Tek Sen Restaurant: Best Chinese food in Penang, Malaysia

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. George Town, an UNESCO Historic Site, is a must visit destination located 180 miles (289 kilometers) northwest of Kuala Lumpur. If you love food, Penang is a must. For over 50 years, Tek Sen 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 George Town, the quality of food and authentic flavors has remained the same.

If you are looking for more information about Penang and Malaysia, I highly recommend picking up a guidebook such as Lonely Planet Kuala Lumpur, Melaka & Penang or Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei 15.

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 and crowds, I recommend visiting during the week. Also, lunch hours will be less busy than dinner hours. 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 available. By 12:15PM, the line for a table extended out of the front door of the restaurant. If you are planning to come for dinner, I recommend arriving 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 over the years, 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 fans hanging from tall ceilings to cool you down.

While the décor 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. This included 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 are 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. This included the Home Recipe Double Roasted Pork with Chili Padi and Stir-Fried Kang Kung with Sambal Sauce and Prawns. I ordered both of these items based off the hearts on the menu. 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 Ringgit (M) or 30 Ringgit (XL) or about $4.34 (M) or $7.23 (XL)). I was told by my server that this was their signature dish. Everyone was ordering it.

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. After being stir-fried, each piece of pork was crispy and crunchy on the outside yet chewy and tender 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 somehow even better.

With the added chili padi, I was expecting a kick of heat, but unfortunately, this was not the case for me. 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 complement the sweetness.

If you love pork, you are really going to enjoy this dish. I could eat this all day. After trying it for myself, I understood why this was their signature dish.

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 $2.89 (M) or $4.82 (XL)). If you are wondering, kang kung is a water spinach popular in Southeast Asian cuisine.

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

While I consider regular spinach to be quite bitter when sautéed, 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 found in dishes all over Southeast Asia. But, this sauce was thinner than I was expecting. And, it was not red but brown in color. Though thin, the sambal packed a lot of rich, oily, and salty flavors. In addition, sprinkled over the water spinach and sambal was garlic and red pepper flakes, adding even more flavor to the dish. But, 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. Each fresh piece of shrimp was steamed until tender and moist. While I wish there was more shrimp, I found each piece to be cooked well. But, you can never go wrong with more shrimp in a dish.

The combination of textures and flavors of the tender, crunchy, refreshing water spinach, moist shrimp, and flavorful sambal sauce worked well. I also found this dish to complement the rich double roasted 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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