25 Best Things to Eat in Penang, Malaysia

25 Best Things to Eat in Penang, Malaysia

Tantalise your taste buds with some of Penang’s most iconic dishes from Assam Laksa to Penang Rojak!

Penang needs no lengthy introduction amongst travel communities. I think it’s safe to say that most travel enthusiasts in the region are already familiar with this Malaysian city, from its colourful city centre right down to its charming heritage. However, one thing which always stands out in Penang is undoubtedly the food. There’s just so many things to eat in Penang! 

Consistently known throughout the world as a haven for avid foodies, Penang is home to some of the most scrumptious culinary gems in the region. There are so many great options in fact, that some say that it is nearly impossible to decide what to eat in Penang

But don’t worry, we’re here to help you out. If you’re in Penang and looking to have an unforgettable gastronomic adventure, all you need is this list of 25 things to eat in Penang!

1. Char Koay Teow

Image credit: Pandora Voon

As with any list of Penang’s awesome food selections, it starts with char koay teow, the noodle dish the city is most famous for. This delicious staple of Penangites consists of flat rice noodles quickly stir-fried with bean sprouts, egg, shrimp and cockles.

What makes Penang Char Koay Teow such a big hit is the smoky aroma. This is achieved by stir-frying the noodles over a blazing charcoal fire. Some versions even incorporate heartier ingredients such as chinese sausage and duck eggs, which give the dish a richer taste.  

2. Char Koay Kak

Image credit: Alpha

Despite the similarity in name and ingredients, char koay kak actually translates to fried “carrot cake” although that’s more of a funny mistranslation origin story. Koay kak is actually made by combining rice flour with white radish. The mixture is then stir-fried with bean sprouts, egg, and occasionally lard.

The smokey taste is fairly similar to char koay teow but the texture is vastly different, promising a unique experience for your taste buds.   

3. Assam Laksa

Image credit: Pandora Voon

You can find laksa in many parts of Malaysia and even in Singapore, but Penang assam laksa is special. It is richer, spicier and has a distinct sour-ish taste thanks to its tamarind-based broth. You’ll often find ingredients such as mackerel, lemongrass, and chillies in the dish. It is then garnished with fresh mint to balance out the tartness of the broth, giving it an explosive yet all-rounded flavour.

Fun Fact: Penang laksa was one of the late Anthony Bourdain’s favourite dishes in Malaysia.

4. White Curry Mee

Image credit: JBMacatulad

Another one of the top things to eat in Penang is white curry mee. It is an egg noodle dish served in a savoury curry broth infused with coconut milk. The coconut milk lightens the colour of the curry, hence the name “white” curry mee. It is slightly spicy, a little sweet and full of aromatic flavours. The noodles are served with bean sprouts, fried tofu puffs, cockles, squid, and pig’s blood (optional).

What elevates this dish further is the spoonful of sambal (chilli paste) which often comes with it. As the broth turns a darker shade of red and orange, your palette will be in for some immense satisfaction.

5. Hokkien Mee

Image credit: Yidian Cheow

In Kuala Lumpur, hokkien mee is a savoury noodle stir-fry. In Penang, it’s completely different. Here, hokkien mee is a soupy noodle delicacy that is characterised by its fragrant, orangey, prawn-shell broth.

The most basic version of the dish involves a combination of yellow egg noodles and rice vermicelli topped with bean sprouts, barbequed pork slices, shrimp, half a boiled egg and sambal for some heat. Some vendors also include meatballs and pork ribs as additional ingredients for those who want a more luxurious version of the dish.

6. Loh Mee

Image credit: Awesome Penang

If you’re out on a first date in Penang, you’d probably want to avoid lor mee. I mean, it’s delicious but it’s also a messy, slurpy affair. It’s super easy to describe this dish: it’s like hokkien mee, but replace the light, fragrant broth with a thick, dark, savoury gravy made from pork rib stock and various Chinese spices.

It’s a hearty dish that is often made even more delicious by adding a hint of spicy sambal. In fact, there’s even a version of this dish in which the gravy is combined with hokkien mee broth. It’s called “hokkien lor” and that is truly a match made in heaven.

7. Kway Chap

Image credit: Pandora Voon

Kway chap is a Teochew-style soupy noodle dish that’s popular amongst true blue Penangites. The broth is made from meat stock (usually pork) and is served with a generous helping of meat slices, innards, and square-cut flat rice noodles.

As you would expect, the main hero of this dish is the rich, savoury broth that is almost as thick as gravy. While kwap chap is delicious as it is, more stalls in Penang are beginning to substitute the pork with duck meat, adding a new dimension of texture and flavour to this beloved dish.

8. Koay Teow Th’ng

Koay teow th’ng is a popular noodle breakfast dish in Penang that’s also enjoyed by Malaysians throughout the country. A combination of flat rice noodles and yellow egg noodles are served in a clear broth and topped with fish balls, fish cakes, and either shredded chicken or minced pork.

It usually comes with deep fried garlic or onion sprinkled on top and is accompanied by small servings of chilli in soy sauce for dipping. You could also opt for a dry, tossed version and a separate bowl of soup if that’s more to your liking. If you ask me, they’re both equally great starts to the day.

9. Tom yam noodles

Being so close to Thailand in the north of Malaysia, it was inevitable that food in Penang would be influenced by Thai cuisine. This is proven by Penangites’ exceptional love for tom yam, particularly tom yam noodles.

Often found in late night hawker centres, Penang’s version of tom yam noodles can actually be considered as some sort of buffet. Customers are allowed to choose the type of noodles they want and the various ingredients to be added to the dish. My recommendation? Springy maggi noodles, needle mushrooms, hot dogs and cheese. Perfecto.

10. Mee Rebus Ketam/Sotong

Mee rebus is undoubtedly one of Penang’s favourite Malay dishes. Literally meaning “boiled noodles”, the humble yet hearty mee rebus is often served in a rich gravy (“kuah” in Malay) and topped with various ingredients including squid, boiled egg and bean curd.

However, some stalls up the ante by preparing the gravy with crabs, giving it a stronger aroma and flavour. Enjoy every last drop of this flavoursome gravy, I’m sure you’ll be back craving for more soon.

11. Mee Goreng Mamak

Image credit: Colin Charles

The key to Penang street food scene is simplicity: using everyday ingredients to create culinary classics. Such is the prestige of mee goreng mamak in the city. It’s simply stir-fried egg noodles with pieces of bean curd in a spicy sauce.

You can find this practically everywhere in Penang and yet it remains one of the all-time favourites for locals. You can choose to go for maggi noodle (maggi goreng) instead of conventional yellow noodles and top it with a sunny side up egg for the perfect supper.

12. Yam Rice

Yam rice is more often sought after as a delicacy in mainland Penang. As the name suggests, rice is boiled together with chunky pieces of yam and served with a bowl of peppery pork soup. The soup usually contains slices of pork belly, pork meatballs, pickled vegetables and some herbs.

The condiment of choice is a spicy chilli dipping sauce that will likely numb your lips but keep you coming back for more. Most people add to the dish by ordering a side of vinegar-braised pork trotters for a truly magnificent meal.

13. Bukit Mertajam Cup Rice

Found in the quaint town of Bukit Mertajam in mainland Penang, cup rice is simply a more unique way of eating chicken rice. You are given a ridiculously large amount of rice (a literal “cup”) which is topped with slices of chicken (or pork if available) and flooded with savoury gravy.

While the novelty of the dish certainly played a part in its rise to fame, it certainly holds its own in the flavour department. It is one of the more unique things to eat in Penang and certainly worth a try.

14. Nasi Kandar

You can find nasi kandar everywhere in Malaysia and it’s also readily available in Singapore. However, did you know that this all-time classic originated in Penang? Not only that, but the city is home to one of Malaysia’s most famous nasi kandar restaurants (Nasi Kandar Line Clear) which sees hordes of customers lining up just to get their fix.

For the uninitiated, nasi kandar is an Indian Muslim rice dish which is served with a variety of dishes and curries. The common practice is to go for the crispy fried chicken and top it with “kuah campur”, a mixture of different savoury curries. Nasi kandar dishes are inspired by Malay, Chinese, and Indian culinary influences, and so is perhaps one of the best representations of proper Malaysian cuisine.

15. Pasembur

What most other states in Malaysia call rojak mamak, Penang calls pasembur. Pasembur is a crunchy, Indian-inspired salad that generally consists of shredded vegetables, crispy fritters and keropok, boiled egg and spicy squid or baby octopus. It is topped with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce.

There are many famous pasembur stalls in Penang, especially along Gurney Drive. However, the best one is found in Bukit Mertajam in mainland Penang. It’s located at the Sentosa Corner hawker centre off Jalan Kulim.

16. Or-Chien (Oyster Omelette)

Image credit: Li Tsin Soon

Penang is quite the pristine destination for fresh seafood. But if you don’t have the budget for expensive seafood feasts, don’t worry because fried oyster omelette (known as or-chien) is a relatively inexpensive seafood fix.

The popular night market snack is simply the combination of eggs and succulent baby oysters. The mixture is often fried over a cast iron griddle or wok. It’s served with a sweet chilli sauce and topped with chives to bring out the perfect blend of flavours.

17. Rojak Penang

Image credit: Isriya Paireepairit

Ah, the Malaysian salad. Such simple ingredients, yet such amazing taste. In Penang, rojak is a mixture of fresh guava, crunchy vegetables like turnip and cucumber, crispy you tiao (Chinese fried pastry) and crushed peanuts dressed in savoury shrimp paste.

It’s just one of those dishes that might seem strange to you at first, but once you’ve had the chance to sample it, you’ll probably never go back to romaine lettuce and thousand island ever again.

18. Lok Lok

Image credit: 水泳男

Sometimes, what makes a meal memorable is the atmosphere it generates. Lok lok is a communal way of eating that is famous in Penang and some other states in Malaysia. It’s simply hot pot on sticks. You will find an assortment of usual hot pot ingredients such as meatballs, fresh seafood, and vegetables on skewers which you will dunk into the boiling pot of water often found in the centre of the table.

Since seating is often limited at these eateries (sometimes there are no chairs whatsoever and you just gather around the pot!), be prepared to share a table with fellow patrons.

19. Popiah

Image credit: Insatiablemuch

Popiah is a traditional Chinese spring roll that is popular as a healthy snack in Penang. It uses a thin, crepe-like “skin” (made of wheat flour) to hold the ingredients (grated vegetables and tofu) in the wrap.

Due to its versatility, there are many different versions of popiah. Some vendors add a little bit of meat or lard to enhance the flavour while other variations see the popiah wrapped in dried seaweed. In Penang, popiah is also occasionally fried to crispy perfection and drizzled with sweet chilli sauce.   

20. Loh Bak

Image credit: Jonathan Ooi

Loh bak is a special Hokkien and Teochew dish that consists of a plethora of various fried ingredients like yam pockets, tofu, various fritters and more. The usual star of the plate is the meat roll which is aptly also named loh bak.

The dish is usually eaten as a sharing platter between friends and can be found in most hawker centres in Penang. Served with a spicy and sweet dipping sauce, it is easily one of the must-eat dishes in Penang.

21. Apom Manis

Image credit: Awesome Penang

Apom manis can best be described as the Malaysian crepe. This Indian snack is a popular mainstay for Penangites during tea time. It is made with eggs, sugar, coconut milk (for flavour) and flour. The batter is poured into a series of mini woks and cooked until the edges are perfectly crisp while the eggy centre remains fluffy and light.

For added oomph to apom manis, try variations like apom manis jagung (sweet corn in the middle) and apom manis kelapa (shaved coconut)

22. Tau Sar Piah

If there’s one snack you should always bring back from a trip to Penang, it’s tau sar piah. This traditional oven-baked pastry is practically synonymous with the city! Also called Dragon Balls or Tambun Biscuits, these little flavour gems house a sweet, savoury bean paste (made from ground green beans) within their flaky exteriors.

While the traditional flavour is still the best, there are also a variety of alternatives, such as pandan-infused versions which have a sweeter, more fragrant filling. Do take note that some tau sar piah bakers baste their biscuits with pork lard so be sure to check the food labels if you have dietary restrictions.  

23. Ais Kacang

Image credit: dilettantiquity

It never ceases to amaze how some simple ingredients can become such mouth-watering delicacies when given the right combination. The main ingredient in ais kacang is just shaved ice drizzled with gula melaka, rose syrup and sarsi syrup. Add to that a generous amount of other ingredients like sweet corn, red beans and crushed peanuts and you have one of the best traditional desserts in Penang!

There are even decadent ais kacang varieties that top the colourful shaved ice with a scoop of ice cream or even durian, making the dessert even more irresistible.

24. Cendol

Image credit: Stephen Bugno

Out of all the things to eat in Penang, none are as satisfying as a bowl of cendol. While there are plenty of options to satisfy your sweet tooth, cendol is still by far the choice of Penangites. This famous Teochew desert consists of shaved ice garnished with pandan jelly noodles (cendol), coconut milk and gula melaka (brown sugar syrup). Occasionally, some stalls top their cendol with red kidney beans and some peanuts as well.

This dessert is the perfect antidote to the hot Malaysian weather and is a favourite amongst all Malaysians. The pushcart stall on Penang Road is particularly famous. And, in true Malaysian fashion, some vendors have even found ways to add in durians!

25. Burgers

Image credit: Rockstarz Burger

As Penang continues to welcome tourists from all over the world, it has begun to adopt international food cultures and infusing them with Malaysian influences. The clearest way this can be seen is by the number of fantastic burger joints which are popping up all over the city.

Burgers here are usually cooked in the Malaysian “Ramly Burger style”, topped with generous amounts of onion, gooey cheese and savoury sauces. These greasy but hearty delights are to die for! What’s more, gourmet burgers are gradually becoming a real culinary force in Penang’s food scene too.

Disclaimer: we will not be responsible for any weight gain you may experience after your trip. And with that, it’s time to pack your suitcases (and appetite) and hit the Penang yum trail!

About Author

Darren Yeoh
Darren Yeoh

Darren enjoys the finer things in life and loves exploring unfamiliar places on foot, guided with nothing but instinct and a good-old fashioned map. He enjoys cultural experiences and exciting adventures and is not a stranger to travelling alone. When he's not putting his travel experiences into words, he's probably sitting behind his laptop, planning his upcoming adventure.


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