Click on any online travel guides about Penang, and you are bound to see the words “food paradise” pop up somewhere. Yes, this island in the northwestern part of Peninsular Malaysia contains such a breathtaking variety of cheap and delicious food that you will definitely be making return trips to sample them all. Penang’s history as a British colony and trading post means that it has a rich multicultural tapestry, as well as ample ingredients and spices to cook up a storm. And its laid-back, unpretentious residents have stayed true to their roots, still cooking their dishes by the roadside instead of in swanky restaurants to make it economical for all. These street food have become legendary among food junkies all over the world, and here are 10 of the most iconic bites you can find around Penang.
The secret to many of Penang’s delectable dishes lies in their use of the wok. This versatile round-bottomed cooking vessel can be used for many cooking methods such as stir-frying, deep-frying, poaching and also to stew. And after a chef has used the same wok for years, the utensil acquires what locals call “wok hei” or “vessel fragrance”, as it is imbibed with the flavors of the spices and ingredients. This subtle nuance is what makes Penang street food so delicious, and none more so than the iconic Char Koay Teow, stir-fried rice noodles with sweet black sauce, prawns, cockles, eggs, and sprouts. A rich (some say decadent) dish that encapsulates the delightful combination of all kinds of flavors in a typical Penang meal.
Tiger Char Koay Teow @ Kafe Ping Hooi
Address: 181 Lebuh Carnarvon, George Town, 10450 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Best of Penang Street & Local Food Tour
Duration 4 hours
Together with Malacca and Singapore, Penang was part of the British Malaya division of the Straits Settlements, and a key trading post for the British empire in the 19th-century. The lure of paid work drew immigrants from China and India, many of whom married local Malay women and stayed on these shores to raise their families. They formed the basis of the Peranakan culture, and natural their food was a wondrous mix from these three ethnic groups. The Assam Laksa is one such tasty Peranakan concoction widely found among Penang streets, a popular glass noodle dish in a spicy, mackerel-fish based broth which has tangy undertones. It is a unique take on the Laksa dish found all over Malaysia, and great for those cool or rainy days when you need a warm pick-me-up.
Air Itam Laksa
Address: Jalan Pasar, 11500 Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Penang: Georgetown Heritage Food Day Tour
Duration 1 day
Every culture has its unique take on its staple food. In most parts of Asia, that staple food is rice, and Penang has many different and delicious rice dishes from its diverse ethnic groups. For instance, the Malays have the Nasi Lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk) which tastes heavenly with sambal chili. The Indian Muslims have the Nasi Kandar, rice cooked in wooden containers with an assortment of side dishes. Another uniquely Penang rice dish is the Nasi Tomato, rice cooked in tomato paste with milk and spices. All are available as cheap street food, perfect for a quick lunch or dinner.
Nasi Melayu Pak Man
Address: 6, Jalan Trengganu, Taman Free School, 10460 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Penang Half-Day Heritage Food Tour
Duration 4 hours
There are typically two kinds of street food setup in Penang. One is the traditional push-cart stall, while the other is set in open-air shopfronts along the street. You can therefore easily drive up to both kinds of stalls and order takeaways. Such informal settings lend a communal vibe among the hawker and the customers, and you can watch your delicious food being cooked on the spot. This flavorful prawn noodle dish is widely available in many forms around Southeast Asia, originated from the Chinese immigrants from the Fujian (Hokkien) Province. The savory broth is made from stewing dried prawns and prawn heads, and the dish imbued with more flavor with the addition of pork slices, fish cakes, bean sprouts, shallots and red chili paste.
CY Choy Road Hokkien Mee
Address: 533 Jalan CY Choy, George Town, Penang, 10300, Malaysia
Penang: Dinner Heritage Food Trail
Duration 4 hours
Unlike street food in cities like the New York City, where the emphasis is on fast and ready-to-go food, you may have to wait patiently in long queues for great Penang street food. However, the longer the queue, the bigger the stall’s reputation, and so the food on offer should be good. This snack is popular because it is ready-to-go; it consists of bean curds, fritters, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and an assortment of fruits mixed in a thick syrupy peanut - or shrimp-based sauce. The good stalls will include sweet pineapple slices to balance the savory concoction. A variation of this dish is the Rojak Pasembur, which includes cucumber, prawn crackers and even seafood in the mix.
Tan Swee Hoe Rojak (Stall #52)
Address: Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, 172 Solok Gurney 1, Georgetown, 10250 Jelutong, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Penang Street Food Private Tour with Tastings and Local Guide
Duration 4 hours
This is the must-try dessert in Penang. It is basically a bowl of shaved ice filled with chewy green rice, flour jelly, red kidney beans, fresh light coconut milk and a splash of Gula Melaka (brown sugar) syrup. After chowing down rich and spicy meals all around the island, it is great to have this ice-cold snack to cool down. The famous Teochew Chendul stall at Jalan Penang in Georgetown has been selling this dessert for more than 40 years, and you can see the entire family helping out at the tiny stall with super long queues.
Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul
Address: 475, Jalan Penang, Georgetown 10450 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Penang Small-Group Food Tasting Walking Tour
Duration 3 hours
Most of the street foods can be found in the Penang state capital of George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with pre-World War II houses, 19th-century churches, temples, mosques and colonial buildings. The neighboring towns of Air Itam and Jelutong also have famous street stalls around. The place to go in George Town for great food is Chulia Street, where a dozen or more hawkers will set up their push-cart stalls, with tables and chairs by the roadside in the evening. Try the Apom Manis, a popular snack which resembles a crepe. You can add toppings such as coconut, bananas or egg.
Chulia Street Night Hawkers
Address: Lebuh Chulia, 10200 Georgetown, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
4-Hour Georgetown Food Tour
Duration 4 hours
Mee Goreng is ubiquitous hawker food found everywhere in Malaysia and Singapore. In Penang, one stall stands head and shoulders above the rest – Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng. The dish is a substantial plate of noodles with generous portions of cuttlefish, potatoes and bean sprouts, stir-fried with a tangy concoction of tomato, chili and soy sauce. The stall’s business has been passed down several generations, and you can check out the owner or his worker’s cooking skills as they toss the noodles while adroitly turning the wok.
Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng
Address: 280, Jalan Burma, George Town, 10350 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Private Half-Day Hawker Trails Food Tour in George Town
Duration 4 hours
Lok Lok is a communal form of eating in Penang, where a variety of different ingredients are placed on skewers such as oysters, vegetables, shrimp, crab sticks, fish/meatballs, and mushrooms. Once you choose what you want, there is a communal pot of boiling soup base to cook your food in. The street hawkers will recommend what sauce to choose based on the stick you have. All of the skewers have different colors which will indicate a different price. Once you’ve finished your meal, the vendor will count the sticks you have on your plate to total your bill.
Lok [email protected] Tikus Market
Address: 250, Jalan Burma, 10350, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Food and Culture Tours in Penang
Duration 3 hours
Roti Canai is a popular Malaysian breakfast dish, consisting of flatbread grilled on a big flat pan and served with a generous amount of curry. It is also called flying bread as in the process of making, the dough is flattened, tossed and twirled high up in the air several times before being shaped to cook on the pan. The consensus among locals for the best Roti Canai in Penang is at Transfer Road, where you can find chicken drumsticks to go along with your flatbread and curry.
Transfer Road Roti Canai
Address: 110, Jalan Transfer, Georgetown, 10050 George Town, Malaysia
Penang Heritage Food Trail - Small Group Brunch
Duration 3 hours 30 minutes
Great and cheap food
It is rare that you can find so many great foods in a small island like Penang. It is even rarer to find great food that is so cheap, costing about USD 1 to 3. It is no wonder that Penang has become one of the top food destinations in the world, and you don’t need to spend a bomb in order to sample the wondrous flavors of the best local dishes out on the streets.
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