Dec 06 2012
When you arrive in Penang and realise that just about every second shophouse is a restaurant, you might find it hard to decide where to eat. So how do you solve this culinary conundrum? Follow the steady trail of Penangites down Lebuh Carnarvon and bag yourself a table at Tek Sen.
If the lunch-hour queue outside is anything to go by, this is among the most popular restaurants in town. From its humble origins as the Teik Seng roadside rice stall, established in 1945, it has built up an excellent reputation among locals for serving a whole host of southern Chinese favourites, so if you are unfamiliar with the cuisine, this is a great place to find your bearings.
Unlike many Georgetown restaurants, there is a detailed English menu for the uninitiated, although it is still worth asking the head waiter and his army of friendly staff – who range from teenage to septuagenarian – for their recommendations and the daily specials.
The menu represents the different Chinese dialect groups that settled in Penang during the 19th century and offers some very distinct flavours. The steamed Teochew dishes, such as the minced pork with preserved mustard, or pork belly in shrimp sauce, are the healthier and more delicately flavoured options, but you can get your fix of Cantonese spice with the sticky double-roasted pork with bird’s eye chillies or Sichuan spare ribs (although the default foreign-tourist versions are tempered down, so remember to specify if you like your food hot).
Alternatively, this is a good place to try Hakka claypot dishes, such as aubergine with salted fish, or subtly spiced Hokkien nyonya-style sliced pork belly. If you are feeling adventurous, try the house specialities, including pig trotters in tangy black vinegar, or braised duck feet with sea cucumber.
Plenty of more familiar offerings are listed on the very extensive menu, and you will also see Thai influences, as well as omelettes and even mayonnaise. This is multicultural Penang, after all. Dishes come in small, medium or large portions and cost between 10 and 20 ringgit, although the fish prices depend on market value so double check with your waiter. Our recommendation is to order small portions and go for as much variety as your budget will allow.
The decor is a cross between granny’s living room and the local church hall, where mismatched pictures and prints hang above foldaway Formica tables and blue plastic stools. A notice on the wall forbidding smoking, spitting and durian only adds to the atmosphere. However, it is spotlessly clean and the bustling feel of the joint – and of course the food – is so engaging that you don’t really notice the aesthetics by the end of the meal and will probably already be planning your next visit.
Tek Sen doesn’t serve desserts so for something sweet, treat yourself to Mexican-inspired ice lollies or chocolate cake just up the road at the Daily Dose Cafe. To see more of Penang’s varied culture, it is also a short walk from here to Jalan Masjid Kapitan Kelling, or the ‘Street of Harmony’, where Georgetown’s major religions converge. Here you can find the Kapitan Kelling Mosque, the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu Kovil, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy Temple and St George’s Church.
18–20 Lebuh Carnarvon, Georgetown
T: (012) 493 9424
Open Wed-Mon (ie closed Tues), 12:00–14:30, 18:00–21:00
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.