Just mention the word “Penang” to anyone in Singapore, and I’ll bet you Singaporeans would immediately gush about one thing: the food. My roommate Jess and I are quite the food enthusiasts, 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 have 48 hours? Well, I have the perfect list for you. We flew in on a Friday night and flew out on a Sunday, and we made sure we hit up all the must eat in Penang.
Tips on visiting Georgetown / Penang
- Taxis and Car Sharing – This is the most convenient way to get around in Penang. Just a note, Uber is no longer operating in Malaysia (and in entire South East Asia) as it has been bought out by its local competitor called Grab. I have my own opinions about Grab but it does make it much easier when traveling, so I recommend using Grab to get around. It works just like Uber.
- An alternative to taxi would be the public bus called Rapid Penang. It’s pretty cheap – we took one to go to Gurney Drive. However, the routes weren’t very convenient so I’d still recommend
- Google Maps works really well in Malaysia. So definitely pre-download a map of Penang to save data while you’re there!
- As with any other travels, it would also be handy to have an internet connection at all times, so I recommend getting a prepaid local SIM card.
Without further ado, here is the list of good food you must try while 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.
Where to eat
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 our 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 will start hearing the term “Peranakan” being used when in the context of cultural matters. Peranakan is descendants of Chinese immigrants who had settled in the area that is now known as Malaysia and Singapore between 15th to 17th centuries. These Chinese immigrants 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.
Where to eat
We were told that the best Asam Laksa can be found at the Air Itam area of Penang, which is not very close to Georgetown. That wasn’t going to stop us so we called a taxi and made the 25 minutes drive out to Air Itam. 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.
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!
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 soft and sweet. I looooved the salty-sweet soft-crumbly contrast of the flavor and texture!
4. Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak literally means “Fat Rice” in Malay. Why “fat”? Because the rice is cooked in fatty coconut milk and pandan leaves, giving it that 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!
Where to eat
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 the 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 a 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 (Note that Uber is no longer operating in South East Asia – you can try the local version called Grab instead). Lucky for us, our 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 also 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 (a dessert made of Gula Melaka / palm sugar and coconut milk).
A perfect welcome meal for us 🙂 Thanks Melv!
Where to stay in Penang
In Penang, you’d definitely want to stay in Georgetown. Here are my recommendations for accommodations in Georgetown:
- We stayed at Royale Chulan Penang, which was a great find since it’s within walking distance to the famous Penang Street Art and most of the tourist locations in Penang. And for a 4-star hotel, it was really affordable!
Book Royale Chulan Penang
- If you fancy something a bit more traditional, you can check out Carnavron House, a guest house located in a 100-year old house. Despite that, the rooms and toilet are very clean, and the location is very good – right in the middle of all the actions in Georgetown.
Book Carnavron House
And That’s all Folks! … For now. Food, while a huge part of Penang, was not the only thing it has to offer. I will write about what to do in Penang in 48 hours in the future. Until next time 🙂