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Penang: A taste of Southeast Asia in Boston’s Chinatown

Whenever I miss the taste of rich and spicy Southeast Asian cuisine, I venture to Chinatown and dine at Penang, which is probably your best bet for Malaysian, Singaporean, and Indonesian food in Boston (that is, if you are not willing to cook some on your own). With its cozy wooden décor, hearty dishes, and variety of coconut milk-based desserts, Penang always reminds me of home.

Penang tops my list of my most visited restaurants in Boston, but since some of my family members are currently visiting, and Penang is also one of their favorite to-go restaurants in the Bean, we decided to revisit it.

We started off with some Coconut Drink, which was pretty good but not special with just a minimal amount of coconut fat (which is easily the best part of the beverage). There was also a teapot of Chinese tea served with little cups, which was quite nice in the cold weather.

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Next came our appetizer, homemade roti canai (Indian pancake). The dish consists of a thin, crisp flatbread served with a small bowl of chicken curry. Penang’s menu claims it as a Malaysian favorite, and I can definitely see why. The dish is delicious although I wish the curry were a bit spicier. I recommend eating roti canai the traditional way, which is by tearing it by hands and soaking it in curry.

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Our one appetizer was definitely insufficient to fill our four hungry stomachs. We only managed to restrain ourselves from ordering another portion because we ordered four entrees to share, which were chow kueh teow, kangkung belacan, Penang-style sizzling beef, and red snapper fish in Thailand sauce.

The first entrée to arrive was the kangkung belacan, which is sautéed convuloos with garlic and shrimp sauce. Hot and fresh, Penang’s kangkung tasted like the one I have at home. I enjoyed the dish, especially because convuloos is one of my favorite vegetables.

The remaining three entrees came almost altogether. The chow kueh teow—Malaysian-style stir-fried flat noodles with seafood, beansprouts, eggs, and chili paste—is one of the best noodle dishes I have ever tried in Chinatown.

Served hot off the griddle with a generous amount of beef smothered in spicy sauce, Penang-style sizzling beef was similarly tasty. Note that the dish is served with a heaping amount of onion and scallions, so some might not enjoy it.

The fried snapper fish in Thailand sauce was just all right—it was not as good as I remembered it to be. The texture was a bit too dry for my taste, probably because it was fried for a bit too long. Although the sauce is spicy and flavorful, as a mere accompaniment to the fish it really did not make up for the dryness.

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We closed our meal with ABCs or simply es kacang, which consists of shaved ice with red bean, corn, plam seeds, jelly, red rose syrup, and condensed milk. The portion was very generous, and we shared two for our table. It was the best part of our meal.

Despite its hits and misses, Penang still satisfies my cravings for homemade food, at least until I learn how to cook (Maybe over winter break? Maybe…).

Ambiance: A-

Service: B+

Food (taste): B+

Food (presentation): B+

Price: $10 to 25/person

Overall: B+

685 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02111
Neighborhoods: Boston, Chinatown
(617) 451-6372

-Andari Gusman

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