Sungai Petani is a town in the northern state of Kedah on Peninsular Malaysia. Medium sized by Malaysian standards, it is actually Kedah’s largest city – with a population of approximately 544,851 residents in year 2020, beating out the state capital, Alor Setar’s population of 405,523 residents from the same period.
Sungai Petani’s prosperity is largely due to to its proximity to the neighbouring state of Penang and its industrial zones. As the cost of living on Penang island soared, living in Sungai Petani became an attractive option for those who aren’t already from Sungai Petani.
I had a weekend trip around Penang island planned out when last minute events forced a rethink of my plans. With Sungai Petani so close by, hopping across the state border for a quick visit seemed like a no-brainer. After all, its not everyday that I find myself in the northern states.
Sungai Petani town itself isn’t a touristy place, but it does feature some nice eating spots. Armed with recommendations from a friend, I turned my jaunt to SP (as the town is known locally) into a brunch trip.
Xiao Er Laksa – A very good bowl of Laksa
I took my friend’s insistent recommendation and settled on having a bowl of Asam Laksa from Xiao Er Laksa for breakfast. I was initially hesitant as a bad experience with a bowl of overly-spicy Asam Laksa in Penang as a child had put me off the spicy-sour bowl of rice noodles-in-broth since then.
It was a late Saturday morning and there wasn’t much of a crowd, except for a few patrons who clearly weren’t impressed by the “wake up early on a weekend” routine.
Ordering is done at the cashier counter in the front, where you consult the menu and mark your order on a printed slip of paper. Hand this slip of paper to the cashier, and pay the amount due.
For this breakfast, I ordered a bowl of Laksa with extra fish slices, a glass of the special iced coffee, and a bun with Bak Kwa (sweetened dried pork). This cost me a grand total of RM 14.00, which by the standards of Kuala Lumpur’s higher prices is a pretty good deal.
As it turns out, I had been given one of the best food recommendations I’ve ever received from a friend.
The Laksa was delicious. The broth was infused with a mild fishy flavour that was just enough to give it that little bit of savouriness without being obnoxiously fishy, and the inclusion of tamarind called for by the traditional recipe ensured the broth had just the right amount of sour and tangy flavours. Crucially, the spice levels were not overwhelming, and I was able to taste the lovely blend of flavours from start to finish.
While the Laksa was good, the other portions of my order were rather ordinary. The iced coffee was sweet, just like any other iced coffee you’d get in local eateries, and the Bak Kwa bun was not unlike any other I’ve had. I personally think that ordering only a bowl of Laksa is enough, unless your breakfast routine demands more.
Where is this place?
Address: 1, Jalan Seruling, Taman Seruling, 08000 Sungai Petani, Kedah
Google Maps link: https://goo.gl/maps/QhcZs2DG3RRGg6oC7
The restaurant operates out of the space of a corner terrace house in the Taman Seruling residential area. It is not hard to miss.
I took a Grab from Sungai Petani train station straight to the restaurant. In the late morning this cost me RM 6.00. If you are driving, there is a decent amount of parking space along the streets nearby, but as this is a residential area, be very careful of blocking someone’s entrance gate or car.
Lao Zi Ho Enterprise (老字号大饼家) – Confectioneries for all
Local bakeries are a fixture of small and medium sized towns in Malaysia. These are usually family businesses churning out delicious pastries, biscuits, and confectioneries, and have typically done so for decades.
One such place is Lao Zi Ho in Sungai Petani. The place sells a variety of pastries and biscuits, but their signature product is their (pretty big) Tau Sar Peah – a puff pastry with a mung bean filling. Lao Zi Ho sells them in 3 different sizes of packaging, with the smallest being a bag of 10, the middle option being a box of 12, and the largest is a bottle of 24. They cost RM 10, RM 13, and RM 25 respectively.
I quite enjoyed the Tau Sar Peah. One of my pet peeves about Tau Sar Peah bought elsewhere is that the filling tends to be a tad too salty. Not on this one though, as the mung bean fillings had a pleasant taste to them without being over the salty line.
Their Tau Sar Peah also does well in keeping the whole biscuit together. Its not uncommon to come across Tau Sar Peahs that have been made a little too brittle, resulting in the fillings and outer pastry layer breaking off in hard chunks. Lao Zi Ho’s on the other hand, doesn’t. This is a big plus point for me, and the flaky outer egg wash layer also completes the experience.
Where is this place?
Address: 746, Jalan Kuala Ketil, Kampung Sungai Tongka, 08000 Sungai Petani, Kedah
Google Maps link: https://goo.gl/maps/UaY9c1oxt8qGfNQy6
Lao Zi Ho is located on Jalan Kuala Ketil, a main road connecting the town centre to outlying areas. It has a small and nondescript shop front, and there isn’t much space for parking. If you do drive, you can park in front of the store for a (very) short while, but be mindful of the neighbouring shops as they too have customers that drive. Backing out of your parking spot also requires reversing into the busy road itself, so always be mindful of traffic and pedestrians.
Cendol at Medan Selera Jalan Dewa
Cendol is a classic Malaysian street dessert. It consists of shaved ice, some scoops of green rice flour jelly, coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, and red azuki beans.
I’d read recommendations that the Medan Selera at Jalan Dewa in the centre of SP town had pretty good Cendol, so that’s where I headed next.
What is a Medan Selera? The phrase "Medan Selera" translates literally as "Appetite Square" or "Taste Square". A Medan Selera is essentially a big food marketplace, or "Food Court". There is usually a good selection of local cuisine and drinks available on sale, and are great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner - whichever works for you.
The Cendol was pretty good, but I wish there were more of the green jelly, as there seemed to be more shaved ice and syrup in the bowl. Still, it was a nice dessert to have on a hot and sunny day.
Where is this place?
Address: Medan Selera Jalan Dewa, Jalan Dewa, Sungai Petani, 08000 Sungai Petani, Kedah
Google Maps link: https://goo.gl/maps/NCSwC8cgDCRi4pdF9
The Medan Selera Jalan Dewa is located on Jalan Dewa in the town centre and is bounded by Jalan Pengkalan and Jalan Bank on its southern and northern exits respectively. It is essentially a covered alley featuring a wide variety of food stalls. If Cendol isn’t it for you, feel free to try one of the many options on offer. Remember – cash payment is due when the food is delivered to your table.
Jalan Dewa is accessible by foot from the Sungai Petani train station and involves crossing an overhead pedestrian bridge across the train tracks. Simply turn right at the main exit of the station, and head in the general direction of the car park. The bridge is pretty hard to miss, and will lead you to Jalan Ibrahim, the main thoroughfare of the town. Cross Jalan Ibrahim, walk further down on Jalan Pengkalan and you’ll eventually see the black arches of the Medan Selera.
Getting to Sungai Petani from Penang without a car
The fastest and most convenient way of getting to Sungai Petani from Penang is by hopping on one of the local commuter trains running between Butterworth (Penang’s main station) and Padang Besar (located in the state of Perlis by the Thai border). These trains are branded as “Komuter Utara” or “ Komuter Sektor Utara”, and are run by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) – the state owned railway operator in Peninsular Malaysia.
Note: Butterworth station is located on the mainland. To get to the station, simply catch the fast ferry from the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal on the island. There are no train stations on Penang island.
The trains run on a scheduled timetable viewable on KTMB’s website. Tickets can be purchased on the same day in person at the train station, or by using the KITS mobile app. The latter option gives you an e-ticket in the app featuring a QR code to be scanned at the ticket gates.
A single ticket costs RM 3.60 whereas a return ticket costs RM 7.20. The tickets are not limited by specific train times and can be used for any Komuter timings on the same day. If you are based in Penang, I recommend buying the day return ticket – its far easier to have the ticket ready at hand if you’re rushing for time.
Don’t worry about running out of tickets as tickets for the Komuter trains are unlimited. This is simply the equivalent of catching the Berlin S-Bahn to Potsdam.
For more train timings and more information, please visit KTMB's website at https://www.ktmb.com.my/
If you’re visiting Penang and feel like you’ve ran out of things to see in Penang island, Sungai Petani is a very easy way of injecting some flavour into your itinerary. The local trains are a convenient way of getting to Sungai Petani, but if you really want a painless way of getting around the town, I’d suggest you stick to driving instead.