I’m seriously looking my cred as a foodie. I barely ever blog about food anymore. I miss it. And believe me, I’m still eating TONS and trying new things all the time (my thighs can attest to that). So anyway, all that to say… Yay! New foodie post!
Penang is known as the foodie capital of Malaysia. Before going, I wasn’t sure how I’d like the food because I heard it’s more Cantonese style, which I’m usually not a fan of. But I ended up loving it! I liked almost everything I ate. And it helped that I had some local friends who brought me around to eat or pointed me in the direction of the good stuff.
Looking through my Penang food pics, I’m actually surprised I ate so many different things. I think I did a good job sampling all the local dishes!
Let’s just get right to it!
Char kuey teow
No talk of Penang food is complete without char kuey teow. This is Penang’s most famous dish. Char kuey teow (fried rice noodles) is a simple dish made of flat rice noodles, prawns, cockles, bean sprouts, and a spicy and soy paste. It’s simple but the people take it seriously. There are a handful of super famous char kuey teow stalls, and people are always debating which is best, who’s retiring, what secret ingredients are used, which is in line to become king, etc. etc.
I did an entire battle of the char kuey teow post. Find out which one I loved the most!
Char kuey teow has always been one of my favorite Malaysian dishes, but I seriously fell in LOVE with asam laksa! Just like char kuey teow, this is another one of Penang’s most famous local dishes. It’s so strange that I love it so much because this is a fish soup, and I usually don’t like fishy things at all.
Asam laksa has an amazing explosion of flavor unlike anything else. It’s a fish broth made with fish chunks, onion, pineapple, mint, and little limes. The flavors work so well together. The tangy pineapple and refreshing mint are in perfect balance with the spicy-sour fishy broth. You have to taste it to understand!
I’m thinking of doing a battle of the asam laksa as well, so keep an eye out!
Penang hokkien mee
A while back, I did a list of Malaysian food in KL and a dish called hokkien mee was on it. I said that I didn’t like the brown dark sauce noodle. However, I was surprised to find that Penang hokkien mee is completely different! In Penang, this dish refers to prawn noodles, or prawn mee. So funny how the same name is two completely dishes in the same country.
Anyway, I like Penang’s hokkien mee way more. It’s thin vermicelli noodles in a prawn broth. Don’t be scared by how red it is! The red coloring is mostly from the prawns and is not spice. However, the red paste in the spoon is spicy paste. It’s delicious mixed in and gives it an extra oomph.
Along with the 3 dishes above, cendol rounds out the Penang Famous 4. Cendol actually refers to those green stringy noodles. This basic version of this dessert dish is made up of sweet milk poured over shaved ice, cendol, red beans, and palm syrup. I’m actually not really a fan because it’s just too sickly sweet to me.
The most famous place to experience Cendol is Penang’s original famous cendol stall (pictured above). This stall became so famous that there are now hundreds of restaurant branches throughout Malaysia. But you can still experience the original line-up-on-the-street-in-the-hot-sun-eating-standing-up-out-of-a-sticky-bowl version in Penang.
Address: right outside of Joo Hooi cafe – 475 Jalan Penang, George Town
If you like oysters and omelettes, you’ll like this. Unfortunately, I don’t eat oysters (or anything else in that family). The omelette is made of egg and a starchy flour batter. So it may be a little bit more gooey than your usual omelette.
I like this one! Popiah is a very thin crepe skin wrapped with fillings like pickled radish, lettuce, tofu, and a chili paste. Usually, stalls that sell laksa will also sell popiah.
If you’ve noticed, the food in Penang is quite heavy, so this actually feels relatively light and healthy. The ones pictured here are fresh popiah with the fresh soft wrapper. There’s also fried popiah, which is like crispy spring rolls.
I love these too! These are little fluffy eggy coconut pancakes. The green ones are made with pandan (a plant commonly used in cooking in this area). The inside is usually stuffed with something sweet like corn or grated coconut. They’re so good when they’re still hot right off the griddle… so soft and delicious!
Char kuey kak
Char kuey kak (fried rice cake) is a cousin to the famous char kuey teow, Instead of rice noodles, it’s chunks of steamed rice cake. Which are then pan-fried in a big flat pan (instead of a wok, like ckt). And it usually has bits of pickled radish for flavoring. The rice cakes are very soft – almost mushy. I don’t like this as much because I prefer noodles to rice squares.
Kuey teow th’ng
Kuey teow th’ng (rice noodle soup) is another milder dish. Instead of the usual punchy flavors, this is a nice, clean pork broth soup, sprinkled with fried shallots and white pepper. The soft fish balls are really good as well!
This is a dish found throughout Malaysia, though each place will do it a little differently with different toppings. The soup is a curried coconut milk broth – satisfyingly spicy! A lot of places will make it with a mix of rice noodles and yellow noodles. It usually will have puff tofu, bean sprouts, and prawns. The place we ate at had coagulated blood cake as well (which I hear is common in Penang)!
Chee cheong fun
This was my least favorite dish I tried! Chee cheong fun means “rice noodle roll.” In Malaysia, it’s served with two kinds of sauces on the side: a dark prawn paste and a red spice paste. Then it’s sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. I did not like the taste of of the dark paste at all. I’m bad at describing taste, but it was just very strange.
Also called ABC (ais batu campur – ice rocks mix), ice kacang is a cousin of the cendol. It’s shaved ice with a bunch of ingredients piled on top, and then drizzled with a syrup. The common accouterments are: grass jelly, red beans, corn, and lychee. I know, really weird! But it works and is a great thirst quencher on a hot day. I prefer it to cendol because it’s slightly less sweet.
Here’s another over the top version with a scoop of ice cream!
As you see, for just about all of these dishes, there is absolutely no nutritional value of any sort. While I loved the food in Penang, I felt super unhealthy after a month. And my poor waist and thighs definitely suffered… something that I still haven’t recovered from. Sigh.
So Penangites: how the check do you guys manage to eat healthy and stay thin?! This is the forever mystery to me.
Food courts/night markets to check out for local food:
Penang is street food heaven! There are a ton of food courts and markets where you’ll see a cluster of stalls. Each stall usually only specializes in one dish. And typically at each marketplace, there will only be one stall selling each type of food. It’s very easy to just hit up one market and try a bunch of different things at once!
Here are some popular food courts and markets to check out:
- Joo Hooi cafe | 475 Jalan Penang, George Town | 11 am – 5:30 pm daily
- Chulia Street courts | Lebuh Chulia & Lorong Cheapside | 6 pm – 12 am daily
- Chew Jetty night stalls | next to Chew Jetty & Chinese temple | 6 pm+ daily
- Lorong Baru street stalls | Lorong Baru, Georgetown | 4 pm+ daily
Have you been to Penang and what did you eat? Did I leave anything out?