If you mention going to Penang to anyone in Singapore, they would immediately gush about one thing: The food. My roommate Jess and I are quite the food aficionado, so we were both super excited to make this weekend trip up to Penang from Singapore.
Now the question is: What do you eat in Penang when you only 48 hours? Boy do I have the perfect list for you! Jess and I flew in on a Friday night and flew out on a Sunday, and while we didn’t get ALL of the must-eats in Penang, I’d like to think we hit up pretty good places given the time constraint.
Without further ado, here is the list of good eats in Penang:
1. Penang Char Koay Teow
Penang Char Koay Teow is a MUST-eat street side food when in Penang. The dish consists of Koay Teow (white flat rice noodle) stir fried with chives, eggs, crunchy bean sprouts and prawns.
You won’t run out of options for great Char Koay Teow in Penang. It’s clearly such a signature dish that everyone seems to have their own opinion of which Char Koay Teow is the best in the city. Whichever one you choose, make sure it is one that is cooked on charcoal. In my opinion this is the only way to achieve that burnt smoky aroma characteristic to this dish.
The one we went to that I loved was Kafe Heng Huat with the red hat auntie in Lorong Selamat, which has been known to be a bit controversial due to the attitude of the chef auntie. I guess she can be dismissive and does not provide any sort of customer service.
That said, we didn’t run into any problems during out visit so I would still recommend it! The Char Koay Teow itself definitely hits the spot for me. It has that smokey taste that I really craved for.
She sells her plate in three sizes: Small for RM9.50, Medium for RM10 and Large for RM 12.50.
Another place we visited is Ah Leng Char Koay Teow, which was also delicious but I felt it was missing the smokey flavor. We ordered the special char koay teow for RM12.50 (Regular plate is RM7.50), and they did give big juicy prawns on each dish which is a huge plus for most people.
I don’t like crustaceans though, so I gave all of mine to Jess which I’m sure she was super happy about.
2. Penang Asam Laksa
While visiting Singapore and Malaysia, you may start to hear the term “Peranakan” being used when in context of cultural matters. Peranakan is the term used for descendants of Chinese immigrant who had settled in the area that is now known as Malaysia and Singapore, between 15-17th centuries. These Chinese immigrant brought with them their own culture and it has fused with local culture over time, creating a unique blend now referred to as Peranakan.
One popular example of Peranakan cuisine is Laksa. Now, there are many types of Laksa and Penang is known for the variation called Asam Laksa. We quickly learned the best Asam Laksa can be found at the Air Itam area of Penang, which is not very close to Georgetown. Distance wasn’t going to stop us so we called an Uber and made the 25 minutes drive out to Air Itam.
And I have to tell you, we weren’t disappointed.
“Asam” means sour in Malay, and as you may have guessed by now – the broth for this Laksa is slightly sour from the use of Tamarind and savory from flaked Mackerel. I found the combination of these two flavors is just… out of this world.
RM4.00 gives you a small bowl of this goodness. I was tempted to get a second bowl if it wasn’t for the long list of food we wanted to try on this trip!
Don’t let the distance scare you, since this Laksa is actually within close proximity of some tourist attractions like Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si temple.
3. Penang Tau Sar Piah
Tau Sar Piah is a delicious snack that is very popular in Penang. It is traditionally a type of baked good with various bean filling, such as red bean or green bean. Penang Tau Sar Piah is usually filled with soft mashed up mung beans.
The outside of Tau Sar Peah is crumbly and slightly salty, while the inside is a soft and sweet. I looooved the salty-sweet soft-crumbly contrast of the flavor and texture!
4. Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak means “Fat Rice” in Malay. Why “fat”? Because the rice is cooked in fatty coconut milk and pandan leaves, giving it a rich nutty flavor. It is usually served with fried Ikan Bilis (Anchovies), boiled eggs, slices of cucumber, fried peanuts, and fried chicken.
And don’t forget to add a dollop of Sambal chili if you can take it ;)
This dish is usually served for breakfast, though it can be eaten any time of the day now. It’s also very popular in Singapore hawker centers!
We went to Gurney Drive and got our fix from Nasi Lemak Cili Bilis for RM 3.50.
5. Kueh Pie Tee and Popiah
Kueh Pie Tee or Koay Pai Ti, a Peranakan snack popular in Malaysia and Singapore. In Singapore, this is usually only served during festive celebration and family gatherings. Koay Pai Tee is often served with popiah since their ingredient is basically the same – bamboo shoots, thinly sliced veggies and prawns.
However unlike popiah that has soft skin, Koay Pai Ti is served in a small crunchy shell that adds an awesome texture to the snack! I usually pop a whole one into my mouth in one go.
Nobody knows exactly where Koay Pai Ti originated from, but it is thought to be peranakan food with influence from british culture. And that’s why they resemble canapes, but with asian ingredients!
6. Oyster Omelette
Oyster Omelette is yet another dish that became popular in Malaysia and Singapore through Teochew influences. There are many styles of cooking Oyster Omelette, but in Penang the omelette is usually served soft, thick and not overcooked – Just the way I like it!
Otak-otak is a snack made of fish paste and spices that is steamed inside a banana leaf. If I have to describe the texture, I would say it resembles tofu or steamed eggs. It’s a popular snack in Indonesia too, although the otak-otak I am used to is slightly different than the ones found in Malaysia and Singapore.
In Singapore this is also referred to as “Otah”.
8. Wantan Mee
Wantan Mee is not a dish unique to Penang or even Malaysia, but I’ll bet it’s a comforting and familiar meal to anyone who has lived in Asia. It is a simple noodle dish that can be ordered in soup or dry, which means the noodles will come slathered in extra dark sauce and separate bowl of soup.
We ordered both to see what the difference are, and the conclusion is that the dry version is definitely tastier. However, the soup version is probably more healthy since the extra sauce in the dry version seems to be very decadent.
9. Hokkien Prawn Mee
On our first night in penang, we called up an Uber to get to Georgetown from the Airport. Lucky for us, our Uber driver is a very kind and friendly one! Upon finding out that we are hungry and excited to explore Penang food, he offered to go out of his way and take us to his favorite food joint at Lebuh Presgrave. He sat down with us for the meal.
The Hokkien Prawn Mee was delicious. We also ordered an array of dessert to finish off the meal, such as Ice Kachang (red bean shaved ice) and Chendol (dessert made of gula melaka and coconut milk).
A perfect welcome meal for us :) Thanks Melv!
And That’s all Folks! … For now.
Food, while a huge part of Penang, was not the only thing it has to offer. In Part II of this post I will write about what to do in Penang in 48 hours.
Until next time :)