A trip to Penang isn’t complete without experiencing the amazing local food. It’s colorful history has brought in a myriad of cultures and traditions from around the region, and with that the creation of a unique cuisine, a blend of the flavors that reflect its past. Here are some ideas on where to get a taste of all of it on a trip to Penang.
Breakfast – George Town
The lively markets in George Town are the best way to spend mornings in Penang. I checked out 2 of these markets on this trip to Penang. At these markets you’d likely be able to find most of the popular Penang dishes, with multiple shops selling the same dish for you to make the call on the best version.
Chowrasta Market is where you can find everything from fresh produce to household goods, and of course, delicious food. There are a couple of coffee shops and hawker sections and endless food options. Amazing place to walk around and experience life in the market. It’s one of the oldest markets around, but shows no signs of slowing down.
Anson Road Market
The other market I checked out was Anson Road Market. There was also a wide food selection, too many items to pick from. This was mostly just food, and less chaotic (or lively?) than Chowrasta Market.
Other breakfast stuff
Here’s some standard coffee shop fare for an idea of the amazing food you can get from any corner of George Town.
Lunch – Air Itam
Air Itam is a good day trip from George Town. Some come for the massive Buddhist temple (the largest in Malaysia), some for Penang Hill, but definitely a considerable crowd mainly for the food. The attractions are good for digestion in between more food.
Air Itam Sister Curry Mee
The two elderly sisters have been selling curry mee since world war 2. The curry mee packed quite a punch, and came laden with a generous garnish of beancurd, pig’s blood and cuttlefish. The chili was pretty spicy though. People come from far and wide for a taste of this legendary curry mee, and it is definitely worth the trip and affordable price of just RM5.
Pasar Air Itam Laksa
Within a few minutes of walking there is another very well-known stall that people from far and wide gladly make the trip for. There are many laksa shops throughout Penang, but none come as close in popularity as Pasar Air Itam Laksa. Crowds are ever streaming for the bowls of piping hot laksa – rice noodles in a sourish, savoury gravy. Each bowl comes topped with a generous portion of local prawn paste, as well as lots of shredded fish.
Tea break – George Town
Even for something light, it’s not something to take lightly, at least not in George Town. Some serious snacks to consider.
Ming Xiang Tai
Dropped by here to get shao bao but I ended up getting a little of everything. At Ming Xiang Tai there’s a wide range of freshly baked Cantonese style pastries. This is in contrast to the more well known pastry souvenir from Penang, tau sar piah, which is Hokkien. You won’t find any of those here though. Some of the highlights are the shao bao, egg tarts, and other Cantonese style pastries with a local touch.
Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol
It’s known as the best chendol in Penang but some claim to have found better elsewhere. Nonetheless, Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol attracted a long queue even on the sweltering afternoon I was there. Perhaps the wait under the sun made the chendol (RM 3.20) feel even more rewarding and refreshing. It was the perfect fix for the afternoon heat, an ice-cold coconut milk based desert with rice flour jellies and kidney beans, with a tinge of gula melaka.
Moh Teng Peow Nyonya Koay
The craving for nyonya kueh/koay/kuih brough us to Moh Teng Peow Nyonya Koay in George Town, which had garnered quite a reputation as one of the best places in town to get Nyonya kueh. The Nyonya or Peranakan culture is an interesting topic and can easily fill books if not pages. Anyway, it was late in the afternoon when we arrived and most of the handmade snacks were sold out. Still managed to get a small variety of different snacks to try. In my opinion the food was okay, but the winning point for me was being able to get all the different traditional snacks at one place, some of them not easy to be found nowadays.
Dinner – Nagore Square, Georgetown
Also in George Town is Nagore Square, a pretty hip district with plenty of good restaurants. Food was on the pricier side but not overly expensive.
What The Duck Restaurant
What The Duck is a modern fusion restaurant centered around duck. Pretty interesting dishes at quite affordable prices (for food of this nature). Might not be suitable for everyone’s taste, but the creative dishes were definitely intriguing to the taste buds.
More Peranakan food! Perut Rumah is set in an old shophouse, and stepping in already sets the stage for an authentic dining experience. In the past few years I’ve grown to enjoy traveling solo, but one of the things that’s hard to get over is not being able to try lots of different food at one go. Fortunately I had company this time, and we had a feast on Peranakan dishes, some of which were less common even in Malacca and Singapore, where Peranakan food is pretty popular.
As with most Peranakan food, the dishes looked like they require lots of preparation, effort and experience to get right, and it does show through the food. For things to be aware of, staff have been reviewed to be less than polite and prices too high for the quality. Didn’t had such issues when we visited but good to keep in mind and manage expectations!
For a more raw experience, there are many night markets where you can get all of Penang’s mouth-watering favorites without breaking the bank. Here is just one of them though. Our accommodation was near New Lane Night Market and we ended up dropping by almost every night, regardless of whether we’ve had dinner.
New Lane Night Market
There are not that many stalls here, but enough to satisfy most taste buds. Most tables and chairs belong to a specific drinks or dessert stall, and you’ll be expected to purchase drinks from that stall if you decide to use their tables. From the look of it on all days, the char koay teow (fried rice noodles) stall pulled in the longest queues. Despite taking quite awhile (cooked in small batches), the queue persists almost from opening till late into the night. We also had fried oyster, char koay kak (fried carrot cake), prawn noodles, lor bak (deep fried fritters) and some snacks. All were pretty good. I can’t really fault anything we tried, except the dessert stall near the main road which was kinda disappointing. Or maybe after the awesome food our expectations of dessert were too high.
More in Penang
Not much of a food writer, but it’s hard to talk about Penang without talking about food. Then again, there is much more to Penang than just food. For some of the colorful history and culture of Penang, check out this full day itinerary of George Town, where there should be enough walking to walk off the glorious food. Then you can head back for more food guilt-free.