You should arrive on Penang Island with several lists and one of those should be “What Penang Food to Eat”. If you don’t, or to augment your list, most definitely stop by Tourist Information or pick up the Penang Street Food leaflet to help you along the way. This is OUR must eat Penang Food Guide. Penang is the best place in Malaysia for food, so make sure this is on your Malaysia bucket list and visit.
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The melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Portuguese, Indian, Dutch, and British cultures here has left an amazing culinary heritage. You’ll be hard-pushed to find anywhere else in Malaysia with such amazing food as you will find in Penang. Apart from maybe Melaka, which is where we are when I’m writing this. There’s such a variety of dishes to eat here, in Penang, and it’s also easy to get between the places to eat. This is one place where taking a food tour is absolutely a perfect thing to do, to get a local to take you around all the best places!
#1 THING TO DO
The food of Penang is amazing. Honestly, you’ll eat so much good stuff here. And this seriously well-rated tour takes you to all the best places and brings out the Penang specialties to try.
Where to Eat in Penang
And it’s not an expensive proposition to eat here in Penang. Hawker stalls, food courts, and cheap eats are the way to go. We ate in a food court at a Tesco supermarket, at the century-old Kimberley Street Hawker Center, at a food court by the Clan Jetties, and at the Red Garden Food Paradise. The Clan Jetties are one of our recommended things to do in George Town, the capital city of Penang Island.
Food Hawker Centers in Penang
We did go to the most famous food hawker center, at New Lane or Batu Meru, the century-old Kimberley Street Hawker Center, at a food court by the Clan Jetties, and at the Red Garden Food Paradise. And at times, we couldn’t get near the food because of other tourists snapping photos.
Eating at a hawker center or food court is one of the key ways to eat your food alongside native Malays.
Whether these centers are based on the street, with plastic tables and chairs, or whether they’re backed into food courts or into shop fronts, they all have a few simple, similar characteristics.
There are a variety of “stalls” – metal and glass food counters where your food is cooked fresh for you.
There’s usually an “economy” option, where you get a mound of white rice, and then get to pick which dishes you add to it. You pay for what you put on your plate. The dishes have been prepared earlier and sit waiting for your attention.
You find a table (they’re usually numbered) and then order your food, telling the stall holder your table number, and your food is brought to your table when it’s ready. You’ll pay when it’s delivered.
Most dishes will come in at least two (sometimes three) sizes, Medium and Large. Medium will deliver a good full stomach.
Once you’ve found your table, a server will find you and ask you what you want to drink.
You don’t have to drink anything, but there’s a huge variety of fresh fruit juice just waiting to be tried. Watermelon juice is just so much better than the actual fruit. Pineapple is amazing. Nutmeg juice is a specialty of Penang (although you might have to scout it out a little, we found it at a food court by the Clan Jetties).
Beer is also usually available at hawker centers. Red Court delivered cold large bottles of Skol for 15.50 RM, which was the cheapest that we found beer in Penang. Order more than one bottle and you’ll get an ice bucket.
If it’s busy, then you might just find an un-cleared table, sit down and find a server, they’ll clear it off for you. Don’t wait for the table to be cleared, someone else will nab it first.
Where to Find the Penang Food Hawker Centers in Georgetown
Here’s what we ate on our way through on the streets of Penang. You’ll find food hawker centers at the following locations in Georgetown.
Sri Weld Hawker Center, Penang
- Sri Weld Hawker Center Address: 21, Lebuh Pantai, George Town, 10200 George Town, Penang
- Sri Weld Hawker Center Opening Times: Opens 09:00 to 03:00. Closed on Sundays
CF Food Court, Penang
- CF Food Court, Penang Address: 10300, 48-58, Gat Lebuh Armenian, Georgetown, 10300 George Town, Penang
- CF Food Court, Penang Opening Times: 10:00 to 01:00. Opens Daily
Goodall Food Court, Penang
- Goodall Food Court, Penang Address: Jalan Gottlieb, Taman Selamat, 10350 George Town, Penang
- Goodall Food Court, Penang Opening Hours: 08:30 to 00:30 Closed on Tuesday
Esplanade Park Food Court
- Esplanade Park Food Court Address: Jalan Padang Kota Lama, 10200, George Town, Penang
- Esplanade Park Food Court Opening Hours: 11:00 to 23:00. Closed on Sundays
New Lane Hawker Center
- New Lane Hawker Center Address: Lorong Baru, George Town, 10450 George Town, Penang
- New Lane Hawker Center Opening Times: 16:00 to 23:00. Closed on Wednesdays.
Cecil Street Food Court
- Cecil Street Food Court Address: 40-48, Lebuh Cecil, George Town, 10300 George Town, Penang
- Cecil Street Food Court Opening Times: 07:30 to 19:00
Presgrave Street Hawker Centre
- Presgrave Street Hawker Centre Address:: New World Park, 102, Jalan Burma, George Town, 10050 George Town, Penang
- Presgrave Street Hawker Centre Opening Times: 09:00 to 18:00
Gurney Drive Hawker Center
- Gurney Drive Hawker Center Address: 172, Solok Gurney 1, Pulau Tikus, 10250 Jelutong, Penang
- Gurney Drive Hawker Center Opening Times: 18:00 to 00:00
What to Eat in Penang
The cultural melting pot that you’ll find in Penang produces some amazing food with dishes influenced from a variety of sources. Here’s what you must eat when visiting Penang.
Eat Char Koay Teow in Penang
This is Penang’s most famous street food. Flat rice noodles are fried in a wok, then oil is added, then minced garlic and fresh prawns. Then soy sauce, bean sprouts, egg, and chives. Cockles go in last. If you’re a regular of Thai food, think Pad Thai with zing.
Hokkien – or Prawn – Mee (Or Penang Prawn Soup)
Yellow noodles and rice vermicelli are joined in a thick spicy broth of prawns and pork. Bean sprouts and water spinach add to the mix, and slices of pork, boiled egg, and prawns are added to the top. We were generally offered this dry or in soup (wet). Both were delicious.
Satay from Penang
While it’s not specific to Penang you will find satay chicken and satay pork in most of the hawker centers in Penang.
Penang (or Assam) Laksa
It was back in 2011 that CNN named this as 7th in the World’s Most Delicious Foods and it’s the only Penang noodle dish that has a fish-based broth, although on tasting it you’d swear it was an oxtail soup-like broth. The broth is made from mackerel, which is poached, de-boned and stewed with lemongrass, chilies, and tamarind (assam).
It’s served with thick rice noodles, sliced onions, cucumber, lettuce, red chilies, mint, and sometimes ginger flower bud, and then drizzled with prawn paste or Hae Ko.
Fried Oyster Omelette in Penang
You know when you try something because it’s on the list, but you know that it’s not for you. Yep, that was the fried oyster omelet. I’ll admit the omelet was good.
The fried oysters just didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t really anything. Give me cold, fresh oysters with a spot of chili sauce and some lemon. Oh and a glass of fizz to wash them down with any day.
Wan Tan Mee from Penang
This has to be my favorite Penang dish. Well, this or the Hokkien Mee, I can’t decide. Served dry or in a soup, it combines egg noodles in a clear broth or with soy sauce with a garnish of barbecued pork slices, mustard greens and spring onions and the piece de resistance, the wan tans. Oy. Nom, nom, nom.
Penang’s Mee Goreng
Drawing very much on the Muslim-Indian background, this is a yellow noodle dish with thick spicy tomato gravy. No prawns or fish bits in here, but stewed squid (sometimes), boiled potatoes, tofu, flour, and chive fritters, and a garnish of lettuce, fried shallots, and lime. Add fried chicken (ayam) for the very hungry.
Eat Roti Canai in Penang (pronounced Chan-ai)
Remember how much I waxed lyrical over the parotta of both southern India and Amritsar? I think I have almost found it equal. While the Roti Canai that we had in Penang wasn’t great, the two consecutive breakfasts that we had in Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands were sublime. (more on what to do in Cameron Highlands, including what to eat here) So it’s going to depend on your roti (bread) maker. The roti is soft and fluffy, but crispy. Not oily. It’s made from wheat flour, eggs, water, and vegetable fat. It’s pummeled and spun, and kneaded to within an inch of its life until it becomes a very thin sheet.
Then it’s folded into a circular shape. Then it’s flattened and fried on a hot skillet until all the layers are crispy and golden. When you eat it, it literally shreds, it comes to pieces and it’s amazing. (Canai in Malay means to knead). Everywhere you’ll find huge varieties. Do yourself a favor and go for the plain veg version and just taste the bread. Then use it to mop up Dhal. Now, I seriously need to learn how to make this bread. And then plan to get fat, very fat.
Nasi – Penang Rice
Everywhere there is a version of Nasi something. Nasi means rice in Malay – and the word afterward will describe what it’s served with, but in this instance, for us, it meant fried rice (Nasi Goreng) with vegetables, prawns, with chicken. It’s a good filling (cheap) meal, but after a few, you’ll yearn for plain steamed rice.
Nyonya Bread from Penang
Normally served with salt chicken we used them to mop up soup.
Poh Piah – Penang Spring Roll
Poh piah is a Penang Spring Roll. The skin is a thin, paper-like crepe pancake made from wheat flour which is rubbed against a steel plate until it cooks, The filling – turnip, jicama, and beansprouts with some lettuce stir-fried with some chopped peanuts and a little omelet. It’s very flimsy, so plate-to-mouth is a potentially messy operation. It’s not deep-fried. We ate it with soy sauce.
Cendol – Penang Special Dessert
And so to dessert. And to Cendol. Or noodles on ice. First of all your vendor will finely shave some ice and put it into a bowl. Then they’ll add red beans (we met this type of dessert first in South Korea), then there’s palm sugar syrup, condensed milk (or coconut milk), and the cendol noodle is also added.
The noodle is made from rice flour, with a green color obtained from a herb called pandari. You HAVE to try it once, but for us, once was enough.
Rojack – Penang Salad
This is a bizarre little dish. It’s a salad of cucumber, pineapple, mango, jambu (water apple/rose apple), cuttlefish, turnip (jicama), bean sprouts, taupok (puffed soya bean cake), and youtiao (fried dough fritters). The dressing is made up of sugar, chili, lime juice, and dark sticky, smelly Hae Ko (dark prawn paste).
All the fruits are cut into small bites portions and tossed in a bowl with the dressing to properly mix it. It’s served with crushed peanuts and extra cuttlefish if you so desire. You HAVE to try it. Once.
Try Durian in Penang
July is durian season in Penang. And you’ll smell it EVERYWHERE. If you sit in traffic you’ll find you’re probably stuck behind a bike carrying durian. If you walk down the street, you’ll smell fruit stall after fruit stall selling durian. We rode a motorbike behind a truck of Durian all the way back from the War Museum when we were here exploring the rest of Penang Island (read about that here.)
Your hotel will no doubt have a sign saying “No Durian”. It’s not just an acquired smell, it’s an acquired taste. Oh, the smell isn’t horrendous, it’s just strong. And the taste?
Well, it’s squishy and just kind of melts in your mouth and dissolves to, pretty much nothing. And yes, you taste the smell as well, but again it’s not horrendous, it’s just “there”. Just wait until you get to Melaka where durian season also brings durian cooked into pastry as a “durian puff”.
Drink Penang Coffee
“White Penang Coffee” was first made famous in the town of Ipoh on the peninsula.
The name comes from the Chinese and is a reference to how the coffee is roasted. Ready? Coffee beans are roasted with palm oil margarine. Yep. Margarine. Then it’s served with condensed milk. We drank this while touring the island of Penang, and you can read more about what to do on the island of Penang here.
You can ask to have it without milk (we’ve had both). And yes, both do have an oily taste to them. It is, I’m sure an extremely acquired taste. Not for me!
The food is an amazing part of Penang, a testament to the cultural mixing pot that you’ll find here. . There’s no need to go to fancy restaurants – just go into any Hawker center or small cafe, try the street food for cheaper.
One thing is for sure, you won’t go hungry here.
Are you traveling for Food? Read these guides.
If traveling for food is important to you, then check out some more of our guides to some of the world’s best food.
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- A Guide to Vietnamese Food
- What to eat in Laos
- Japanese Food not to miss
- The best Japanese Snacks
- The food of Yorkshire, England
- What to eat in Genoa, Italy
- The Best Bulgarian Food Guide
- A guide to Costa Rican Food
- Georgian Food to Eat
- What to eat in Myanmar – a Burmese Food Guide
- Indonesian Food to Try
- What to Eat in Penang, Malaysia
- A Guide to Russian Food
- What to eat in Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan Food Guide
- What to eat in Amritsar, India
- A Guide to the food specialties of Jaipur
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Final Words on The Penang Must Easts
Whenever I re-read this article on the must eats in Penang my mouth waters and it takes me back to when we visited, what we ate and drank. The food here is fabulous and it’s not expensive. It’s a great place to get an understanding of the melting pot of cultures here in this part of Malaysia, don’t miss it, and don’t miss eating some if not all of these dishes!
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