What to Eat in Penang

Penang Specialty Food

Dubbed ‘The Pearl of the Orient’ by foreign traders back in the olden days, Penang is well-known for its abundance of superb, authentic hawkers’ delights which the locals claim can’t be duplicated elsewhere. In Penang, hawker food is as delicious as – if not more than - the finest gourmet experience in any city. It is also very popular. Many Malaysians hold Penang as the top foodies’ destination in the region, not because of some fancy restaurants but rather for the humble eateries and stalls that line the streets.

Since Penang is synonymous with good food (eating also seems to be Penangites’ favourite pastime), there are many places where one can find a good concentration of hawker stalls and restaurants on the island, especially in Georgetown. The island is famous for their Nyonya-inspired flavours. Malacca may be more famous for their Nyonya culture, but in terms of cooking, it is the Penang Nyonya flavours that capture the hearts (and stomachs) of many.

Amongst Penang’s most popular culinary delights are Penang Char Kuay Teow, Assam Laksa, Tar Sau Peah, Rojak Pasembur, Nasi Kandar and Hokkien Mee.


Acar Acar

Penang Acar is a type of Nyonya salad. Crunchy and aromatic, Acar is usually made by mixing hard vegetables such as carrots and cabbage with a rich and spicy gravy garnished with crushed groundnuts.

Acar acts as a welcome condiment to any meal and is scrumptiously devoured with haste by locals. There is even a fish-based version of Acar!


 

Asam Laksa

Originating from the Peranakan (Straits-Chinese) culture, assam laksa is a dish of thick rice noodles served in spicy and sour fish broth. Penang assam laksa is made using mackerel flakes and tamarind, which gives the broth a sourish flavour. Other ingredients used in the making of this national dish are lemongrass, chillies, galangal, thinly-sliced onions, prawn paste and finely-shredded torch ginger flower.
While assam laksa can be found at just about anywhere in Penang, it has been said Ayer Itam Pasar serves the best assam laksa in Penang!

Opening Hours: Daily, 11am - 5pm
Location: Opposite to Wet Market Ayer Itam

Char Kuay Teow

Penang char kuay teow is known the world over, and is the most popular variety of char kuay teow out of many in Malaysia. It’s a hawker dish of flat rice noodles stir-fried in a large wok over open fire together with lard, soy sauce, chillies, prawns, cockles, eggs, bean sprouts and chives. The ones in Penang are often garnished with crab meat on top for extra flavour. Rich in taste (and fat), Penang char kuay teow is a popular hawker dish much sought-after by ardent foodies to this island. Hawker centres are the best places to find this dish, particularly in Georgetown and along Gurney Drive.

Opening Hours: The stalls are generally open from 19:00 to 02:00
Location: Hawker areas along Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah (The Esplanade), Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Kimberley, Lebuh Cintra, Lorong Selamat (off Jalan Burmah), Jalan Macalister, New Lane (off Jalan Macalister), Jalan Pantai, Lebuh Pantai, Lebuh Presgrave and along Gurney Drive.

Hokkien Mee

Just like char kuay teow, Hokkien mee comes in different versions in this country. The Penang version is soup-based and watery, as opposed to the Kuala Lumpur version which is fried in dark soy sauce and quite sticky. The soup is probably the most important part of the dish. Made from fragrant stock consisting of shrimp paste and dried prawns which are then brought to the boil with a bit of lard for texture, it gives the dish its intoxicating aroma. It is then served in a bowl with noodles, together with prawns, fish cakes, leafy greens, pork ribs, squids, vegetables, crisp deep-fried shallots, spring onions, fresh lime, chillies, light soy sauce and a bit of sambal on the side. This dish can also be found in hawker centres along the main streets.

Opening Hours: The stalls are generally open from 19:00 to 02:00
Location: Hawker areas along Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah (The Esplanade), Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Kimberley, Lebuh Cintra, Lorong Selamat (off Jalan Burmah), Jalan Macalister, New Lane (off Jalan Macalister), Jalan Pantai, Lebuh Pantai, Lebuh Presgrave and along Gurney Drive.

Nasi Kandar Line Clear

Originating from the Indian-Muslim culture, Nasi Kandar is perhaps Penang’s best-known dish. The dish got its name from the way it was peddled decades ago – by balancing pots containing the rice and the curries across the shoulders using a long wooden rod. It is basically steamed white rice served with a variety of side dishes which include a variety of thick, rich curries and vegetables. There are plenty of 24-hour Nasi Kandar restaurants and stalls in Penang, particularly around Georgetown.

Opening Hours: Daily, 24 hours
Location: In an alley at the junction of Lebuh Chulia & Jalan Penang (on the same side of Jalan Penang as Chowrasta Bazaar)

Rojak Pasembur

An Indian-Muslim dish, rojak pasembur is a Malaysian salad comprising shredded cucumber, turnip, potatoes, beancurd, bean sprouts, pieces of prawn fritters, squids and boiled eggs mixed together with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce. Simple and wholesome, this dish can be found mostly along Gurney Drive.

Opening Hours: Daily, 18:00 - Late
Location: New Gurney Drive Food Court, Gurney Drive (at the other end of Gurney Drivetowards Bagan Jermal - near the roundabout and parallel to Jalan Khidmat)

Tau Sar Peahs

Tau Sar Peahs

Tau Sar Peahs are little dumpling-shaped morsels of goodness that are a cross between a biscuit and a pastry. They are so good that people have often likened them to 'food for the gods'. Eaten as a snack or dessert, the delicious Tau Sar Peah is made by baking red bean paste in sugar and lard until it becomes a mushy golden mixture. The paste is then moulded into a round shape with a coating of thin flour, which forms the skin. The skin becomes flaky as the tau sar peahs bake to golden perfection.

Opening Hours: The stalls are generally open from 19:00 to 02:00
Location: Hawker areas along Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah (The Esplanade), Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Kimberley, Lebuh Cintra, Lorong Selamat (off Jalan Burmah), Jalan Macalister, New Lane (off Jalan Macalister), Jalan Pantai, Lebuh Pantai, Lebuh Presgrave and along Gurney Drive.

Others ...

These dishes are just the tip of the iceberg. There are much more dishes waiting to be discovered which can fill an entire book, so your best bet would be to come here and experience the journey yourself! Exploring the long stretch of stalls can be daunting, as there are just so many of them but here's a tip; look for the ones with the largest crowds as these are the ones that are popular with locals simply because they're the most delicious!

Business is so good, that the hawker stalls and food courts open till the wee hours of the morning. Besides solid food, there is a wide variety of mouth-watering and thirst-quenching desserts, both locally flavoured and inspired from international cuisine.

If you ever want to dine in one of Malaysia 's most famous eating places, accompanied by the sound of waves crashing on the shore, then look no further than Gurney Drive!

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