Updated 11th February 2023
Ask anyone about Penang and they’ll invariably say this: OMG THE FOOD!!! Of all the incredible places to eat in Malaysia, Penang for me takes the cake.
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 our complete Penang guide and guide to historical sites in Penang 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! Eating in Penang, in particular, is the ultimate example of this.
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
So let’s start our culinary journey around Penang.
Current COVID-19 situation (as of February 2023)
COVID cases are currently lower than they have been in a long time in Malaysia, which is a relief. There are no longer any restrictions on who can enter Malaysia, including vaccination status. Quarantine rules no longer apply. However, please see Malaysia’s MySafeTravel site and Australia’s Smartraveller for more details, and make sure you always travel with comprehensive travel insurance that includes COVID coverage.
Penang Street Food
The below information has more information about individual dishes, but it’s important to look at what we mean when we think of “street food”. Is it literally food served on the side of the road? (The best part of travels in Asia, in my opinion). Or is it more akin to snack food – “street food” being a misnomer, a replacement for small bites that tide you over?
I tend to see street food as a mix of the two. That’s why I’ve divided this post into two sections – what to eat, and where to eat. You’ll find in this post that street food is definitely covered.
The Best Foods To Try In Penang
Penang is a foodie destination for all sorts of dishes, but the traditional food in Penang is the star of the show. 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
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
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,
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,
This is a pretty loosely defined dish – it’s basically different curried meats (for example chicken or seafood) with mildly seasoned rice (
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
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 (
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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
Sungai Pinang is known for its seafood options. We ordered some amazing squid and incredible
Pinang Delicious Food Court
Our first morning in George Town, we weren’t sure where to eat brekfast in Penang. So, we walked down Jalan Macalister where we found the Pinang Delicious Food Court, which
Delicious is a small hawker
Gurney Drive Food Court
Located on Persiaran Gurney (Gurney Drive), this hawker
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.
Hai Boey Seafood
You’ll find Hai Boey Seafood at Teluk Kombar, which is a town on the far south of Penang island. If you’re thinking “why would I travel that far from George Town or Batu Ferringhi?” come back to me after you’ve eaten here. Hai Boey Seafood is probably the most famous seafood restaurant in Penang for good reason.
Sit by the beach and enjoy delicious seafood here – we particularly like the various crab dishes and the steamed Siam squid.
We picked this one because its location on Jalan Penang, on the corner of Jalan Leith, is only about 50
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
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).
Line Clear Nasi Kandar
This is THE place to go for
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!
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