Tek Sen Restaurant: Best Chinese food in Penang, Malaysia

An order of the Stir-Fried Kang Kung with Sambal Sauce and Prawns

Tek Sen Restaurant in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Since opening in 1965, Tek Sen Restaurant has evolved into one of the best Chinese restaurants in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. For over 50 years, the restaurant has been serving a wide variety of authentic Chinese dishes including Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka, and Peranakan.

When Tek Sen Restaurant first opened back in 1965, it operated out of a small stall known as Teik Seng Rice Stall. Even though they have moved their business into a renovated heritage building located in the center of Georgetown, an UNESCO Historic Site, their quality of food and authentic flavors have remained the same.

Popularity of Tek Sen Restaurant

Crowds of people waiting outside of the restaurant

Over the years, Tek Sen Restaurant has become popular with both locals and foreigners. The restaurant has been featured on television shows, YouTube channels, and countless travel blogs, like my own. Thanks to all this exposure, and the great food, you can always expect to find a crowd of people waiting patiently outside the restaurant for a table.

If you want to avoid the lines, I recommend visiting during the week. Also, lunch will be less busy than dinner. If you plan to visit for lunch, be sure to arrive before they open at noon. I arrived 5 minutes after they opened and there were only two tables left. By 12:15PM, there was a line out front waiting for a table. If you are planning to come for dinner, arrive before they open at 6:00PM.

Interior

Open interior of the restaurant

Open interior of the restaurant

As mentioned before, Tek Sen began as an open-air eatery and later moved into a beautiful heritage building. Even though the restaurant has modernized, parts of its past remains to this day.

The large open-air dining room, with tables scattered around, reminded me of the hawker centres I encountered while traveling in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Just as with these hawker centres, the dining room was loud and hot with an absence of air conditioning. Instead, you had constantly spinning ceiling fans hanging from tall ceilings to cool you down.

While the decor was simple, the white walls made the space feel bright and open. Even more impressive was how clean the dining room was. Tek Sen Restaurant was by far the cleanest restaurant I encountered on my two week trip to Malaysia.

Worker scooping rice into bowls

Worker scooping rice into bowls

In the back of the dining room was a small window with a view into the kitchen. While waiting for my food, it was interesting to watch the workers, who were dressed in black shirts and green aprons, efficiently moving around the dining room. Everyone seemed to have their own specific job including the lady who was constantly scooping bowls of rice from a big pot.

Tek Sen Restaurant Menu

The menu at Tek Sen Restaurant, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Something for everyone on the menu at Tek Sen Restaurant (Click to enlarge)

The menu at Tek Sen Restaurant featured a wide variety of Chinese dishes. The large menu was divided into different sections including seasonal vegetables, pork, tofu, chicken, egg, seafood, specials, soups, and rice. Whether stir-fried, deep-fried, braised, or steamed, there was something for everyone on the menu.

The majority of the items on the menu could be ordered medium (M) or extra large (XL) in size. A few items offered a large (L) option. Some items, including seafood and daily specials, were only available in one portion size.

If you’re unsure of what dish to order, or like myself, you can’t decide what to order, then look out for the small hearts located next to certain items on the menu. These hearts indicated menu items which were all-time favorites such as the Home Recipe Double Roasted Pork with Chili Padi. You can’t go wrong with choosing any of these items. You really can’t go wrong with whatever you order.

Ice cold Tiger beer on a hot day in Penang

Ice cold Tiger beer on a hot day in Penang

Other than food, the menu featured an assortment of beverages including tea, coffee, soft drinks, fruit drinks, soya milk, and beer. Some of the more interesting and unique drinks on the menu included blackcurrant squash juice and a water chestnut and sugarcane syrup drink. All drinks could be ordered hot or cold and ranged from 1 to 3 Ringgit ($0.24 to $0.72).

Home Recipe Double Roasted Pork with Chili Padi

The signature dish, the Home Recipe Double Roasted Pork with Chili Padi

The signature dish, the Home Recipe Double Roasted Pork with Chili Padi

If you visit Tek Sen Restaurant, you are going to want to order their Home Recipe Double Roasted Pork with Chili Padi (18 for Medium, 30 for XL). It’s their signature dish which everyone was ordering.

While the dish may look like it had been hastily thrown together, it packed a punch of flavor. To make this dish, roasted Chinese pork belly was chopped into small bits then stir-fried in a mixture of salty dark soy sauce, sugar, and chili padi. This type of chili is also known as Bird’s eye chili or Thai chili. If you’re not a fan of spicy foods, they also had a version without the chili padi.

When I took my first bite of the homemade double roasted pork belly, all I could think was wow. I understood at this moment why the restaurant was so popular. Each piece of the roasted pork looked beautiful and glistened under the lights. From being stir-fried, each piece was crispy on the outside yet chewy on the inside. The pork was a perfect balance of tender meaty bits along with melt-in-your-mouth fatty rich parts. It was like bacon but better.

With the added chili padi, I was expecting a kick of heat, but unfortunately this was not the case. As the mixture of soy sauce and sugar coating the pork cooled, it became sticky, salty, and sweet. It was like pork candy. The sweetness of the sauce might be too much for some, but I enjoyed it. I just wanted more heat to compliment the sweetness.

If you love pork, you are going to really enjoy this dish. I could eat this all day.

Stir-Fried Kang Kung with Sambal Sauce and Prawns

An order of the Stir-Fried Kang Kung with Sambal Sauce and Prawns

An order of the Stir-Fried Kang Kung with Sambal Sauce and Prawns

After such a rich and sweet pork dish, I gladly welcomed the Stir-Fried Kang Kung with Sambal Sauce and Prawns (12 Ringgit (M) or 20 Ringgit (XL) or about $2.87 (M) or $4.78 (XL)). If you are wondering, kang kung is a water spinach popular in Southeast Asia cuisine.

Even though I ordered the medium portion, I was surprised by how much water spinach was packed onto the plate. And being sauteed, I couldn’t imagine how much spinach was used to begin with.

While I consider regular spinach to be quite bitter when sauteed, this water spinach had a mild savory flavor which was refreshing. Its texture was similar to regular spinach in that it was tender yet crunchy. The most interesting part of the water spinach were the crunchy hollow stems which reminded me of green onions.

Coating every inch of the water spinach was a sambal sauce. Sambal, to me, is a spicy, salty, thick red sauce. This sauce was thinner than I was expecting and was brown in color. Though thin, the sambal sauce packed a lot of flavor. The sauce was rich, oily, and salty and infused with garlic and red pepper flakes which were were sprinkled over the water spinach. And, just as with the Home Recipe Double Roasted Pork with Chili Padi, I wanted the sambal sauce to be spicier.

Mixed into the water spinach were two large pieces of shrimp. While I wish there was more shrimp, I found the shrimp to be cooked well. Each fresh piece of shrimp was steamed until tender and moist.

The combination of textures and flavors of the tender, crunchy, refreshing water spinach, moist shrimp, and flavorful sambal sauce worked well and complimented the rich pork dish.

Service

Out of all the places I visited in Malaysia, I would say the service at Tek Sen Restaurant was the most efficient I encountered. All the staff seemed to work together, even talking to each other with wireless microphones. Each worker had their own job whether it was taking orders, delivering food, or greeting guests.

The efficient staff ensured that my order arrived quickly and correctly allowing the line out front to move more quickly.

Conclusion

Penang, an island strategically located off the coast of northwest Malaysia, is an interesting mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures and flavors. A quick walk around George Town and you will immediately notice a strong Chinese influence from Chinatown to the many Chinese temples and restaurants.

One of the best ways to experience this Chinese influence is by eating at one of the many Chinese restaurants such as Tek Sen Restaurant. Over the years, the restaurant has transformed from a humble street stall into a clean, modern restaurant. What has remained the same is the quality and flavors of the food.

While the Double Roasted Pork might not be for everyone with how sweet it was, I found it to be delicious and I would return just for this dish. If you want something other than pork, then you are in luck with such a large menu with time-tested dishes that keep bringing people back decade after decade.

Pros

  • Double roasted pork was like pork candy
  • Large menu with a wide variety of Chinese dishes
  • Clean interior
  • Efficient service

Cons

  • Spicy foods were not spicy
  • Expect a wait
  • Cash only

Hours

Monday-Sunday: 12:00PM-3:00PM and 6:00PM-9:00PM

Address

18, Lebuh Carnarvon, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
GPS Coordinates: 5.417419,100.335975

Map

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