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Eating in Penang: Luxury Bars to Street Cars

May 18, 2013

Malaysia’s hodgepodge of luxury and local establishments that cater to both tourists and locals made it the perfect country to accommodate our “flashpacker” style of traveling.  We loved walking out of our boutique hotel to take a $1 ride on the city bus or going for a late night snack at a street cart after finishing drinks at one of the fancier bars in town.

Malaysia’s wide variety of eating and drinking options for any budget mirror its larger juxtaposition of ostentation and simplicity, modern and traditional, and Malay, Indian, and Chinese cultures.  Amazing Thai, Indian, and regional Malay dishes are all abundant and available for relatively cheap, and this trip quickly revealed Malaysia as one of my favorite countries in terms of the food.  From my favorite dish of char koay teow (fried rice noodles with shrimp) and Penang’s famous laksa to Indian halal dishes such as nasi kandar (rice with curries, meat, and vegetables) and roti (flatbread made savory or sweet), the fantastic food in Malaysia was one of the best aspects of our visit.  While we thoroughly enjoyed learning how to make Malay food during our cooking class at Tropical Spice Garden, some of our best eating and drinking experiences, as well as Malaysia’s eclectic culture, can be encapsulated in our final night of eating and drinking  in Georgetown.

First, we hit up the luxurious colonial-style Eastern & Oriental’s Farquhar’s Bar for happy hour.  The E&O was originally opened in 1885 by the Sarkies brothers, the same hoteliers who would open the Raffles in Singapore several years later.  The hotel became a magnet for dignitaries and other notable visitors to Penang in the 1920s.  However, it fell into disrepair and was closed in the 1990s, but was reopened in 2001.  Like many of the buildings in Georgetown, the E&O Hotel serves as a testament to Malaysia’s colonial past and the lasting impact of European influences.

Farquhar’s Bar; Photo courtesy of E&O Hotel website

The main floor of the E&O and its grounds are open to outside guests wanting to look around the lobby or visit the hotel’s several shops and restaurants.

With its dark wood furnishings and dim lighting, Farquhar’s Bar certainly has the “old world” ambiance of a turn of the century gentleman’s smoking room.  We thought that the drinks (mojito and Singapore Sling) were very well done and on par in terms of price and quality with craft cocktails in many international cities.  We went during happy hour (check with E&O for the latest timetable and promotions), which I would recommend given the relatively high prices of most food and drink items on the menu.

After our indulgence, we headed to Georgetown’s Red Garden Night Market for delicious and cheap street food.

Photos of Red Garden Food Paradise & Night Market, Georgetown

This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

This night market is pretty well-known, and there were a lot of people when we arrived.  Many were tourists, both European and Asian, but there were some locals there as well.  The variety of food stalls was spectacular, and WWW tried the popular chicken wing satay.

Photos of Red Garden Food Paradise & Night Market, Georgetown

This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

“Beer girls” marked with the logos of their affiliated brands came around the plastic tables available for seating to offer drinks.  There was also a band for entertainment as we ate.  All in all, the night market had a fun, laid-back atmosphere and wonderful variety in comparison to the bustling and predictable markets we’ve been to in other Asian countries.

Do you prefer to indulge in luxury, stick to food stalls and hostels, or sample both while traveling?  Let us know in the comments!

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