Updated: Dec 17, 2019
After the food trails in Malacca, Ipoh and Taiping, we continued our food hunt in Penang. Unlike the other three smaller towns, Penang is a big place to try all the food. So, we searched for cheap and good local food around where we stayed, in places where we passed by and also around a couple of sites of interest. And we came up with this list of Penang food to share — after dropping a few so-so ones. Of course, some of the eating places in our list are quite well-known.
Unless you are a food-taster with acute taste buds, there is no need to search far and wide for the so-called "best" food. Traditional and authentic local fares are always the best to travellers — you can never know what is the "best" unless you had tried the same food before and have some basis for comparison. Otherwise, it will be for the experience more than taste.
Check out our list of cheap and good local food that we have tried in Penang. A map is included at the end of this post.
1. De Tai Tong Cafe (Tai Tong Restaurant)
Located along Lebuh Cintra, De Tai Tong Cafe (大东酒楼) is a popular Chinese restaurant (coffee shop in a shop house) that serves traditional dim sum in the morning till 2pm and Chinese-style cuisine after 6pm. It has been around since the 1950s and is still a favourite spot among locals. One of the nostalgic sights in Tai Tong is the grannies pushing carts of dim sums to you and you just point at what you want.
Having dim sum breakfast in Georgetown is a tradition that I don't seem to be able to break out of — it is part of the experience when visiting old Chinatowns.
2. Hainan Lor Mee @ Kafe Hai Beng
Hai Beng Coffee Shop (海明茶室) is located right beside Kuan Yin Teng (观音亭, Goddess of Mercy Temple) at the intersection between Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Lorong Stewart. The Hainan Lor Mee (海南卤面) stall has been around since 1957 and serving this locally unique lor mee (noodle in starchy gravy). The ingredients are braised egg, pig intestines, beansprouts and slices of chicken or pork. You can ask to change the pig intestines if you don't fancy it.
3. Penang Road Famous Teochew Cendol
Penang Road Famous Teochew Cendol is really famous, appearing in almost all food blogs and travel guides. So, the queue can be really long on weekends - so much for being famous. Cendol is a favourite sweet dessert among Malaysians, especially on hot days. It is usually a small bowl of coconut milk with crushed ices, green rice flour jellies, red beans and gula Melaka (palm sugar syrup).
If it is your first time in Penang and trying the cendol, there is no need to join the long queue. Some Penang locals actually recommended the opposite stall that serves cendol too. There may be slight differences in taste but no prize for you for eating the so-called "famous". For travellers, it is all about experience, not so much of finding the best among hundreds of stalls — anyway, everyone's taste buds is different.
4. New Lane Food Street
New Lane Food Street is located beside 118 Hotel Macalister, which has a very prominent mural of a boy holding and eating a big bowl of noodle. You really can't miss it when walking along Jalan Macalister. The food street is opened after 4pm (except Wednesdays). If you are there during the day, the hawker centres along the lane will be opened.
The food stalls along New Lane sell mostly popular Penang local specialties at low prices. For travellers who want to taste as many Penang local food as possible without travelling for miles, this is one of those places to go. The local varieties here are so wide that I can't possibly list down all of them.
We tried the oyster omelette, satay and Penang-specialty lor bak (braised pork roll) on one night and a seafood hor fun with rice vermicelli and flat broad noodle the following day.
5. Jalan Siam Charcoal-Fried Char Kway Teow
Located along Jalan Siam, this roadside char kway teow stall is another "tourist-famous" — so much so that we waited an hour for the food. The stall owner will fry the noodle in a wok over wood (or charcoal) and when he fans the fire, sparks will fly all over the place. This is the so-called "fireworks" that over-excited tourists were yapping about.
The char kway teow (fried flat noodle) has Chinese sausage, cockles and prawns — not a lot of them but enough to give the fried noodle different taste experiences in a plate.
Personally, the char kway teow is good but if there is a long queue, go to another stall. It's the same reasoning as queuing for cendol.
6. Beng Kee Claypot Bah Kut Teh @ The Old Green House
Located right at the intersection of Jalan Burma and Jalan Mandalay, The Old Green House is literally what its name implies. We stumbled upon Beng Kee Claypot Bah Kut Teh (明記砂煲肉骨茶) as it is near to where we were staying when in Penang. The claypot bak kut teh (pork rib soup) is filled with ingredients. Apart from pork ribs, there are meat balls, bean sticks, enoki mushrooms and also fried dough sticks (油条).
7. Green House Prawn Mee & Lor Mee @ The Old Green House
Green House Prawn Mee & Lor Mee (青屋虾面) is located in The Old Green House too and is another popular stall selling both prawn mee and lor mee. The Hokkien-style prawn noodle (yellow noodle and rice vermicelli) is served in spicy dried shrimps stock with prawns (dried shrimps actually) and beansprouts and topped with fried onions. In Penang-style prawn mee, dried shrimps are used to enhance the flavour of the noodle soup.
In Penang, prawn mee is also known as Hokkien mee. But in Singapore, prawn mee is noodle soup with prawns whereas Hokkien mee is fried noodle with prawns. The noodles used in all cases are thin rice vermicelli and yellow noodle.
8. Koay Teow Soup @ Pinang Delicious Food Court
Also along Jalan Macalister, the koay teow soup (粿條汤) stall in Pinang Delicious Food Court is lesser-known to many people as it is over-shadowed by the famous curry noodle stall in the same food court. Unlike those fried and "heavy-taste" dishes that are often sung as "Penang best food", the koay teow soup is clear and light-taste with an egg, fish balls, minced pork and uses iPoh hor fun. This is a much better breakfast choice to start a day with.
PASAR AIR ITAM
Pasar (Market) Air Itam is outside Georgetown but not in some secluded places. Travellers going to Kek Lok Si Temple (极乐寺) and/or Penang Hill will very likely end up trying the food here. It is at the foot of the hill where Kek Lok Si Temple stood.
However, note that the market can be super crowded on weekends and during Chinese and Buddha festive holidays (massive traffic jams). Weekdays are the best time to visit the market.
9. Sister Curry Mee
The fame of Sister Curry Mee (暹罗姐妹咖喱面) is the hard work of the Lim sisters, who are already in their 80s. The cheerful sisters greeted every customers standing in front of their little shed with big smiles. Their curry mee are still cooked over charcoal and customers can choose either plain or fried rice vermicelli and yellow noodle.
Regardless of the type of noodle chosen, it will be served in coconut-curry gravy and topped with cuts of tender cuttlefish, beancurds, tofu puffs and pig/duck blood cubes. And all these for only RM4.00 despite their fame.
10. Wanton Noodle
At the coffee shop diagonally opposite Sister Curry Mee is a stall selling wanton noodle, which we chanced upon. The uniqueness of the wanton noodle is the use of mee pok (flat yellow noodle) instead of the usual thin noodle. The wanton noodle is really nice and the meat dumplings are fresh, we emptied the whole bowl despite finishing two bowls of curry mee earlier.
Pardon me, I didn't take a photo of the stall and could not remember the name after the trip. If anybody tried this, do let me know the stall name. Thanks. The stall owner is an elderly man and I believe he won some awards some years back (based on a newspaper cutting in the coffee shop).
11. Penang Air Itam Laksa
Penang Air Itam Laksa (槟城亚依淡巴刹叻沙) is legendary, having been around for as far back as I can remember. It was in 2006 that I had my first assam laksa at Air Itam Laksa. 11 years later, I was back at the same place to savour the delightful dish again.
The white rice noodle in sour assam (tamarind) soup is topped with smashed mackerel, veggies, onions, red chilli and sweet shrimp paste to give the laksa its wonderful flavour. The sweet, sour and spiciness are well balanced, neither trying to dominate the dish. No wonder it is one of the best laksa in Penang.
Penang has a lot more good local food that are awaiting to be discovered, so do seek them out and share.
Start a food hunt in Ipoh too