A multi cultural melting pot makes Penang one of Asia’s best food destinations…
Geographically located on a small island on Malaysia’s mainland west coast, Georgetown has been a popular stop off for travellers for many years. This is reflected in its diverse population and in turn its awesome food.
A mixture of native Malay, Indian, Chinese and even European can be seen in both the faces of the residents and some of the popular dishes. In fact Penang is renowned even in Malaysia as one of the best places to chow down and that’s saying something!
I’ve spent a lot of time in Penang (albeit not as much as I’d like to) and each visit turns over a new culinary delight.
Here are some of the best places to eat and the must try dishes of this fantastic food destination.
Char Kway Teow
This rich noodle dish is one of the signature dishes of the Penang region. Fat rice noodles are normally mixed with an assortment of chicken, prawns, eggs and Chinese sausage. It’s essentially the pad thai of Malaysia, perhaps a bit tastier. You’ll now find the dish all over Malaysia and Singapore (and some places in Indonesia), but Penang nails it.
Where to find it: Almost everywhere but Lum Fong Cafe at the top of Jalan Muntri does a consistently excellent one.
Chicken or Frog Porridge
Not something I ever thought I’d order, but in fact a surprisingly tasty dish. The porridge is made from rice (I think), not oats, so the consistency is similar to the porridge Brits are more familiar with.
I had the spicy frog porridge from one of the stands at the Red Garden night market (Leith Street) and despite my reservations I finished it off.
I have only had it once mind you… But I would have it again.
Simple and delicious, this is a dish that I seek out as soon as I hit Malaysia. It’s basically a fried puffy flatbread served with a mildly spiced thin curry which varies in it’s contents. Sometimes it has lentils, sometimes it’s potatoes and tomatoes. Whatever it comes with it’d delicious, moreish and cheap.
Pronounced roti chen-ay, it obviously has it’s origins in India although this is now a very Malaysian dish. Pretty much any roadside cafe in Malaysia will do a version of roti canai with or without meat.
If you try only one dish in Malaysia (I dunno, if you’re on a stopover at KLIA or something) then make it roti canai.
Nasi Lemak/Nasi Goreng
This might be the traditional image of Malaysian food. A mound of lightly fragranced rice (or noodles if you go for goreng) with a tangy curry, often of chicken, plus a fried egg and an assortment of garnishes incuding peanuts and dried anchovies.
Nasi lemak is sort of a breakfast/brunch thing but you can have it any time of day. It’s super delicious and not super spicy.
You’ll see it on the menu pretty much everywhere so if you’re passing through anywhere in Malaysia you’ll probably end up getting quite into it.
You’ll probably have heard of laksa (or lakhsa), a coconut soup with noodles and a mixture of meat and vegetables. It’s pretty much Malaysia’s ramen: hearty, delicious, filling and cheap. The Penang version is a bit more tangy thanks to the inclusion of tamarind.
Like ramen, people can get a bit obsessed with finding the best Penang laksha. Check out this guy for example…
Possibly the weirdest dessert, but surprisingly one of the best, cendol is a Penang speciality. It’s a cold coconut milk soup served with sweet rice noodles and often kidney beans or sweetcorn. Try it once, you’ll want to try it again.
It might not be to everyones taste but Penang coffee also has an excellent reputation. Normally served super strong with a lot of condensed milk, it’s definitely an eye opener…
Other Street Food
The thing about Georgetown is the amount of street food markets. There are hawker centres, night markets and areas where you’re pretty much guaranteed to just pick a cafe and be blown away.
- Little India: The area just down from the big Chinese temple, Kuan Yin Teng. There are several square blocks which are more India than India itself in some ways. You’ll find excellent Indian food (of course). Treat yourself to a masala dosa, tandoori chicken and a biriyani.
- Red Garden Night Market: A great hawker centre where you can get all the weird and wonderful stuff that Penang has to offer. Pepper crab, frog porridge and all that kinda thing. Its just around the corner from Jalan Muntri and the nightclub area at Jalan Penang.
- Campbell Street: This main road is lined with great eateries and is also packed full of street food stalls in the day.
- KOMTAR Food court: If you’re in transit (on a bus for example) you’ll probably be in KOMTAR. Just as well as there’s a decent hawker centre in the building. If you’re in the city you’ll spot the high rise tower sticking out of it from all over town.
- Air Itam: A town just outside Georgetown, this is where you get the furnicular up to the top of Penang Hill. This is also a great place for restaurants. Air Itam food is actually kinda a big deal even in Penang. Take a walk around…
- Sri Weld Food Court: Another great food court right in the heart of Georgetown. A great spot for Nasi Lemak Loosen your belt…
You’ll also find excellent western food including burgers and fried chicken at various locations across the island. And I’m not talking about KFC or McDonalds.
So that is why Penang, well, Georgetown is what I would consider one of the best places for food in the world.
Stay In Penang
Heading to Penang any time soon? It’s one of the cheapest places in the world to get a luxury hotel, so splash out. Take a look at our hotel partners to find a great deal on a four or five star hotel in Penang.
If you’re looking for budget hotels in Penang, then don’t worry there’s loads. Check out sites like Hostelworld for the best deals, or head to Love Lane/Jalan Muntri for lots of backpacker hostels.
Ready to go and check out some of the best food in Asia, maybe even the world? Check out our handy flight widget below.
Been to Penang, or got any street food advice for visitors? Comment below and we’ll pop any recommendations in future updated of this article.
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