We first visited Penang in 2010. Sadly it took us 10 years to return. Overshadowed by Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, Penang is one of Asia’s most underrated food destinations. In our Penang Food Guide, we look at several of our all-time favorite things to eat in Penang.
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The Best Food To Eat In Penang
Penang is one of Asia’s most popular spots to visit and eat. However, if you’re visiting Penang for the first time, you might wonder where the best Penang restaurants are to take advantage of the most famous Penang food.
Over the last few years, Penang has become an increasingly popular holiday destination, especially for food lovers. And rightfully so.
Penang food is packed full of rich flavor combinations, making it unique and diverse. It is heavily inspired by a combination of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian food, which is why this multicultural cuisine stands out like no other.
When looking at what to eat in Penang, the place is a trove of endless discoveries. From hawker centers, to street food vendors, and traditional Chinese tea houses, Penang is a food lover’s dreamland.
For Amber and I, Penang is a less expensive alternative to Singapore. The food in Penang is just as good as the food in Singapore. While Penang might not have the infrastructure or luxury accommodations like Singapore, it still has so a lot going on.
A trip to Penang can easily be added when visiting Kaula Lumpur or Singapore. Both cities are less than a two-hour flight away. You’ll find plenty of hotels in Penang to fit any budget. Getting around Penang is super easy and cheap. We’ve taken taxi rides lasting 15-20 minutes that cost under $5.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the foods you must eat in Penang.
Roti canai is a bread-like side dish that is often compared to an Indian paratha, which is a dense, salted bread fried in oil. It’s the perfect accompaniment to any saucy, spicy dish.
In Penang, many people enjoy these rotis as part of their breakfast. The fried bread is served along side two curries, chicken and vegetables. Roti canai can be found all over Penang but is usually served by roadside stalls and street food vendors.
Char Kway Teow
This fusion dish is a stir-fried noodle dish that originated in Southern China. Kway Teow translates to flat rice noodles.
The dish is made by stir-frying the noodles over intense heat with traditional Asian seasonings such as soy sauce, garlic, and chili, and often used seafood such as prawns and cockles, and other proteins including Chinese sausage, belachan, and fishcakes. It also often incorporates Chinese vegetables such as chives and beansprouts.
The dish first became a famous food in Malaysia around the 20th century, when it was bought overseas as an attractive dish due to its high-fat content and low cost.
Penang Assam Laksa
Penang Laska is a Malaysian-style soup that is fragrant, zesty, and packed full of nutrients, making it a popular food in Penang. It’s easy to make, uses simple ingredients, and costs next to nothing.
The broth has a unique flavor that is sweet, sour, and really quite potent. In fact, it’s rather unusual and does take some getting used to, and I know it took me a few tries before I got to like it.
More often than not, it’s garnished with fresh greens such as coriander and lime zest and is bulked out with thick Japanese noodles, known as Udon. It’s also usually made with fish, such as tuna, and a good dollop of prawn paste, which is what gives it its robust flavor.
Mee Goreng is a fried noodle dish that is enjoyed across Southeast Asian states such as Malaysia as well as other Malaysian-speaking countries. It is believed that some variations of this dish were developed by Indian immigrants who used their own traditional cooking methods and combined them with different cultures and techniques.
Wherever you try Mee Goreng in Asia, it’s bound to be slightly different, and this is because there is no traditional, standard method in the way of preparation. The noodles used can vary from rice noodles to egg noodles, and they can include an abundance of other ingredients, from sambal and eggs to meat and vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage, and bean sprouts.
The end result of the dish is usually a flavorsome noodle stir fry, which is spicy, salty, and sweet.
Nasi Kandar is a famous food in Malaysia that originates from Penang, where Indian Muslim traders first introduced it. A simple dish, it’s made using rice and is often used to accompany dishes such as curry.
It’s how this dish is cooked which makes it unique and different from a typical rice dish. Nasi kandar is cooked in a three-foot-tall wooden container and can either be plain or mildly seasoned.
When served by street food vendors, you’ll usually find they have one large container full of rice and others full of dishes like curry, fried chicken, and spicy sauces, which are typically poured over the rice, known as banjir, which means flooding.
Best of all nasi kandar goes really well with one of these delicious Malay drinks.
We highly recommend the nasi kandar from Nasi Kandar Pelita.
Char Koay Kak
Char Koay Kak is a popular dish many Penang eateries serve as a Malaysian breakfast option. It’s often served in small portions and is also enjoyed as a late-night supper in Penang.
The dish is easy to make and has some similarities to a dish I mentioned earlier, the Char Koay Teow. They both use similar flavors, but this fried rice cake has a unique flavor and texture all of its own. Another difference is the cooking style; char koay kak is cooked using a large flat top.
When visiting Penang, check out some of the grocery stores in town. You’ll find handy packets that you can take home to make for supper, but if you want to get your hands on the real deal, maybe head to Madame Ng’s Char Koay Kak, a food vendor who has been serving some of the most authentic Penang food to locals for over 60 years. She can be found at Jalan Burma, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang.
Lor bak is a Penang snack, or street food choice made using specially seasoned sausage meat, and also goes by the name Ngor Hiang in other parts of Asia such as Malaysia and Singapore.
You’ll find that Lor Bak often comes as part of a mixed plate of hawker food, which usually includes a variety of deep-fried finger foods such as tempura prawns, century eggs, and fritters, traditionally accompanied by wedges of cucumber.
It pairs perfectly with dips such as ngor-Yong hoon, which is heavily flavored with Chinese Five Spice and soy sauce. An insider tip, lor bak works well with Asian chili sauce.
Popiah is a type of spring roll made using shredded turnips, French beans, bean curd, jicama, and bean sprouts. It’s a popular Penang street food and is often served in Chinese homes as part of a family dinner.
You can find it served from food trucks as it is a popular street food in Penang. Vendors will often serve their Popiah alongside a bowl of hot, steaming broth, which you can dip your roll into to extenuate the flavors.
This popular Malay snack is a must-eat Penang street food. Made using a collection of Malaysian fruits that are served in a sweet, sticky sauce and topped with roasted nuts, it is a form of Asian fruit salad.
The dish is easy to make at home, should you want to try it for yourself, and if you visit any local store in Penang, you’ll find the rojak sauce on the shelves. Simply pour this over your favorite selection of seasonal fruit.
The traditional homemade sauce is made using shrimp paste, sambal, palm sugar, soy sauce, and tamarind, so as you can imagine, it’s incredibly intense while being sweet, salty, and sour.
In this salad, you can expect to see fruits like guava, cucumber, pineapple, and green mango.
Cendol is a Malaysian classic dessert and a must-eat in Penang. A sweet dish made up of coconut ice cream, beans, gula Melaka and cendol was first made famous by a local street food vendor named Penang Road Famous Cendol.
However, you can find it at all kinds of Penang eateries, but more commonly, vendors and food trucks. It is also popular in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia.
Translating to bean ice, ais kacang is a typical Malaysian dessert made using shaved ice. That’s right bean ice. Of all the desserts we’ve come across, ais kacang is easily one of the more unique.
Ais kacang is topped with rose syrup, red beans, grass jelly, and creamed corn. And yes, you read that correctly. Red bean and creamed corn on top of shaved ice. While this might not sound edible, it’s actually delicious.
Best of all, ais kacang is the perfect treat on a hot Penang day. When we are in Penang, a day doesn’t go by without Amber and I eating one. The shaved ice helps beat the heat while the flavors are something to experience.
Ais kacang can be found throughout Penang. You’ll find it in coffee shops, food courts, and hawker centers. Ais kacang is easily one of Malaysia’s most unique desserts.
Apom Manis is a popular dessert in Penang. Similar to yet softer than a crepe, apom manis are found all over Penang, particularly at night. Street food vendors all across Penang freshly make apom manis by the dozens.
Apom Manis is made using rice flour, eggs, and sugar. The mixture is blended together and then fried. Fresh bananas, creamed corn, and shaved coconut are often stuffed inside apom manis.
You’ll find apom manis in hawker centers, street food stalls, and coffee shops across Penang. Super cheap, you can get a half dozen apom manis for less than $1.
At the end of the day, for Amber and I there’s no better eating experience than dim sum.
We’ve had dim sum all around the world and it never lets us know. In Penang, there are tons of great dim sum options. This helps explain why we love Penang. One of the best places for dim sum in Penang is Restoran Zim Sum on Macalister Road.
Dim sum is one of the most popular foods (dining experiences) in Asia. Similar to tapas or pintxos in Spain, dim sum features lots of small dishes. Dishes range from simple buns (bao) filled with barbecue pork (char siu) to fried vegetable spring rolls. You’ll also find more adventurous dishes like chicken feet and stomach (tripe).
Tea houses are the traditional places where you’d eat dim sum. Today, traditional tea houses still offer dim sum, but it’s mostly Chinese restaurants where you’ll find dim sum being offered. Inside, the dim sum is pushed around on carts for diners to choose from. Although this practice is difficult to find outside of Asia.
Most dim sum is cooked by using steam, except when fried. Usually, 3-4 pieces are served on each dish. You are charged per dish not per piece. On average, the price of a dish of dim sum in Penang is between $1.50-2.50 USD.
If you’ve never had dim sum, what are you waiting for? Dim sum in Penang isn’t expensive so don’t feel like you’re wasting money. There are tons of dim sum options, so you’re going to eventually find you’ll enjoy. And the atmosphere inside a traditional Chinese tea house is something to be seen.
Wanton mee, also known as wonton noodles, is an authentic Malaysian dish of Cantonese origin. A must-try, wanton mee is made using egg noodles and a rich yet light broth. The dish is not only popular in Penang but also in other parts of Asia. Wanton mee is one of our all-time favorite dishes to eat in Asia.
Across Asia, wanton mee is served in two ways: in a broth or dry. Amber and I prefer the broth version. It’s just better, trust us.
The noodles in wanton mee are served with leafy greens, tangy pickled chilies, and fried pork wanton. The soupy version of wanton mee is served in a rich chicken or pork broth. You can customize the broth with soy sauce, fish sauce, and dry chili flakes.
During our trip to Penang, we had the best wanton mee at Hong Kee Bamboo Noodle Lebuh Campbell Penang.
FAQs – Penang Food Guide – What To Eat In Penang Malaysia
Penang is arguably the best food city in Malaysia (sorry Kuala Lumpur). Much like the rest of Malaysia, the food in Penang features Chinese, Indian, and traditional Malay influences. Depending on who you ask, several Malay dishes qualify as the most famous food in Penang. At the top of that list are ais kacang, laksa, and our favorite roti canai.
Penang is a must try food city (island) in Malaysia. It’s also one of the most underrated food destinations in the World. While Kuala Lumpur gets most of the attention, Penang features tons of incredible restaurants, food stalls, and hawker centers. The cuisine is a mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay influences. Dishes range from spicy soups to fresh fish and seafood as well as delicious curries.