Updated 12th May 2022

Ask anyone about Penang and they’ll invariably say this: OMG THE FOOD!!!

I won’t lie. It’s pretty much the #1 reason we booked Penang as part of our holiday (or at least, why I’ve been so desperate to get there for the past 10+ years). Although you should read this for some Penang activity inspiration.

One thing I really love about eating in Malaysia, particularly at hawker centres, is the relative affordability of it. Here in Australia, eating out is more of a treat. If you were to eat breakfast and dinner out every day the cost would be astronomical. In Malaysia, hawker centres keep the price low and the food delicious. I can make laksa whenever I want and it’s pretty good… but is it Malaysian good? Ummmm, no!

When I started to write this post, I couldn’t figure out whether to arrange it in terms of where to eat, or what to eat. So I’ve done both. If I start repeating myself, that’s why – just scroll through until you find the information you need. Most of this information actually relates to George Town, since that’s where most tourists will stay and eat. There are some cool options in Batu Ferringhi, but mostly in the resorts – it isn’t the same kind of scene.

So let’s start our culinary journey around Penang.

Current COVID-19 situation (as of May 2022)

Fully vaccinated travellers can enter Malaysia without quarantine or testing. See Malaysia’s MySafeTravel site and Australia’s Smartraveller for more details.

You should also have travel insurance that includes COVID coverage.

The Best Foods To Try In Penang

There are some dishes that really, truly represent Penang. If someone asks, “what should I try in Penang?” which dishes are the answer? Well, these dishes!

Char Kway Teow

This is probably my favourite food in the entire world. At home in Adelaide, there’s a stall in the central markets called Ricky’s Chicken Rice that does an amazing Char Kway Teow. I love to order it in Singapore too, but it’s definitely a Penang specialty.

The key to a good Char Kway Teow is not only the flavour of the sauce, and of course the freshness of the seafood, but the slightly charred flavour you get from the noodles being fried in a super hot wok. If it doesn’t have this characteristic, it’s just not quite Char Kway Teow.

Penang Assam Laksa

Something I’m guilty of is thinking of Laksa as the creamy coconut variety. Assam Laksa is different. The broth isn’t creamy as it doesn’t have the coconut added, and the noodles are the round rice variety rather than hokkien. But let me tell you, it’s amazing. The spice is just right (unless you don’t like spice) and the lime just cuts through the richness of the paste. Without the coconut it feels less heavy and more refreshing.

Keep an open mind though. Mr. W. wasn’t as keen on this one as he is such a big coconut laksa fan. I didn’t care – to me, anything that has soup, noodles, and meat is a winning combination.

You can get a coconut milk version in some spots, but I thought going traditional was awesome.

Koay teow th’ng

Speaking of noodle soups with meat, koay teow th’ng is the absolute breakfast go-to. The broth is a mild stock, sometimes a bit creamy, and you’ll get pork or fish balls, noodles and greens in it too. We loved ordering this dish at Pinang Delicious Food Court on Jalan Macalister, but there are several spots along Lebuh Carnarvon that do it really well too. Mister Three adored this dish!

Nasi Kandar

This is a pretty loosely defined dish – it’s basically different curried meats (for example chicken or seafood) with mildly seasoned rice (nasi). The kandar is actually a term for bamboo poles with baskets attached: which is how the dish used to be sold on the street. You’ll find it in any eatery serving Malaysian food now, and less on the actual street. There are several places on Lebuh Chulia and the surrounding streets in George Town that serve delicious Nasi Kandar.

Popiah

Think of popiah as a cross between a Vietnamese cold roll and a crepe. Not sure how happy anyone would be with my description but I don’t know quite how else to describe it. Each roll is filled to the brim with delicious, healthy ingredients such as beans, jicama and other veggies and delicious sauces… making this a really filling but super healthy light meal or snack.

Nasi Lemak

If you don’t eat so much nasi lemak you get sick of it, did you really experience Malaysia? Another rice dish, nasi lemak is usually considered Malaysia’s national cuisine. It’s a fragrant rice dish with coconut, cooked in a pandan leaf. The rice itself is served with a variety of sides, from beef rendang to a boiled egg, sambal and anchovies (ikan bilis). Its eaten any time of the day, though breakfast is popular.

Sri Weld Food Court on Lebuh Pantai in George Town does a really good version. On Gurney Drive Nasi Lemak Cili Bilis is great too. But honestly, no matter where you order it you can’t really go wrong.

Roti Canai

This one’s more of a snack than a meal. It’s perfect for a quick pick-me-up between activities.

Roti is the thin, round bread served with Indian curries, and the canai is a mild dipping sauce. Usually the canai is a lentil dahl, either red or yellow, sometimes served with some raita too (if you’re lucky).

I eat this kind of thing on the regular but I definitely can’t get it served quickly to me by a street vendor. Winning!

Pasembur

You’ll really only find “Pasembur” in Northern Malaysia and Penang… elsewhere its very close cousin is Rojak Mamak. Pasembur is a type of salad, featuring beancurd, potato, cucumber, bean sprouts and whatever seafood is on offer… crab, prawn cakes, squid or even octopus are popular. A nutty sauce with a bit of spice brings the whole thing together.

I find pasembur quite delightful as it has seafood, which I go crazy for, and it’s super refreshing to eat. Gurney Drive Hawker Centre does some good options.

Satay

Can you go to Malaysia and not eat satay? I would say NO. This dish is a staple in my own home and any time I go out and it’s on the menu… but eating it in its origin country is the best.

I really enjoyed the satay at Gurney Drive food court but there is also a great roadside stall by Food Street on Jalan Macalister. Red Garden Café on Lebuh Leith is another spot that does great satay.

The Best Places To Eat In Penang

There are many great restaurants and cafes all over Penang, but you’ll find the best food at Hawker centres. Here are my top picks for hawker centres, along with a couple of great restaurants and cafes we loved.

Sungai Pinang Food Court

When we ordered a Grab ride to Sungai Pinang, our driver was surprised. He told us it wasn’t a place many foreign tourists head to, but that it was the best hawker centre on the island. And WOW it was awesome! Stall after stall after stall full of dishes. In particular I highly recommend the “East Coast BBQ” stall.

East Coast BBQ | Sungai Pinang Food Court | Where To Eat In Penang, Malaysia | The Best Foods To Try In Penang, Malaysia #foodietravel #food #travel #travelblog #asia #southeastasia #malaysia #penang
Sungai Pinang Food Court | Where To Eat In Penang, Malaysia | The Best Foods To Try In Penang, Malaysia #foodietravel #food #travel #travelblog #asia #southeastasia #malaysia #penang

Sungai Pinang is known for its seafood options. We ordered some amazing squid and incredible scollops and I still think of them all the time when I’m hungry. We took full advantage, and it was probably the best meal we had in Malaysia. Or was it? Every meal was amazing!

Pinang Delicious Food Court

Our first morning in George Town, we walked down Jalan Macalister to Pinang Delicious Food Court, which specialises in breakfast dishes such as koay teow th’ng. I think this was Mister Three’s favourite dish of the whole trip! We also ordered some hokkien mee for the kids and assorted dim sum. Not a bad way to kick off the journey!

Delicious is a small hawker centre and we were dubious at first. We felt really self-conscious being there. It’s small, we were the only tourists there and the vendors didn’t really speak English (totally reasonable, but we don’t speak Chinese unfortunately!). We eventually managed to order and the food was delicious. Totally worth the initial hesitation.

Gurney Drive Food Court

Located on Persiaran Gurney (Gurney Drive), this hawker centre is right next to the ritzy Gurney Drive shopping mall. Save your pennies by ordering cheap eats at the food court so you can spend up big at the mall.

Gurney Drive Food Court | Where To Eat In Penang, Malaysia | The Best Foods To Try In Penang, Malaysia #foodietravel #food #travel #travelblog #asia #southeastasia #malaysia #penang

We ordered satay, assam laksa, pasembur, char kway teow and a whole host of other seafood. If you want huge prawns, you’ll find them here.

Sri Weld Food Court

Sri Weld Food Court is on Lebuh Pantai in George Town, close to Little India. You’ll find an assortment of dishes here but it’s famous for its nasi lemak. From the street front, you might miss it if you’re not watching– it’s nowhere near as conspicuous as Sungai Pinang or Gurney Drive. Often there are motorbikes parked just outside and red tarpaulin sort of covers it up.

Inside, though, you’re absolutely bound to enjoy a delightful meal.

Kashmir Restaurant

We picked this one because its location on Jalan Penang, on the corner of Jalan Leith, is only about 50 metres down the road from the Blue Mansion, which is where we were headed after lunch. And let me tell you, we’re so glad we happened upon this gorgeous restaurant! Mr. W. and I would have been happy to eat in hawker centres meal after meal… but with two kids under four, every now and then you need a spot with air-conditioning for them to cool off. We found they tended to eat more if they were nice and cool, and they absolutely love Indian cuisine… so this restaurant was perfect.

P.S. read this to find out why we were so desperate to keep them calm.

Kashmir is run by a delightful team who really looked after us. It was really nice inside and I was worried it wouldn’t be kid-friendly but as is custom in the region, they welcomed the kids with big smiles and went out of their way to make sure the boys had everything they needed. I was worried the boys would make too much mess to which we were told: “We love mess! We love kids!”

Kashmir does everything well but it’s known for its banana leaf – sort of like a thali plate but served on a banana leaf (go figure).

Kapitan

There’s a few of these chain restaurants scattered around. The food is reliable and service is really fast, plus the kids can’t do much damage. Think of it a bit like a fast food chain but with traditional Malaysian fare.

Line Clear Nasi Kandar

This is THE place to go for nasi kandar (funny about that, given its name). You’ll find Line Clear at 177 Jalan Penang in George Town.

Fine dining in Penang

We didn’t do much of this so I’ll just give a quick mention to a few names that have a reputation for amazing culinary experiences.

  • Dining Room at Macalister Mansion in George Town
  • Beach Blanket Babylon in George Town
  • Indigo Restaurant at the Blue Mansion (Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion)
  • Matsu at Lone Pine Hotel, Batu Ferringhi
  • Ferringhi Grill at Shangri-La Rasa Sayang, Batu Ferringhi

You’ll find a lot of beautiful options attached to the five-star resorts in Batu Ferringhi actually. As for us, it was Hard Rock Café all the way at the Hard Rock Hotel (phew, silver service for sure!). But sometimes that’s just life with small children.

So there you have it, my guide to eating yourself silly in Penang. I think I’m off to find some recipes now and try to cook my own feast!

Love this post? Do me a favour and share it!

The Ultimate Penang Food Guide | Whate To Eat In Penang | Where To Eat In Penang, Malaysia | The Best Foods To Try In Penang, Malaysia #foodietravel #food #travel #travelblog #asia #southeastasia #malaysia #penang

21 Comments

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  • Elizabeth
    Posted January 21, 2019

    I know little about Penang, but I love foodie destinations, so it sounds great! I like that you organized the post by what to eat and where to eat. Char Kway Teow sounds really flavorful and delicious 🙂

    • Amelia
      Posted January 21, 2019

      Thanks Elizabeth! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Shreya Saha
    Posted January 21, 2019

    Thanks for the list. I am a huge fan of Malaysian food, especially Penang food as I love the spices they use. Laksa and Kaew Toey are my favorite. Great to see you enjoying Penang food.

    • Amelia
      Posted January 21, 2019

      Thanks Shreya! Yep Malaysian food has to be some of my fave cuisine in the world

  • Patti
    Posted January 22, 2019

    Have yet to visit Malaysia but I love that you can eat for cheap at hawker centres. Reminds me of Singapore which is one of my favorite cities so I think I would enjoy eating in Penang.

    • Amelia
      Posted January 22, 2019

      Yes it’s very similar to Singapore (but cheaper). The Chinese and Indian influences are similar in both countries

  • Namita Kulkarni
    Posted January 22, 2019

    Food is one of the best reasons to travel some place far away and your post definitely proves that! Thank you for sharing your food exploration in an interesting destination such as Penang! So many more reasons to visit now!

    • Amelia
      Posted January 22, 2019

      Haha I agree! I’m all about travelling for the food. Hope you get to Penang soon!

  • Justine
    Posted January 22, 2019

    Oooh! I didn’t know they have hawker stalls in Malaysia, too! It’s pretty popular in Singapore but I guess it makes sense because they’re neighbours! Koay teow th’ng sounds like something I would love to try if I go to Malaysia!

    • Amelia
      Posted January 22, 2019

      Yes Justine they’re very similar in terms of food culture… Malaysia is just cheaper to get around and to eat in. But the cultural identity and history is very similar

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  • Nisa
    Posted June 19, 2019

    Ooooo I’m going to Penang next month. Thank you for writing this post! 🙂

    • Amelia
      Posted June 19, 2019

      Oh wow Nisa that’s awesome! I have a few more posts on Penang so hope you browsed through. Hope you have a blast!

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  • Sandrine
    Posted August 6, 2019

    Hi there! First of all it is very pleasant to read your blog. I must admit though we didn’t have the same experience regarding the satay at the Red Paradise food hawker. The sauce was watery( it should be thick) and highly unappealing. However we loved that hawker fir the atmosphere. We liked the pork and duck at the Kiempo famous roasted and the Arabic food stall.
    We love Penang as well and can’t wait to go back!

    • Amelia
      Posted August 7, 2019

      Hi Sandrine! Thanks for your comment 🙂 I haven’t tried that particular hawker centre so I can’t comment but you’re right, the sauce does need to be nice and thick so it sticks to the meat! We also cannot wait to go back to Penang

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