Updated: Aug 14, 2020
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 Chinatown.
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.