Street food, penang, malaysia

What You Must Eat in Penang – Top 10 Foods To Try

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Penang is a food lovers dream.

The mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures brings a mixture of some of the best food on the planet in one place. Malaysian food is some of my favourite and Penang is home to the best.

Knowing that street food is a big thing in Penang, I set out to discover some of the best food in Georgetown, Penang and to savour every single dish I tried.

The 10 Foods in Penang You Must Try!

1. Nasi goreng

I’ll start off simple here. Nasi goreng is just fried rice but the fried rice in Malaysia is incredible. For such a simple meal, some of the flavours that can come through make it seem like comfort food. Rice, some veg and whatever meat you’ve asked for, with soy sauce and kicap, a type of sweet soy sauce, and throw it altogether in a wok. When the price is between 5-10RM (£1-2) you really can’t go wrong with this Malaysian staple.

nasi goreng, penang, malaysia
Daging nasi goreng (Beef fried rice)

2. Roti canai

Roti canai (pronounced Chan-eye), is a simple dish of bread and a curry like sauce. When the bread is cooked perfectly, giving a soft middle with a firm outer, it makes dipping into the sauce a pleasure. It can be eaten at any time of day and is one of the cheaper meals you can get in Georgetown. It is surprisngly filling!

roti canai, penang, malaysia
Roti Canai

3. Wan Tan Mee

Wan Tan Mee is a simple noodle dish that is often cooked in front of you in seconds. I had an Uncle (elderly Malaysian gentleman) sell Wan Tan Mee from a street food stall very close to where I stayed and I went there regularly. It was only when I explained where I went to local friends that they said how good and famous he is!

The mee (noodles) is served with some pork, kangkung (water spinach) and a sweet and savoury sauce made with the starchy noodle water, soy sauce and maybe some chilli. To top is off is either steamed of deep fried wantans. You won’t be disappointed with this meal!

Wan tan mee, Penang, Malaysia
Wan tan mee

4. Hokkien Mee

Another noodle dish, this time, it packs a punch! This can be found at hawker stalls all over Penang. The noodles are served in a broth with beansprouts, pork, a hard boiled egg and a spoon with sambal or chilli paste on that you get to serve as you like.

Some of the chilli can be potent, you have been warned!

Hokkien mee, Penang, Malaysia
Hokkien mee

5. Nasi Khandar

The great thing about nasi khandar that it is a dish that you can make yourself and be different every time! In its simplest form, it is a plate of rice with a selection of curries that your or the chef will add to your plate to have a mix of flavours. Add some veg to make it a healthier choice.

Nasi khandar, Penang, Malaysia
Nasi khandar

6. Char kuey teow

Char kuey teow is one of my go to dishes in Penang. Very similar to a Pad Thai you may find north of the border, the flat noodles, bean sprouts and prawn are a very simple but tasty street food. Ask for a Char kuey teow and it is likely it will be cooked in a wok in front of you and be served within minutes.

char keoy teow, penang, malaysia
Char keoy teow

7. Nasi Lemak

Nasi lemak is a breakfast dish in Malaysia and something I had most days when I was in Penang. The rice, traditionally cooked in coconut milk, is served with ikan bilis (fried anchovies), kacang (peanuts) and a boiled egg. Served with some spicy sambal and traditionally served in a banana leaf, nasi lemak is a great way to start the day!

Nasi lemak, penang, malaysia
How nasi lemak is traditionally served, in a banana leaf
Nasi lemak, penang, malaysia
How you may receive nasi lemak in a restaurant

8. Asam Laksa

Laksa is a sour fish based noodle soup. For those that like their soups with a bit more of a sour taste, laksa is perfect for you! To have the traditional Penangite laksa, ask for asam laksa. Served with tamarind flavour for the sour notes and coconut milk for a creamy taste, it is a local favourite.

9. Satay

Is there anything more Malaysian than satay?

The sticks of meat covered in peanut sauce screams the best of Malaysian food at you! Chicken and beef are the usual choice, with each stick costing between 0.70 and 1.50RM. 2-4 sticks make for a good side, or eat many more as part of a main meal.

Each person has a different recipe for their best satay sauce, some with larger chunks of peanut, some a bit sweeter and some a bit spicier. My recommendation is to try as many as possible as it is definitely one of the best hawker foods in Penang!

satay, penang, malaysia
How many can you eat?

10. Jawa Mee

Jawa mee tradtionally comes from the Indonesian island of Java, but Malaysians have now made it their own. A thick sweet potato based soup with noodles gives this dish a totally different texture to all others on this list. Often served with a fritter and a boiled egg, Jawa mee if your go to for something a little bit different.

Jawa mee, Penang, Malaysia
Jawa mee

Whilst these are some of the most popular foods to eat in Penang, there are plenty of others that you should try when you’re on the hunt for Penang street food

Dim Sum’s can be found in a few areas with a large Chinese population. These steamed buns filled with anything you can imagine, from meat, to egg, to a lemon paste are often open early morning for breakfast. Kaya toast and a hard boiled egg is also a popular breakfast, the kaya taking its name from the coconut jam inside.

For something simple, you can’t go wrong with Chicken Rice. This Hokkien and Hainanese style favourite is popular in Singapore and all over Malaysia and could be one of the cheapest meals you have. Duck and pork rice are normally an option in restaurants that sell chicken rice.

Feeling peckish close to Little India? Grab yourself a samosa or any of the other street side snacks you might find. However, one of the best samosas I had was found a bit further out.

Best food courts in Georgetown

Chulia Street Night Hawker Stalls

This is the tourist home of Penang street food. Close to the popular backpacker hotspot of Love Lane. Coming alive around 6pm, the food is served on metal stalls that are wheeled into position for the night ahead. Cooked directly in front of you, the street food here is served fresh and hot, not to mention very, very tasty.

Red Garden Food Paradise

Being close to the centre of Georgetown, Red Garden is also a popular spot with tourists hoping to visit the best hawker food in Penang. However, its popularity with tourists has seen prices increase and quality decrease. For first timers, it offers all the different types of Malaysian food you could wish for, but there are more local friendly options out there.

Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang, Malaysia
Red Garden Food Paradise

New World Food Court

New World is a bit further away from the centre of Georgetown, but it’s where the locals go, and for good reason. It is one of the best places for food in Georgetown, Penang. Open from 10am-10pm, the variety of stalls here mean there is always something available for someone. The wide variety, from Japanese to western, Chinese to Indian, means that almost every food on this list can be found at New World.

Sri Weld Food Court

The Sri Weld Food Court is located right in the heart of Gerogetown, close to the jeti area. It is open earlier than usual and closes earlier as well, with most of the hawker stalls being shut by 2pm. Head there for breakfast as the nasi lemak is one of the best I’ve had, but also one of the spiciest.

Sri weld food court, Penang, Malaysia
Sri weld food court

The Drinks You Have to Try in Penang

Teh Tarik translates literally as “pulled tea”, as the tea is pulled or poured between two different glasses to aerate it and give some small bubbles on top like a beer. It is popular in Indian style restaurants but can be found in many places around Penang.

Coffee is becoming a staple of Penangites day, with espresso coffee blurring the lines of art and science. Weighing out grounded coffee and water for the optimal ratio, roasting their own beans and tasting the mix before pouring is now a regular part of the coffee scene in Penang. I’ve already written on the best places to get a coffee in Georgetown, Penang.

For those wanting something a bit more traditional, head to the local kopitiams. These traditional coffee shops still sell a simple coffee for a fraction of the price of your espresso. But the local language may cause some difficulties when ordering.

Kopi = coffee normally served with a sweetened condensed milk

Kopi ‘O’ = Black coffee

Kopi ‘O’ kosong = Black coffee served without any sugar syrup

Kopi Ais = A coffee with the condensed milk poured over ice, perfect for a hot day!

Teh ‘O’ = Black tea

One of my personal favourites that is only found in this region of the world is a Milo Ais. This drink is a hot milo, (a malt based chocolate drink) poured over ice. When served with a straw, the first mouthful is a mix of warm and cold as the sweet hot chocolate mixed with the ice.

The fruit juices in Penang can be hit or miss. In some restaurants and stalls they will be made with a sugar syrup that makes you feel like your teeth may fall out at any time. But if you find a stall that sells a juice made with real fruit, you’re onto a winnner! The tropical climate ensures that the fruit is abundant all year round and is refreshing in the heat.

Toddy, penang, Malaysia
A few glasses of toddy

Toddy is a type of palm wine extracted from coconut palm trees. A white cloudy liquid, it has a sweet taste and a mild fizz. A drink that used to have connotations of drunken workers, it is now making a comeback and can be found at Narrow Marrow. If you’re extra adventurous, try mixing it with Guinness for a very smooth flavour.

Malaysia isn’t known for its beer other than Tiger. It can be found in most Chinese and Indian restaurants but not Malay. If you want more than one beer head to Chulia Street and Love Lane where bars are open until the early hours. Those wanting a finer taste of things, Momokaka has craft beer from around the world, but you’ll be paying the price for them!

Wrapping Up

You can’t go to Penang and not have some of the best food in the world. The sheer variety on offer will feed any hungry mouth. Night markets, hawker stalls, old uncles on the street, food courts and fine dining restaurants; there is everything you could wish for in Penang to eat great food on any budget.

Chinese and Indian style food are staples, but almost any kind of food can be found in Georgetown. Make sure you go to Penang with an empty stomach!

Check out my other posts for travelling around Malaysia:

Sarawak

Kuala Lumpur

Penang

Langkawi

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