Food is a great way to explore a city’s culture and cuisine. In Penang, Malaysia, food is a way of life. This vibrant city is known for its diverse and delicious food options and is a must-visit destination for any foodie. From classic Malaysian dishes and delectable Chinese delicacies to traditional Peranakan dishes and delightful Indian fare, there’s definitely something for everyone in Penang.
In this food guide, we’ll take a look at 18 must-try food in Penang that will make your mouth water. So, let’s get started!
Penang is a bustling city in Malaysia that’s known for its vibrant culture, beautiful beaches, and delicious street food. It’s home to a variety of different cuisines, including Chinese, Indian, and Malay, which makes it a great destination for foodies looking to explore a variety of flavours and dishes.
The streets of Penang are lined with food stalls & carts, eateries and cafes selling a range of tasty snacks and meals. You can find all kinds of delicious dishes, from spicy curries to savoury noodles, seafood, and more. Plus, many of the dishes are affordable, so you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy some of the island’s best cuisines.
Here are 18 must-try food in Penang –
1. Curry Mee
If you’re a fan of curry and noodles, this is a must-try. Curry mee is a dish of thick yellow noodles in a spicy curry broth. The broth is not thick and creamy like most curries that we are familiar with. It’s more like a soup that’s redolent of spices.
Curry mee is usually served with a variety of toppings, including tau pok, cuttlefish, cockles, bean sprouts and pig’s blood.
Our recommended places to eat curry mee in Penang are Tuai Pui Curry Mee, and Sister Curry Mee. For something different, try the white (yes, it’s white in colour!) curry mee at Hot Bowl White Curry Mee.
2. Char Koay Teow
Char koay teow is a stir-fried flat rice noodle dish that’s made of flat rice noodles, eggs (chicken or duck eggs), shrimps, cockles and bean sprouts. It is usually cooked in a wok over an open flame, which gives it a smoky flavor a.k.a. wok hei in Cantonese.
Do order your char koay teow with duck egg instead of chicken egg as the former really adds an umami flavour to the dish.
Chendol is a shaved iced dessert consisting of green rice flour jelly and red beans in fresh coconut milk, sweetened with fragrant gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup. It’s one of the best things to have when you need a little respite from that hot and humid weather in Penang.
No one should leave Penang without having the chendol from Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul at Keng Kwee Street. Perfectly balanced concoction of coconut milk and gula melaka. I know why I never was that crazy about chendol before because I never had one that was as good as this!
4. Hokkien Mee
If you think this is going to be a plate of stir-fried wok-hei-laden Hokkien Mee with lard, prawns and squids, then you’re wrong. Penang’s Hokkien Mee is not the same as Singapore’s Hokkien Mee. It is actually a prawn noodle soup. The flavourful broth has a very rich and intense prawn flavour and the dish is usually served with thinly sliced pork, prawns, bean sprouts and fried shallots. You can always mix in extra chilli if you like more spice.
We love the Hokkien Mee at Ah Koo’s Hokkien Mee. It’s hearty. It’s delicious. It’s something you can’t miss when in Penang.
5. Nasi Lemak
Nasi lemak is a popular Malaysian dish, which consists of rice cooked in coconut milk, served with anchovies, peanuts and a protein of your choice such as fried fish, chicken, squid, hard-boiled egg, etc. It’s a dish that can be eaten at any time of the day—at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The best nasi lemak we had while in Penang was the one at Ali Nasi Lemak. Rice was cooked to perfection. Sambal chilli was packed with so much punch. So delicious. So moreish. And the price is so affordable too!
Penang laksa (or asam laksa) is a noodle dish consisting of thick rice noodles in a sweet, sour and spicy fish-based soup. It’s usually served with onions, mint leaves, julienned cucumber, sliced chillies, shredded mackerel fish (some use sardines) and a dollop of shrimp paste. Just mix everything up and take a mouthful—it’s like a party of flavours in the mouth.
Air Itam Laksa is probably the best place to enjoy a good laksa in Penang. They have been serving up authentic Penang laksa since 1955!
7. Nasi Kandar
There is no better place to eat nasi kandar than Penang! Nasi kandar is basically the Indian-Muslim version of ‘mixed rice’ or ‘curry rice’ where you can have rice with different curries and side dishes. Just choose whatever you like from an assortment of dishes. There is no fixed price system for nasi kandar as it depends on what sides you pick. Do know that seafood items like prawns and squids can be very expensive so ask for the price first if you are not sure.
8. Apom Balik
Apom balik is a kind of pancake that’s cooked on a griddle and then folded up. The fillings include creamed sweetcorn, ground peanuts, condensed milk, chocolate rice and even shredded cheese.
There are mainly two kinds of apom balik. One is the crispy and crunchy type whereas the other is the soft and fluffy kind. Both are equally delicious and you can easily get them from apom stalls in the night markets such as Chulia Street Night Market.
Rojak is an interesting dish in Penang as there are several versions of it. There are the common fruit rojak with shrimp paste sauce and also pasembur i.e. Indian style rojak. But what we really want to recommend is the rojak from Hock Seng Rojak, which you can’t find anywhere else. While their rojak has the usual ingredients of fruits and vegetables like green mango, jicama, cucumber, guava and pineapple as well as you tiao and cuttlefish, what really stands out is that thick and gooey rojak paste.
That rojak paste is extraordinary. It’s like caramel infused with shrimp paste flavour. On the sweet side but when combined with the rest of the ingredients, this rojak really tastes amazing. There’s tanginess, sweetness, savouriness, nuttiness and a hint of spice from chilli. The dried shrimp topping adds a touch of umami too. Must try!
10. Koay Teow Tng
Koay Teow Tng is a soupy dish of flat rice noodles with various toppings like chicken, minced pork, pork liver, fish balls, sliced fish cake, crunchy pork lard pieces and sometimes pork meat balls and shrimps too. It’s a somewhat light yet hearty dish. Perfect thing to have on a rainy day as it’s so comforting. Or perhaps you’ve had too much fried and greasy stuffs and just want to have a change of taste.
Go for the koay teow tng at Kimberley Street Night Market, which is known to be one of the ‘Four Heavenly Kings’. Their broth is sweet, refreshing and not overly salty. Ingredients are plentiful and portion size is generous too.
11. Kway Chap
Unlike Singapore’s kway chap where the kway is served separately from the ingredients, the Penang version has everything in one bowl. The most famous duck kway chap in Penang can be found at Restoran Kimberly on Kimberley Street. We highly recommend that you order the large bowl, which comes with more ingredients than the kway itself, lol. The soup is like a combination of a thick braising sauce plus broth. Their ingredients include a whole braised egg, intestines, pig skin, coagulated blood cubes and duck meat. Very flavoursome and delicious!
12. Si Koh Soup
An excellent way to end your meal is to have a cold and refreshing iced si koh soup. It’s a nourishing 4-ingredients sweet dessert soup with gingko nuts, lotus seeds, dried longans and red beans. Very similar to the ‘cheng tng’ we have in Singapore. Traditional Home of Dessert on Kimberly Street serves up a pretty good si koh soup. Their almond soup is also a must-order—sweet, thick, smooth and just so comforting to have.
13. Lok Lok
Look out for the self-service lok lok pushcarts at the night markets. We’ve visited the ones at Kimberley Street Night Market and Chulia Street Night Market—both are equally good! It’s quite a fun experience to cook the skewers yourself as pots of boiling water are provided. Skewer variety is also aplenty—meats, seafood, sausages, balls, vegetables, processed food items, innards and so on.
Transfer the cooked sticks onto your plate, douse over your preferred sauce and enjoy! When you’re done with your meal, just let the boss know and he/she will count the number of sticks you’ve had and then just pay accordingly. Every skewer stick is labelled with a colour so it’s quite easy to calculate how much you’ve eaten.
14. Nyonya Kueh
The Peranakan community in Malaysia is highly concentrated in Penang and Malacca. Therefore, it is not difficult to find Nyonya food in Penang.
If you’re up for something sweet and is interested to try some authentic Nyonya snacks/desserts, then you have to come to Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay. This Nyonya kueh specialty shop has been in the business since 1933 and is one of the oldest Nyonya kueh makers in Penang. Some of the must-tries include the Abuk Abuk (pandan-flavoured sago with shredded coconut & gula melaka), Rempah Udang (rice wrapped with prawn & shredded coconut) and Kueh Koci Santan (it’s like ondeh ondeh in a coconut milk pudding).
Besides kueh kueh, they also serve main dishes like nasi ulam, laksa, pie tee, nasi kunyit, nasi lemak, roti jala and more.
15. Mee Goreng
Fried noodle lovers, you definitely have to try the mee goreng at Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng!
Their mee goreng is like the char kway teow version of mee goreng! Beautifully fried with so much wok hei! And with lots of ingredients in it too such as cuttlefish, tofu, potatoes and eggs. So moreish and delicious!
16. Traditional Chinese Pastries
One of our favourite things to buy when in Penang would be the tau sar piah (豆沙饼) from Ghee Hiang Bakery. It originated from Fujian, China in the late Qing Dynasty era. The brand was established in 1856, which also makes Ghee Hiang one of the oldest food manufacturers in Malaysia. Their traditional pastries with centuries-old recipes are freshly handmade and baked every day.
Besides tau sar piah, you can also find other traditional pastries like beh teh saw (马蹄酥), hneoh pneah (香饼), phong pneah (清糖饼), almond cookies (杏仁酥) and sesame crisps (麻香酥). We have tried all and none has disappointed.
If you’re wondering what to get for your family, friends or colleagues while in Penang, you may want to check out Ghee Hiang. 😉
Samosas are popular Indian snacks with crispy pastry and savoury filling, usually potatoes, peas, onions and/or meat. They’re great for a quick snack on the go.
One of the best samosas we’ve had in Penang are from Penang Famous Samosa in Little India, George Town. The samosas here are fresh, delicious, and they’re a great value for money!
Durian is a fruit that is popular in Southeast Asia. It has a strong smell and is considered an acquired taste. However, once you’re hooked onto it, you’ll crave for it all the time! Durian lovers like us can eat durians at any time of the day! As fruit or dessert after a meal or as a meal on its own, lol!
Most of the durian farms and plantations in Penang are located at Balik Pulau. We highly recommend that you visit Bao Sheng Durian Farm if you want to have a countryside escape, get close to nature and feast on different varieties of durians!
Penang has many street food to offer and it’s so easy to get lost in a foodie frenzy. We recommend that you go with a group of friends and explore the city together! It will be fun sharing new experiences together while enjoying delicious dishes from around Asia! 😉
If you’re looking for an unforgettable foodie adventure, Penang is the place to be! Bon appetit!