Sri Ananda Bahwan has its roots back in 1990 in Butterworth (the mainland part of Penang), started by an enterprising Taiping-born Indian woman, Radhabay Iyasamy Naidoo, with help of her 8 children. This Penang Street branch in George Town’s Little India district was her first foray into Penang island, after successfully expanding into Sungei Petani and Kulim in neighbouring Kedah state, and Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur by the late-90s.
The Penang Street branch opened in 2001, and it has remained my firm favourite for South Indian food whenever I visited Penang in those years. For first-time visitors to George Town, do NOT confuse Penang Street, one of the main arteries in the Little India district, to Penang Road, the crumbling main thoroughfare of George Town’s old retail centre.
The South Indian breakfast staples here are generally pretty good - although its standards fluctuated over the years due to the constant & fast turnover of Indian chefs, most of whom come to work in Malaysia from India on 1- or 2-year work visas.
Our breakfast this morning:
- Roti canai - Malaysia-speak for paratha. The Malaysian version is lighter and less chewy than its close Singapore cousin, the roti prata. IMO, the Singapore roti prata is pretty similar to Tamilian parotta whilst the Malaysian one is more akin to the Keralan parotta.
A trio of dhal curries to slather over the roti canai:
Upuma - fragrant semolina cooked with mustard seeds, cumin, curry leaves, ginger, onions, coconut and other spices. One of my fave South Indian breakfast item. Eaten with dhal curry.
Idli - steamed, spongey-soft rice-flour cakes, eaten with dhal curry.
Masala thosai (usually pronounced “dosa” in other parts of India, but called “thosai” in Malaysia and Singapore due to the prevalence of the use of Tamil) - a thin crepe with a dollop of spiced mashed potatoes, studded with peas, carrots, onions and ginger, tinged yellow with turmeric, in the centre.
Besides the dhal/lentil curry, coconut chutney, or a spicey kara-chutney will be served with a thosai. The version of thosai I had this morning was folded into a triangle - perhaps alluding to the chef’s origins in Karnataka state.
- Teh Tarik - hot milk tea, usually sweetened.
Sri Ananda Bahwan also has a variety of Indian sweets to complement its savoury dishes - it serves rice with both vegetarian and meat curried at lunch and dinner times.
Sri Ananda Bahwan
25, Penang Street (Little India), Georgetown, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +604263 3841
Opening hours: 7am–10.30pm, daily
Breakfast this morning at Sri Ananda Bahwan’s largest, busiest branch in Penang - the one next to the Penang Sports Club.
The cavernous main dining area could accommodate about 150 diners at a go, but its computerised order was pretty efficient, so we got our food within minutes.
We ordered a whole plethora of our favourite South Indian breakfast eats.
Roti canai - this is the local Tamilian paratha: light, fluffy and crisp on edges. Absolutely scumptious with dhal curry.
Vadai - the quintessential South Indian “donut”, but savoury rather than sweet. Its batter tasted of lentils and onions, and aromatic from curry leaves and cumin.
Upuma - my personal favourite, anywhere I go - whether I am in Chennai, Bangalore or even Artesia, Los Angeles.
The rendition here had a texture similar to Moroccan cous cous - it’s fine by me, although I much prefer the version over at Michelin-rated Woodlands on Penang Street. Woodlands’ upuma is moist, like a soft polenta pudding - absolutely delicious. Still, flavour-wise, the version here is perfect, and a splash of dhal curry took care of the slight “dryness”.
Thosai - this is the crisp, wafer-light paper dosa, executed to perfection here. I love my crisp thosai with the milky coconut chutney.
The most impressive rendition I’d ever had was from Thohirah on Jaan Kayu, back in Singapore:
The version I had in Chennai, India:
I love this Penang one at Sri Ananda Bahwan this morning - as good as any.
Kerala parotta - this is a new item on their menu, which was previously all-Tamil. Its Kerala parotta, made from maida flour was finely-layered, crisp on the outside, whilst cushy & moist on the inside.
The ones here were smaller and moister than their Tamil counterpart - the “roti canau”/“paratha”.
Stir-fried rice noodles - this is one of the Malaysian-ised Tamil dishes very popular with the locals. It utilizes Chinese rice noodles, which was great in absorbing the gingery-oniony flavours.
Nasi lemak - this is perhaps Malaysia’s “national breakfast dish”, of Malay origin, but which has been adapted in various forms by the Indian and Chinese minorities in Malaysia. Coconut milk-flavoured, pandan-scented rice, accompanied by spicy chili “sambal”, crisp-fried anchovies (“Ikan bilis”), groundnuts, a slice of cucumber, and half of a hard-boiled egg. It was simple but tasty.
Idli - these fluffy little pillows, made from ground fermented lentil-and-rice batter, is a popular South Indian breakfast option. It traces its origins back to the 10th-century.
The ones here are pretty good - light, soft and spongey-soft, perfect for absorbing the dhal curry.
It’s been a year or so since I was back here. The food has improved by leaps and bounds, and I think much of it was due to an injection of fresh culinary talent with the return of chefs from India recently, post-COVID lockdowns.
Sri Ananda Bahwan
225, Jalan Macalister (MacAlister Road), 10450 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +604-210 0840
Opening hours: 7.30am to 10.30pm daily