was definitely the case at this place!  If we hadn’t been so relentless, I’m sure we would have ended up with half of the plates at our table!

Dim Sum Sampling
Jasmine Tea

We are sorry we can’t describe everything that we ate in detail, but it was too much for us to remember!  In addition to Dim Sum, we also took some nice starters that were recommended to us by Lein, which included prawns, rice dumplings, fried delights, and other lovely little nibbles.  Likewise, as we were finishing up our Dim Sum, Michelle recommended a unique type of white carrot cake (we think).  With flavourful jasmine tea to accompany this 2nd breakfast, we were free to chat and left feeling happy, full enough, and glad we tried Breakfast Dim Sum!

On to “Cafe” #3: A hawker stall on a street that we have forgotten the name of.  🙂  We tried the very typical Indian form of Roti, Roti Chennai, quite different from the first roti and more reminiscent of chapati, except light and fluffy.  It is so thin that it can have the appearance of a tissue!  The bread is probably Alicia’s favourite Indian bread that we tried whilst in Penang; it is like eating delectable and filling air!  With this roti came a very traditional form of dal, a soupy spread/sauce made from either beans, lentils or peas, depending on which region it comes from.  We believe our version was made out of peas, but could be mistaken.  When in Penang, do as the locals!  We ate this deliciousness with our fingers and were glad to.  This breakfast finale was accompanied with tea (of course that’s black tea with sugar AND sweetened condensed milk together).  We were happy to watch the roti creators in the act as we left this stall, twirling the thin bread with a smile.  What a nice finale to our already amazing breakfast tour.

Roti Chennai, before being consumed.
Roti creator, smiling as he uses his artistic skills to make the roti as amazing as it is.

 Overall, the Penang Heritage on a Plate: Breakfast tour was above and beyond what we were expecting.  It was a delightful way to spend several hours of a vacation morning and we would highly recommend this tour to anyone who is as interested in food and culture as we are.  Brava to Lein and Michelle; what a genuine tour and great work you are doing!

2 thoughts on “Penang – Heritage on a Plate

  1. The pleasure was all mine taking you guys out for breakfast! Thanks for sharing such amazing stories of your travels on this globe and how your romance all started. Beautiful.

    I love this blogpost so much, I’m sharing it on the Heritage on a Plate facebook page:

    And if it’s cool for you, I love to share your whole blog on my NoMadBelgian facebook page:

    And now the marketing bit: 🙂

    1. Please do! Thanks so much once again for showing us the real Penang food culture. We fell in love with the island and can’t wait to get back!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s