Hawker food relatively cheaper in Penang, albeit in modest portions, perfect for small eaters
WHEN one thinks of Penang, the first thought that comes to mind is food.
If you are from out of state, you should savour Penang’s gastronomic offerings before heading home.
There is a distinct characteristic of Penang hawker food that many out-of-town folk have grumbled about; the serving size tends to be small.
Using char koay teow as an example, the portion can be so small that if you are really hungry, you could wolf it down in two mouthfuls.
This has spurred many conversations among those who recently travelled to other states.
Many have said the same thing, that Penang hawker food portions are smaller even if they are cheaper.
A friend from Kuala Lumpur prefers the smaller portions because he can then order other dishes and enjoy different flavours before his tummy gauge reaches the full mark.
Another friend grumbled a little because she and her friends usually have to order more than one portion of something if they travel in a group as the portion is not big enough to share.
Nonetheless, everyone agrees that hawker food in Penang is relatively cheaper compared to other states.
As a small eater, Penang hawker food portions are perfect for me but there are times when I have to order an extra snack.
The other day, I managed to steal some time for a hawker lunch.
Worried I might not be able to finish a plate of chicken rice, I opted for a bowl of pan mee (wheat noodles).
The noodles were scrumptious but the portion was small, even for me.
The bowl of noodles cost RM7, which seemed okay, since there was an egg and minced meat but I was not full.
Whenever I order wantan mee, my usual go-to hawker dish, the RM5.50 or RM6.50 per plate is ample for me but not for a colleague.
He would choose rice over wantan mee because he finds the serving too small.
I notice that in other states such as Kuala Lumpur and Perak, hawker food has become more expensive but the portions there are nearly double the size of what we have here.
I recall a few years ago, when ordering a glass of carrot juice for RM7 in Kuala Lumpur, I had thought it way too expensive but the portion was too much for one person.
Recently, my boss went to Perak for a holiday and later went on and on about how he had “the best curry mee ever”, which cost him RM21.
I thought that was exhorbitant, until I saw a picture of it: the curry mee came in two bowls – a big bowl of noodles and another big bowl of condiments.
It seemed like a wondrous, almost sinful meal, and I frankly have never seen such a portion size in Penang before.
Maybe Penang food sellers are so concerned about keeping their prices low that now, with the global rise in food prices, they would rather shrink portion sizes than raise prices.
For a visitor who has not been here in months, on top of our char koay teow, they might want a bowl of Hokkien mee at the same sitting.
So with smaller portions, the visitor can then enjoy two dishes.
In the end, it seems that you will be paying the same amount that you would if you add up the price of both dishes compared with paying the price of one big meal elsewhere.
For me, this is a win-win as you are able to sample the wonderful delights we have to offer without over-eating or wasting food.
The idea of large portions can be daunting for someone who is a small eater.
I remember freaking out when I saw the size of a burger in Canada years ago.
Our local burgers are miniscule in comparison, and I was told people in the West eat more because of their larger build.
I am comfortable with Penang hawker food portions because it is always nice to have a side of lor bak with my bowl of laksa and not feel stuffed.
With so much street food wonders here, smaller portions mean we can share an extra dish or not waste food.
We are often advised to finish the condiments and leave the rice or noodles if we are full.
That just means wasting food, and hawkers here may have decided offering smaller portions at cheaper prices could be a way of reducing wastage.
This sits well with me as someone who tries my level best to finish every grain of rice or strand of noodle in my dish.
Next time you order something in Penang, keep in mind that the portions may be smaller but they are relatively cheaper so that you can order more.