The dream destination for everyone who loves food as much as I do must be Penang in Malaysia. The island with its small UNESCO protected capital, Georgetown, is a mix between different cultures and offers varieties on Indian, Chinese and Malay food. A blend between flavors that you will not soon forget. You can start wandering around and I can guarantee you, most of what you will taste will be absolutely amazing! But what if you’re limited on time and you want to try the best Penang has to offer. Read on for where and what to eat in my Penang Food Guide!
The food scene in Georgetown is peacefully divided between street food, food courts and restaurants. The restaurants are a little bit rarer as it requires a bigger start-up capital and people are used to buying from the street anyway. The lovely part of authentic street food is that vendors will specialize in just one dish. This is what they are good at and that’s the only thing they will make. If you don’t like it, you will have to go to a different stall. I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow foodie, Renée, who did her research and my travel buddy of the time, Sarah, and I just had to follow. I just knew I wanted to share all this goodness with you guys, so I wrote it all down in Evernote. Consequently here is finally the list of the best of the best that we found in foodie candy land, Penang!
“Did you know that Penang is also the street art capital of South East Asia, read more about it here.“
When it comes to the Penang food, I would recommend trying everything. If you are a little weary about trying street food, make sure to read my list of 20 tips for eating street food without getting sick first! Once you are ready to go exploring, take a risk and try things you don’t know. The food in the city is so cheap that even if you don’t like something, you are able to pick up something else! One last tip before you go adventuring. Penang has the strange rule of being able to order your food everywhere but drinks are linked to where you want to sit. So walk around for your food, pick the one you like, find a seat and only then order your drinks.
Try the best Laksa in Penang: Asam Laksa
Price 4,50 RM
If there is ever a Malay dish, laksa is the one. Usually, it is a fish stock based soup filled with noodles. In some places, they will make this soup with chicken stock as well so if you don’t eat poultry like me, ask before you eat. Depending on where you get your bowl of laksa, it might be slightly different. Most of us will have heard of or tasted laksa with coconut milk, a traditional dish more south in the country or in Singapore. In Penang however, this type of laksa is called curry mee. When they talk about laksa, they refer to asam laksa. This soup is made with a tamarind base and served with fresh herbs. Asam laksa looks slightly less tasty than its cousin, curry mee, but it is a must try when you’re in Penang. The best place to eat this dish is right next to the Air Itam wet market and is called Ayir Itam Assam Laksa. This stall has been there since 1955 and is so famous it even has a website. They definitely take street food seriously here!
The Best Char Koay Teow
Corner Kimberly and Cinta Street
Price 4,70 RM
Another Malay dish with a reputation that goes beyond Malaysian borders. The rice noodle dish with shrimps can be found everywhere in the city and will taste slightly different at every stall. It’s one of those favorites that I couldn’t skip in my Penang food guide and that might be comparable to Thailand’s Pad Thai, although very different in flavor. A staple almost everyone likes. The best Char Koay Teow we had can be found at the street food stall on the corner of Kimberly and Cintra street where google maps will lead you to Sin Guat Keong coffee shop. In this hawker stall area (of street food area), one orders food where you want and you order drinks where you want to sit. Around this coffee shop there are several Char Koay Teow stalls, the one you want is really on the side of Kimberly street and not the one on Cinta Street.
Hokkien Mee Heaven
Corner Kimberly and Cinta Street
Price 4,70 RM
The hokkien mee that is served in Penang is a fish soup with rice noodles. It is very different from what turns up when you eat hokkien mee elsewhere, which is an egg noodle dish with prawns. This soup is also made with a base of prawns, both fresh and dried and with be complemented with ingredients like bean sprouts, sometimes pork and maybe even a half-boiled egg. A good option if you want to try this dish is also in the Sin Guat Keong coffee shop on the corner of Kimberly and Cinta.
Chee Cheong Fun
Corner Kimberly and Cinta Street
Price 2,80 RM
It’s hard to pick favorites in Penang but this dish definitely stayed with me. This south Chinese dish consists out of a flat rice noodle that is steamed and served with dipping sauces, a sweet dark red sauce (thnee cheo), a chili sauce (huan cheo chiau) and a black prawn paste sauce (have ko). To finish off some sesame seeds are sprinkled on and you’re good to go.
177 Jalan Penang
A popular northern Malay dish which consist out of steamed rice served with several curry sauces and meat, chicken or fish. Often all at the same time. A very famous restaurant for serving this type of dish is Nasi Kandar Line Clear. Open 24h a day, seven days a week, this restaurant always has a line of waiting customers. It was also featured in Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations” which of course only makes it more popular with tourists. When we visited this place, it was still mostly locals though. Get in line, point at what you want and start eating.
Roti Canai and Indian Tea
110 Jalan Transfer (Transfer street)
Another place that is famous for one dish, their roti canai, which is a plain or an egg roti with curry sauces. Now after having eaten Indian food for three weeks in a row, my stomach is still not a fan. I just ate the egg roti with some tea for breakfast, but my fellow eaters were very pleased with everything they ate!
CF Food Court
Penkalan Weld street, across from the Chew Jetty
Not a single dish this time, but a whole food court. We stumbled across this place on the way to the Chew jetty and had one of our best meals in Penang. There is so much to choose from that it took a while to decide on Poh Piah, a roll of rice flour with vegetables and fish, Nyonya curry mee, a laksa originating from the early Chinese immigrants in Penang and Fish head tom yum soup, a spicy thai soup with fish head. Don’t be frightened by the fish head in the soup, it is absolutely delicious! My meat loving friends took some fried dumplings to booth. If you are only taking away one place from this Penang food guide, go here!
Peanut and Red Bean Rice Balls
Chulia night Hawker stalls on the corner of Chulia street and Carnavon street
This dish is more a dessert than anything else and is not sweet in the traditional sense of the word. Rice dough is moulded around crushed peanuts or red beans and then fried. As a(nother) traditional Chinese dish found in Penang, this dish might vary depending on where you eat it. I had a similar black sesame seed dumpling that was steamed in Hong Kong which was just as delicious. There is something about the crunchy nutty flavor of the peanuts combined with the soft rice dough that just has me coming back for more.
At this location contains more than just a peanut ball stall, you can also find some really good curry mee, char keoh teow and poh piah here. This place also follows the unwritten rule that you buy drinks where you sit down. Expect to be kicked out if you don’t.
153 Lebuh Pantai
The place to be if you have a sweet tooth. They sell a very wide variety of cakes served with tea or coffee of your liking. Busy is an understatement for this place as it can be tricky to find a seat. Quite strange as they have a very elaborate seating plan. Several rooms which can also be rented out for organized dinners. The upstairs floor serves as an art gallery, book shop and more. Definitely one of the places that should be on your Penang list!
18, Lebuh Carnarvon (Carnarvon Street)
You’ve probably already figured out that there is some great Chinese food in Penang. The mother of all Chinese restaurants is Tek Sen. Always busy, this is a spot where you will have to wait for a seat. Totally worth it though. We enjoyed some morning glory with chill, stir fried squid with chili, bbq pork (for my travel buddies), fresh made tofu and some ribena with lychee drink.
Red Garden Food Court
20 Lebuh Leith
Recommended by a lot of locals because this is where the tourist like to go. A traveler like myself usually doesn’t like to go to places like this and that’s why I put it all the way at the end of the list. The food is regardless of its touristy vibe still pretty good. A reason to visit this place in the evening is because a lot of the locals start dancing amidst the plastic red chairs.
Three Sixty Sky Bar
If you’re done with street food and you are craving a cocktail with an awesome view, then Three Sixty Sky Bar is the place to be. They do a mean lychee cocktails and well, the view is unbeatable.
The Mugshot Café and Rainforest Bakery
300 Chulia street
When western breakfast is all you can think about or you desperately need a good coffee, The Mugshot Café is an awesome spot. Taking in the street art vibe from the surrounding streets, this café was one of my favorite spots to hang out and work on the blog. Don’t get stuck here though because they also have some really awesome breads and even serve pizza. Just don’t forget all the awesome surrounding street food.
What’s a foodie city without a food market? Penang Bazar has a wide variety of dried fruits, ingredients to put in traditional dishes and a small section of fresh produce. In the buildings adjacent to this one, you can also find a clothing and electronics bazar.
This list is only a fraction of the awesome food that you can find in this city. There is so much to explore and new businesses keep popping up every day. For example, Tai Tong dim sum (open 6-12pm) was also very high up on our list to grab some dumplings for breakfast, but we were always too late. I also found this article by The Guardian that mentions some of the above places and a couple of other ones.
We stayed in The Frame Guesthouse while we stayed in the city which is more a hostel than a guesthouse. We did like the interior a lot though and met a couple of nice people around the common table.