Penang is rising to the top of Southeast Asia’s popular foodie destinations. Tourists may come to enjoy swimming at the beautiful beaches around Penang Island or take in the colonial architecture in George Town, Penang’s capital; but the trip isn’t complete without partaking in the food this area has to offer. From Chinese to Indian, Thai and local dishes, Penang’s food scene has something to offer to everyone if you just know where to look and what to try.
A good day starts with a good breakfast. Fuel up and enjoy a local breakfast in Penang at a kopitiam—a traditional coffee shop. While kopitiams are abundant throughout the state, there are a few that locals line up for because they’re just that good.
Toh Soon Cafe in George Town can be quite crowded, especially in the mornings when people are looking for a cup of kopi and some kaya toast: charcoal toasted bread with coconut jam spread. For more savory flavors, they also offer toast with butter and eggs. Simple as it may be, the charcoal toasting method adds depth to the flavor and is loved by many. But if you’re in a rush in the morning, you can skip the lines at Toh Soon and check out Ah Wang Cafe instead where patrons enjoy homemade kaya and Hainanese coffee.
For those looking to start the day with heavier fare, Penang offers a variety of other breakfast options for you to try. Sample traditional Cantonese dim sum at Tai Tong Restaurant where you can pick from various dishes as they roll by tables on carts. Or pick up some noodles in the morning at O & N Kopitiam which serves wantan mee (wonton noodles) to customers who want to eat something more filling.
Nasi Lemak, rice cooked with coconut milk, is considered to be a quintessential Malaysian dish. Spicy sambal adds layers of flavor to the dish and crispy anchovies provide a nice crunch. If long queues don’t discourage you, Ali Nasi Lemak Daun Pisang is the place to go to try this Malaysian favorite. Served from a small stall, each order comes wrapped in banana leaves and comes with a variety of toppings to choose from such as chicken, fish, and prawns. Just be sure you can handle the heat! You can also opt for a restaurant experience at Nasi Lemak Liverpool where diners can sit down and take their time eating.
Another must-try dish in Penang is char kuey teow, a stir-fry made with flat rice noodles and a variety of ingredients. And if you ask the locals where to find the best char kuey teow, they’ll most likely suggest one of two popular spots: Siam Road Char Kuey Teow or Tiger Char Kuey Teow. But to answer the question of which one is better, it’s up to you to go and try them both to see which one you like more.
As the afternoon goes on, it might be time to find something to snack on. The heat of the day can be a great reason to try a bowl of cendol which is a dessert made from coconut milk, shaved ice, and other toppings. You might spot branches of Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul around where you can try different types of cendol or even pick up a meal of rice or noodles. But walking through the streets of Penang and George Town, you’re bound to find numerous stalls that offer all kinds of cendol sure to tempt those with a sweet tooth.
Penang’s stellar food scene means there are several hawker centers and markets for people to discover new dishes. Take your time walking through Presgrave Street Hawker Centre to see what stalls have to offer your tastebuds. Spend another night exploring Chulia Street Night Hawker Stalls for other local favorites.
You can also sit down and enjoy an evening overlooking George Town at David Brown’s where diners are treated to English classics reminiscent of Malaysia’s colonial history.
Wherever you find you find yourself in Penang, there are plenty of culinary delights to find. So get ready and treat your inner foodie.