Taste of Malaysia: Penang

George Town, Butterworth, Kampung Sungai Ara

A traveler’s pet peeve of mine is going to a foreign country and immediately seeking for the nearest McDonald’s for a meal. I personally can’t find the logic for seeking adventure in a new country, experience their rich culture, only to ignore their native dishes and bite into something you could easily eat back home. Tasting the local food is part of the tour. It’s another way of getting to know their culture and history. Traveling to an overseas country is incomplete without tasting some of their best dishes. Now, I don’t think I’ll be travelling to Penang, Malaysia any time soon. But I think it would be good to come prepared with a list of places we should try for food. Speaking from experience, it’s better to have a guide or a plan instead of wandering around different restaurants, unsure if what we taste is the most authentic a dish can get. The state of Penang has been regarded as the food capital of Malaysia. Every authentic national dish you seek in the country, you will definitely find here. George Town alone, Penang’s capital city, has some of the best restaurants in the country, and is the best place to seek street food. I noted these places based on the delicacies each place is best known for, and which one gives the best authentic taste.

  • Gastronomy
  • Dine
  • Cafes & Restaurants
  • Budget
  • Solo Trip
  • Solo Travel
  • Recommended - Good Food
  • Value for Money

Updated 8 months ago

Toh Soon Cafe

1 save

George Town, Malaysia • Wishlist • 

Toh Soon Café maybe stuffed away in an alley but it’s definitely hard to miss with the long queue and the large crowd. Truthfully, the service is slow and messy. You’ll have a hard time grabbing the attention of the servers, you’re lucky if you get your order in less than 50 minutes (some people have waited for 2 hours), especially if you were served everything that you ordered. But despite the trying service and long wait, Toh Soon Café is considered a landmark, a long running favorite in Penang, and never fails to have a crowd. Why? Apparently, it’s all sincerely worth it. Six breads at a time are manually toasted in a small charcoal stove, each of which taking 10 minutes. A man squats by it and painstakingly toasts them to perfection. So much “perfection” that the toast when served with Malaysia’s signature fragrant Kaya spread, or soft boiled egg, is almost comforting. Even tourists will attest how heavenly a bite into their toast is. Match it along with their freshly brewed coffee that’s said to be irresistible, smooth, fragrant, and almost nostalgic. Luckily, if you’re not one for small spaces with big crowds, Toh Soon Café has opened another branch that’s said to have a better running operation. But this original staple is a real experience. There’s a reason why this kopitiam has stood the test of time and earned its reputation.

  • +60 4 261 3754
  • Lebuh Campbell, George Town, 10450 George Town Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

More details

Sungai Dua Char Koey Teow

1 save

Butterworth, Malaysia • Wishlist • 

Through my various readings about the Malaysian favorite, Char Koay Teow, one has to be reminded that this particular dish that you seek is the one with wet noodles swimming in gravy. If you’re looking for the dry stir fry, Koay Teow Goreng is what you order. There is a strict difference among Penang locals. One of the best places to get both is at Sg. Dua Char Koay Teo. The cafeteria-like diner is always jam packed from its opening at late afternoon, to the late dawn at their closing. And yet, despite the large crowds, four chefs serve you with an enthusiastic pace you wouldn’t really expect for an eatery that full. You can watch them stir-fry nonstop from the counter. One can only imagine the smell of the gravy that gives Char Koay Teow it’s distinct sweet and spicy taste, wafting from the kitchen. The dish may not look appealing, as plating is obviously not the priority. But the promise of unique flavor will surely make- up for appearances as every bite will keep you wanting more. Though, like any other dish in Malaysia, you can find a Char Koay Teow in any food hall in Penang. But Sg. Dua Char Koay Teo is highly recommended by locals and food enthusiasts.

    More details

    Padang Brown

    1 save

    George Town, Malaysia • Wishlist • 

    Hawker Centers are a staple in dining in Asia, specifically Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. Penang is a hot bed for these open- aired food courts, giving an alternative to the street food alleys around the state. These complexes are filled with stalls, all of which selling a variety of local cuisines for a low cost. It’s possible that every Malaysian delicacy can be found in a Hawker. Padang Brown is a landmark in Penang’s Hawker industry. Affectionately known to the locals as simply “The Padang” and “Padang Broom”, it stands as one of the eldest, dating back to the 1960’s. But what really sets this particular Hawker apart from the others is that it houses what Malaysians consider the best Popiah in Penang: The Seafood Popiah. Popiah is basically a Hokkien/ Teochew- type of spring roll. It’s filling is made of grated turnips, combined with a variety of different ingredients including pork, bean sprouts, tofu, omelet, seafood and more. The Seafood Popiah in Padang Brown carries a recipe that’s almost as old as the Hawker itself. It’s said to be the only Popiah that uses real crab meat in its ingredients, giving it the upper hand in taste and quality as opposed to other Popiahs.

    More details

    Laksa Janggus

    1 save

    Kampung Sungai Ara, Malaysia • Wishlist • 

    Laksa is a staple food in Southeast Asian cuisine. You can find a Laksa recipe in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. Henceforth, there are different variations. In Malaysia, you can find two of these versions on the market: Chinese Laksa, and Malay Laksa. The distinct difference is the shrimp sauce Chinese Laksa has, while Malay Laksa doesn’t use said sauce giving it a milder flavor, and they’re usually served with a hardboiled egg. Just by the name, Laksa Janggus serves the traditional favorite Malay Laksa with a recipe that dates back almost 30 years ago. What started as a stall under a Janggus Tree (Malay term for cashewnut; hence the name), is now an open- aired complex that seats up to 100 diners at a time. What sets their Laksa apart in particular is that the noodles are handmade, giving a unique texture compared to store bought noodles. Aside from this, Laksa Janggus also has two other food stalls: one that sells batter fried bananas (pisang goreng), and another that sells cold Malay drinks, and shaved ice with beans and jelly for desert (Air Batu Campur).

    More details

    Lor Bak @ Kheng Pin Cafe

    1 save

    George Town, Malaysia • Wishlist • 

    Lor Bak is another dish that’s been adapted by various Asian cultures including the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and of course, Malaysia. Typically, it’s a mix of meats, seafood, and/ or vegetables, combined together in a thin beancurd skin, deep fried, and served with a chili sauce and a sweet sauce. Kheng Pin Café is notable for a number of reasons. Over the years, the half-a-century-old kopitiam has had recipes passed from generation to generation, each of which garnering significant public attention. But none of these delicious dishes stand out more than the store’s offering of Lor Bak. Apparently, you can ask any local for the best Lor Bak in Penang, and most definitely they will direct you the “five- spice pork rolls” in this old-fashioned eatery.

      More details

      Projek Nasi Lemak

      1 save

      George Town, Malaysia • Wishlist • 

      Malaysians regard Nasi Lemak as their national dish. It is a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. It’s typically a staple in breakfast, and often paired with savory meats. Nasi Lemak has definitely evolved over the years, but Projek Nasi Lemak made waves into this traditional Malay dish by introducing the rice to blue dye, natural from butterfly pea flower, adding more fragrance to the rice, and making its texture softer. Here, diners can choose from a wide variety of sides from marinated fish, fried chicken, squid or shrimp. They pride themselves with having the widest array of choices to compliment your rice. With a more modernized take on a local classic, Projek Nasi Lemak is definitely a more go-to for those who aren’t necessarily food- adventurists, or who want to taste Malaysia but one step at a time.

        More details

        About Malaysia

        A juncture of different Asian cultures, Malaysia is one of the most diverse countries in the world.

        Other List by Michelle

        All Michelle's lists

        Other lists in these cities

        Download Lemi

        Lemi is better in your pocket. Discover more and create your own lists in iOS and Android!