[media-credit id=6747 align="alignright" width="300"] So you’re tired of Chinese. Understandable—one can only take so much General Tso. And as much as you might love Thai, pad thai can get a tad boring, too.
Thankfully for Asian cuisine fiends, the gods smile kindly upon Philadelphia, because there’s Penang. Located in the heart of Chinatown, rubbing elbows with takeout joints and fish markets on 10th Street, Penang stands out—it can boast being the only restaurant in Philly that specializes in Malaysian food. For the uninitiated, Malaysian is one of the richest and most complex cuisines of Asia, but also one of the continent's most under–appreciated. Its calling card: blending elements of Chinese, Thai and Indian food, resulting in tangy, spicy and richly savory dishes.
Like its tastefully decorated dining room, Penang's menu is spacious. It’s daunting for a first–time visitor, but the friendly staff will direct you toward the cuisine’s staples. Among the strongest of those are the appetizers. Roti canal ($3.25) is a Malaysian national obsession for good reason: the thin, naan–like pancake bread is flaky, crisp and complimented by a delicious curry dipping sauce. Also not to be missed is poh piah ($4.95)—small, pancake–wrapped rolls stuffed with fried tofu, jicama, egg, bean sprouts and a tangy peanut sauce.
The appetizers are delicious, and the entree offerings are just as strong. The de facto Malaysian noodle dish, chow kueh teow ($6.50), is a great option for lo mein and pad thai lovers. The stir–fried flat noodles are rich and savory, the mixed–in squid and shrimp are fresh and delicately cooked and the chili paste (be sure to ask for it) adds a spicy kick. Among the noodle soups, the assam laksa ($7.50) is a standout. The noodles marinate in a broth flavored with tangy lemongrass, fish flakes and herbs—think pho with a healthy helping of sriracha. Out of the rice dishes, the curried chicken ($7.50) seems ordinary alongside Penang’s more exotic fare, but this plate slathered in a boldly spicy Indian–style curry is anything but pedestrian.
The heaping portions are beyond generous, but for those inclined to save room, the fried ice cream ($6.95) is absolutely worth it. It’s a big scoop of fried vanilla ice cream—hardly delicate—but the coconut coating adds a great touch to this treat. Penang’s place as Philly’s ambassador of Malaysian cuisine is well–deserved: with an expansive menu and delicious dishes on a student's budget, it offers a memorable, satisfying and unique Asian food experience.