Last Updated on April 2, 2021 by Jim Ferri
“What to eat in Penang?” is a question most people headed to this Malaysian island often ask. The reason is that the island is famous all over Malaysia for its wonderful food.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
By Jason Rupp & Carla Marie Rupp
Malaysia’s historic island of Penang provides plenty of sensory pleasures, not only in sight and sound, but also in taste. In fact, if you mention visiting Penang to just about any Malaysian, you’ll begin to hear about food and they’ll suggest what you should eat in Penang.
First they’ll ask you if you enjoyed eating in Penang before telling you that the food is famous all over Malaysia. Next they’ll begin peppering you with the obligatory questions. Did you try Cendol (an icy desert with green jelly and coconut milk)? “Yes we did.” Did you try the Roti (fried flat bread with curry)? “Yes, every day.” Did you try the Stingray with chili sauce? “Yes, of course – nightly. It was amazing.” Did you try the Laksa (curry noodle soup)? “Yes, daily, as well, and we loved it.”
In fact, because we were always eating in Penang, we were full from morning until night on all of Penang’s local favorites. How we wished we could double our stomach capacity to accommodate even more Laksa.
We also discovered other dishes less-known to tourists, and which quickly became part of our daily Penang diet, such as Teh Halia (hot spicy ginger milk tea), and Tody (homemade coconut wine), which bought us coming back for more during our daily walking routine to taste more and more delights. There are so many little hidden-away gems to eat at, and most are very good.
If you’re wondering what to eat in Penang, you should first understand that there are three major ethnic cultures in Malaysia — Chinese, Indian and local Malaysian – which is why people always talk about the food of Malaysia when they visit. We like the mix of food because there is so much choice especially in the food courts. In fact, other tourists agreed that when eating in Penang the Indian food tasted better than it did in India, something none of us could figure out. Most likely it has to do with the local restaurant competition for delicious food being fierce – and the standard of ‘delicious’ is set quite high.
Eating in Penang in George Town, the Capital
The city of George Town, the capital, is where you’ll find most of the historical sights, and so this is where most visitors stay, and who likely ask at their hotels what to eat in Penang. We’re certain they’re provide with an overload of information.
You’ll find that most of the colorful sections of Georgetown overlap, but Little India is really a place of its own and a good place to eat in Penang. Strolling through its streets is pure Penang delight but make time to sit down and have some Teh-Halia, a milk tea with spiked spicy fresh ginger. If you like it extra spicy, then say you want Teh-Halia kgow.
Listen to the Indian music carried over loud speakers. When eating in Penang you will smell spices in each street, different from the next street. Roti is always hot, since it is made-to-order, with extra toppings such as onions, eggs, bananas. Then top it with free curry, as much as you want. A plate of roti will cost no less than $1 USD.
A little known spot, that tourists won’t know about is the Tuak Shop, a non descript building, with a homemade sign that says “Kedai Tuak Lorong Pasar”, which has homemade coconut wine on offer, something you actually can’t eat in Penang. We discovered it while walking by, popped inside, and found locals sitting around chatting and smiling. We asked what they were drinking and they pointed to a sign, which said a glass of the homebrew Tody was just 2 MYR (less than $1 USD). This drink won’t get you drunk, and can’t be stored, but it spoils quickly so drink it right away, or at least the same day.
You’ll hear languages from all around the globe here. When eating in Penang, you’ll be able to eat tasty food from cultures you may not have tried before, namely the Indian, Chinese, and local Malay dishes. You may even become friendly and chatty with smiling, inquisitive people of different nationalities and faiths other than yours, as we did.
We loved it all and now that we know what joys await us in Penang, we’ll be happy to return. And we will – especially for the food – and we won’t have to ask again what to eat in Penang.
If You Go:
Tourism Malaysia Official Website
Eastern & Oriental Hotel
10 Lebuh Farquhar
Try the lunch during the week
Madras New Woodlands Restaurant
60 Lebuh, Penang
Tasty banana-leaf meals, vegetarian
Peace & Joy Restaurants
Delicious Chinese food shop
Restoran Ali Selamat
416 Lebuh Chulia
Malay rice curries, fish & chicken; serve yourself