If you’re an adventurous foodie who often finds yourself planning a travel itinerary based around all the food you want to try, then Penang is the perfect travel destination for you. The food found in Penang is insanely good, oh-so cheap, and most of it is difficult to find outside the country. Although I had made a stopover for a few days in George Town about five years ago, I never really explored all the local food this area had to offer. With that in mind, I made sure to do research on the regional food I could find in Penang. I ended up planning my days around pit-stops at local food stalls and night markets, and managed to put together this list of all the local food in Penang that I loved and that you must try.
1. Asam Laksa
Asam laksa is arguably the most well known dish from Penang. While many people have tried the creamy version of laksa that is relatively easy to find around the world, asama laksa is unique to Penang and is difficult to come across outside Malaysia. Asam laksa has a sweet, slightly sour taste from the pineapple and mild fish base. You can find asam laksa just about anywhere – this bowl was from a night market in the beach area of Batu Ferringhi and only cost RM4. While the laksa at night markets was fantastic, a highlight for me was heading to Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay in George Town (recommended to me by the staff at Hotel Penaga) for a bowl of these insanely delicious noodles.
One of the most famous desserts in Penang is Cendol – an iced dessert made with coconut milk, green rice flour ‘noodles’, red beans, shaved ice, and palm sugar. So famous in fact, that above one of the food stalls (Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul )selling this dessert on Lebuh Keng Kwee is a massive mural of a man taking a big spoon full of cendol. There is also a stall directly across from it called Penang Road Famous Chendol where I bought a bowl for RM2.90. We were actually told by a local to go to the latter one because the ‘famous’ one’s quality has declined since many tourists visit it anyway. Regardless of which one you go to, this is the perfect roadside treat to cool you off.
3. Local jelly desserts
Sticking with the theme of dessert, Malaysia has a variety of local jellied desserts that are popular. I actually didn’t know about this until we went to Moh Teng Pheow Nyonya Koay, where they have a large selection of these homemade desserts for sale. The flavors we tried were: Kuih Bengka – Ubi, Kuih Talam, Pulut Tai Tai (Kaya Kuih), and one Abuk. These desserts weren’t overly sweet, which was certainly appreciated after a heavy meal, and ranged between RM0.60 – RM1.50, and RM3 for the Abuk (the one wrapped in the lotus leaf).
4. Curry Mee
I discovered curry mee rather accidentally when I was trying to eat as much local food as I could possibly consume before my flight. I found this delicious curry mee at Pisa Cafe food market in Bayan Baru. This massive bowl of the most delicious, creamy noodles was only RM4.50 and came loaded with thicker yellow noodles and thin vermicelli noodles, tofu, and cuttlefish balls in a spicy coconut sauce.
5. Nasi Kandar
When I was doing research on the must-try dishes in Penang, nasi kandar came up numerous times with reference to a popular restaurant called Nasi Kandar Line Clear Restaurant. We popped in on one of our first nights in George Town and were welcomed with a mountain (no, literally, there was enough food to feed at least two people) of rice, chicken (you could choose your meat, but one of the staff recommended the roast chicken), fried bitter gourd, okra, green beans, cucumber, and a few other ingredients that I had no clue about. This was one of my favorite dishes I had in Penang and it only cost RM14.30.
6. Iced Kacang
This was another surprise dish found in Pisa Cafe on my last night in Penang. Although I had read plenty about Cendol and tried it in George Town, I didn’t hear about this dessert until I was wandering around the food stalls and came upon one selling iced kacang. I asked the lady behind the counter about it and, despite being incredibly full from two big dishes already, I couldn’t leave Penang without trying it. This refreshing dessert was comprised of red beans, grass jelly, nata de coco, and agar hidden under a mound of colorful shaved ice, sweet corn, condensed milk, and a scoop of taro ice cream.
7. Char Kway Teow
Char kway teow is another popular dish in Malaysia and can be found at almost any local restaurant or market. I didn’t find this dish as exciting as the others, since I can find it quite easily where I live, but it’s a great dish to order if you’re looking for some simple comfort food. This (rather small) plate of char kway teow was from the night market in Batu Ferringhi for RM5.
8. Street-side Indian Snacks
In the heart of George Town you’ll find an eclectic area called Little India. This section of small shops, eateries, and plenty of colorful characters is where you can get your hands on some delicious Indian food. There were a number of food stalls along the road selling a variety of snacks and desserts – I went for the vegetarian samosa (RM0.60) and instantly regretted only buying one. I then went on a mission to find gulab jamun (my favorite Indian dessert) and finally came across a little shop called Mr. Sweets where I filled a bag with 4 pieces of gulab jamun and 5 other mystery sweets that looked delicious for only RM11.90.