Whilst tourists to Penang make a beeline for well-known hawker centres like Gurney Drive and Red Garden @ Penang Road, local Penangites go to those in the inner-city of old Geogetown, like Presgrave Street Hawker Centre and Cecil Street Market Hawker Centre for some very local eats.
This morning, we traversed the working-class neighborhood around Presgrave Street: narrow old streets lined with traditional Chinese businesses to arrive at the largish Presgrave Street Market Hawker Centre (bounded by McNair Street, Cecil Street, Herriott Street and Sandilands Street) known to Penangites as "Chit Tiau Lor Ban San" (7th Street Market) is extremely popular with the locals for its duck-meat "koay teow" soup. The version here had the requisite light yet flavoursome taste. Soft, flat rice noodles garnished with duck-meat and slivers of soft, coagulated duck-blood, then topped with finely-chopped scallions and crisp-fried minced garlic.
We also tried the Penang White Curry Mee, which was very good - a mixture of yellow Hokkien noodles and white rice noodles ("bee hoon") in a spicy broth lightly flavoured with coconut milk. It comes with cuttlefish, cockles, shrimps and cubes of coagulated pig's blood. Super-delicious.
The Penang-style "popiah" here was good, but not as flavoursome as the popular ones in New Lane and Padang Brown. The same "popiah" stall also offers Penang-style "otak-otak", a steamed, subtly-spiced Nyonya fish mousse cake, similar to Thai "hor mok pla". The version here was very tasty.
Other stuff included the common simplified version of the ubiquitous Malaysian "Nasi Lemak" - coconut-scented rice with chilli sambal and a small tamarind-flavoured fried fish & half a hard-boiled egg.
An elderly lady manning a stall sold a variety of deep-fried morsels made from mashed sweet potatoes, including dumplings stuffed with crushed groundnuts and sugar which she claimed was an old-fashioned Hokkien sweet treat called "pa-pa peah". I'd never heard of this in Singapore, and is probably unique to Penang.
Great place to "eat where the locals eat". I think it helps to speak Hokkien here, but most hawkers can speak rudimentary English.
Cecil Street Market Hawker Centre
40-48 Cecil Street (corner with McNair Street)
Georgetown, 10300 Penang