A Guide to Food in Penang, Malaysia: Top Traditional Dishes!

Street food in Penang

Famous for being the gastronomy capital of Malaysia, Penang is a must-visit destination for foodies. This multicultural island is home to a medley of cultures and the food takes influence from a variety of different cuisines. The food in Penang is a fusion of Chinese, Indian, and Malay and the island hosts hundreds of incredible street food hawkers and restaurants.

With so many places to eat in Penang, it can be difficult to choose the best dishes and restaurants without local knowledge. Don’t worry though! This guide, written by a foodie who has already eaten her way around the island, will help you discover the best food Penang has to offer.

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Must-Try Food in Penang: Top Dishes!

1. Char Kway Teow

Char kuay teow
Char Kway Teow is one of the must-try dishes in Penang!

Have you even been to Penang if you haven’t tried this iconic street food?! Char Kway Teow (fried flat noodles) is a Chinese dish which consists of stir-fried rice noodles, chives, eggs, blood cockles, Chinese lap cheong (sausage), prawns and bean sprouts. It’s usually glazed with dark soy sauce. 

The dish can be found throughout Malaysia but no version is as famous as the one served in Penang. In fact, many tourists visit Penang just to try Char Kway Teow! As this is the signature dish of the island, there are loads of eateries serving it across the capital George Town. 

Deciding which Char Kway Teow is the best is a challenge as they are all cooked in their own special way. However, charcoal-fried Char Kway Teow has a uniquely smoky edge which most agree, can’t be beaten!

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Where to Eat Char Kway Teow in Penang:

  • Eatery: Siam Road Charcoal Char Koay Teow
  • Location: 82, Jalan Siam, George Town, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

2. Assam Laksa

Laksa (spicy noodle soup) is a very popular example of Peranakan cuisine. Peranakans are descendants of Chinese immigrants who migrated to Malaysia and Singapore in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Over time, the Chinese immigrants infused their own culture with Malaysian culture, creating a distinctive fusion cuisine known as Peranakan.

Assam Laksa is the variation of spicy noodle soup that Penang is known for. Assam translates to sour in Malay because the dish consists of a sour broth, thanks to the added ingredients of tamarind and flaked mackerel.

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Where to Eat Assam Laksa in Penang:

  • Eatery: Penang Road Famous Laksa
  • Location: 5, Lebuh Keng Kwee, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

3. Roti Canai

Roti canai
Roti Canai originates from the south of India.

Roti Canai, or ‘flattened bread’ in English, is a tasty Malaysian breakfast. It is thought to have originated in the south of India before being later modified by the Indian Muslims living in Malaysia. Made with flour, water, eggs and clarified butter (ghee), the mixture is pan-fried to make a flatbread. This fresh bread is easily torn apart and tastes deliciously buttery! 

This dish is traditionally served with dal; a flavoursome lentil curry, making it a good choice for vegetarians. Meat eaters never fear – it can also be served alongside other curries such as chicken and beef! Pair with a cup of teh tarik, a drink consumed by locals in the morning.

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Where to Eat Roti Canai in Penang:

  • Eatery: Roti Canai Gemas Road
  • Location: 51 29, Jalan Gemas, Taman Kampar, 10460 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

4. Hokkien Mee

Hokkien Mee (prawn noodles) is a popular spicy noodle soup found in Penang. It’s mainly sold by street vendors throughout the day. This delicious dish consists of pork slices, prawns, boiled egg, fried shallots and water spinach (kang kong). Hokkien Mee is so good, that it usually sells out by 11 am, so make sure you get there in the morning to avoid disappointment!

This dish is believed to come from the Hokkien immigrants who came from China to Malaysia during the 1400s. Although this was the beginning of the migration, the majority of Hokkiens settled in Malaysia between 1800 and 1930. What makes this soup unique is the broth, which is made by boiling fried prawn heads and shells, sambal chilli, pork and chicken bones!

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Where to Eat Hokkien Mee in Penang:

  • Eatery: Mu Tong Hokkien Mee at The Shark Food Court
  • Location: The Shark, 192, Jalan Burma, Kampung Syed, 10350 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $$

5. Teh Tarik (Pulled Tea)

teh tarik being made
Teh Tarik being made on the street.

You are probably wondering why this is on this list when it isn’t a dish. But, in my opinion, you can’t talk about the food in Penang without considering its most popular sidekick, Teh Tarik.

Translating to ‘pulled tea’, this traditional drink can be traced back to shortly after World War Two. After the war, Indian Muslim immigrants headed to Malaysia and set up Teh Tarik drink stalls to serve the workers of the rubber plantations. 

Teh Tarik is made from a simple mixture, consisting of strong black tea, condensed milk and sugar, which is ‘pulled’ or poured, from one cup to another to create its deep and rich flavour. Look out for its signature froth which sets it apart from other teas.

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Where to Drink Teh Tarik in Penang:

  • Eatery: Transfer Road Roti Canai
  • Location: 110-114, Jalan Transfer, George Town, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia, 10050, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

6. Nasi Lemak

nasi lemak
Nasi Lemak is the national dish of Malaysia.

Nasi Lemak is considered to be the national dish of Malaysia and can be found on pretty much every street corner across the country.

The recipe originates in Malaysia and although each chef will add their own flair to the dish, it is essentially a rice course. Made from rice cooked in coconut milk, the dish is routinely served with peanuts, boiled eggs, cucumber and anchovies. The final flourish is a dollop of spicy chilli sauce called sambal.

Originally invented as a breakfast dish, it is now eaten at any time of day. As nasi lemak continued to gain popularity over the years, different variations of the dish evolved. It is now also possible to sample it with a side of chicken, fried fish, fried eggs or curry wrapped in banana leaves!

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Where to Eat Nasi Lemak in Penang:

  • Eatery: Ali Nasi Lemak Daun Pisang
  • Location: Beach St, Georgetown, 10300 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

7. Oyster Omelette

Oyster Omelette, also known as Oh Chien by the locals, is a must-try street food in Penang. This tasty dish is cooked to perfection with freshly made sticky fried egg batter, starch and sauce. It is then topped with juicy oysters. This dish was brought over to Malaysia during the Banlamese diaspora. As well as being eaten in Southeast Asia, it is also a popular dish in Taiwan.

This tasty egg dish is served at many restaurants and hawker stalls. Some hawker vendors, although not many, serve a starch-free version named Orh Neng, and there is also a low-starch variety available called Chaoshan. Eat it the authentic way and add a dash of sour chilli sauce to complete the meal. Be warned, this sour chilli sauce can be a little spicy! 

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Where to Eat Oyster Omelette in Penang:

  • Eatery: Restoran Bee Hooi
  • Location: 415, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $$

8. Pulut Hitam (Black Glutinous Rice)

black glutinous rice with ice cream
Black glutinous rice with ice cream.

This sweet and delicious Asian dessert is most commonly eaten in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Pulut Hitam or ‘black glutinous rice’ is at its most delicious when the rice has been turned into a bubur (porridge). This is done by boiling it over low heat, and then finishing it to perfection with sugar and coconut milk or ice cream! 

Black glutinous rice is a type of long-grain rice. It is believed to be healthy as it is rich in antioxidants and has a high fibre content. As a result, it’s used in many desserts across Southeast Asia. This black glutinous rice pudding has a consistency of porridge and is very creamy and rich in flavour. You will be begging for more!

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Where to Eat Pulut Hitam in Penang:

  • Eatery: Dessert Old Time Delight Shop
  • Location: 78, Lebuh Kimberley, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

9. Curry Mee

This classic Penang dish was made popular by Cantonese food hawkers in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. It is a tasty curry noodle soup comprising noodles, a thick curry broth, creamy coconut milk and chilli, to make the flavour pop! It has taken influence from Thai, Malay and Chinese cuisine and makes an ideal breakfast.

Curry Mee is a dish found throughout Malaysia, however, the Penang Curry Mee offers something slightly different to suit local tastes. Penang Curry Mee contains one crucial ingredient to separate it from the rest – coagulated pig blood! The blood is served in small cubes as a dish garnish. Those brave enough to try it have said that it’s similar in texture and taste to tofu.

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Where to Eat Curry Mee in Penang:

  • Eatery: Hot Bowl White Curry Mee
  • Location: 58, Jalan Rangoon, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

10. Tau Sar Piah

Tau Sar Piah
Tau Sar Piah is one of the most popular souvenirs to leave Penang with!

Tau Sar Piah is a popular pastry snack and a Penang speciality, originating in the Bukit Tambun suburb. It is a baked pastry which houses various types of mung bean filling. This tastes sweet and has a soft texture which superbly contrasts with the crumbly pastry. The full package delivers the perfect crunch when bitten into!

Many Malaysians and international tourists come to Penang and leave with boxes of Tau Sar Piah. It is one of the most popular souvenirs that people take home to their friends and family. There are many types of Tau Sar Piah dotted around the markets, but the best ones are made in the long-established pastry shops. The one recommended below has been there for over 70 years! If that isn’t an endorsement of its quality, I don’t know what is!

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Where to Eat Tau Sar Piah in Penang:

  • Eatery: Him Heang
  • Location: 162A, Jalan Burma, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
    Price range: $$

11. Roti Bakar

Roti Bakar translates to ‘grilled bread’ which nicely sums up what to expect from this dish! It originates in Indonesia and is traditionally eaten in the morning as a breakfast meal. However, it has also been adopted into Malaysian cuisine where it is more commonly eaten as a snack. Essentially a thick slice of white toasted bread browned on a grill by a street vendor, it’s smothered with melted butter, coconut jam, and served with a cup of half-boiled eggs on the side.

I know what you are thinking…it sounds like a good old plate of eggs on toast! Trust me though, there is something different about this one. With the Malaysian touches added in, it’s next-level!

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Where to Eat Roti Bakar in Penang:

  • Eatery: Hutton Lane Roti Bakar
  • Location: 300, Jalan Phee Choon, George Town, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

12. Masala Dosa

Masala dosa 2
Check this out for an epic lunch!

Originating in Southern India, Masala Dosa is a crisp, aromatic, and flavourful crêpe. Filled with Masala (a combination of spiced potatoes and onions which translates to ‘mixed’), it is one of the tastiest Indian foods in Penang! 

The crêpe is made from fermented rice and lentil batter and is usually served with a side of sambhar (South Indian lentils), coconut chutney, pudina (mint) chutney and tomato chutney for dipping!

To eat this authentic Indian dish like a local, eat with your right hand. The locals believe that this makes the food taste better and aids digestion. Whatever you do, don’t get confused and use your left. In Indian culture, the left hand is reserved for toilet use and is considered unclean! 

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Where to Eat Masala Dosa in Penang:

  • Eatery: Chettiar’s Tiffin Café
  • Location: 35, Lebuh Penang, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $$

13. Banana Leaf Rice

banana leaf rice
Serving food on banana leaves is traditional in south Indian cuisine.

A popular Southern Indian dish found in Penang, banana leaf rice is packed with both spicy and sour flavours! It is usually served as a vegetarian dish, and white rice is presented on a banana leaf alongside a variety of vegetables, salad and other sides such as curry sauces. 

Having your food served on a banana leaf is a traditional practice in south Indian cuisine, and it is believed that doing so imparts some of the leaf flavouring into the food. It is viewed as healthy, and is believed to cure disease and improve nourishment! Much like masala dosa, you should eat banana leaf rice using your right hand.

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Where to Eat Banana Leaf Rice in Penang:

  • Eatery: Passions of Kerala Restaurant
  • Location: New World Park, 40, Jalan Burma, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $$

14. Mee Goreng

You can’t visit Penang without trying a plate of Mee Goreng! The ingredients in this famous noodle dish are influenced by the richly diverse cultures which thrive in Penang. Common components which give it its distinctive taste include fresh yellow egg noodles, prawn fritters, boiled potatoes, squid, eggs, tofu and bean sprouts. The result is a rich and flavourful dish that is the perfect mixture of spicy, sweet and sour!

Mee Goreng originated in Indonesia and the Malaysian version differs slightly, with a hint of curry powder routinely added to the mix. Many Mee Goreng connoisseurs believe that Penang’s version of the dish is unmatched by any other you’ll try across the country! 

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Where to Eat Mee Goreng in Penang:

  • Eatery: Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng
  • Location: 102-H-19, New World Park, Jalan Burma, George Town, 10050 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
  • Price range: $

Food Tours in Penang

Not got long in Penang and worried you won’t have time to sample all the best restaurants and hawker centres? Don’t worry! 

Food tours are the perfect way to explore the very best of the food scene in Penang.  Tour around the city with a local and visit hawkers from a range of different ethnic backgrounds. Some tours even include a jaunt through Georgetown’s Heritage Zone, where you can learn about the history and culture of the local people and how this shapes the gastronomy scene.

Char kuay teow stall
Local recommendations make it easier to find the best eats!

Good to know! The local guides are always happy to accommodate dietary requirements. Just let them know if you have any allergies or if you are vegetarian or vegan. Luckily, there are loads of delicious options to choose from and they will do their best to find an alternative dish for you.

There are loads of different food tours available in Penang so you are sure to find one that fits your schedule. Some start at breakfast and include dishes like Roti Canai, Nasi Lemak and Laksa. And the best thing? They even come complete with a cup of Teh Tarik! 

There are evening options too, consisting of the famous Char Kway Teow, Indian rotis and finishing with a perfectly made cocktail consisting of local ingredients and spices. No matter whether you have a craving to learn about culture and heritage, love checking out local markets, or want to explore Penang’s nighttime economy, there is a food tour for you!

Food tours in Penang tend to cost around $60USD. The tour that I tried and recommend is Eat Drink Georgetown from a company called Simply Enak. ‘Enak’ translates to ‘delicious’, so you know you’re in good hands! 

Eat Drink Georgetown Food Tour 15
A food tour provides a great introduction to the local gastronomy scene!

Disclosure – I was given a place on this tour for free while researching this article but was told that I should be brutally honest when writing about it.

Another great way to experience the food in Penang is by signing up for a cooking class. ‘Cooking With Chef Samuel’ is a brilliant and well-rated cooking tour in Penang, where you can design your own four-course menu from a variety of traditional Malaysian dishes! The chef takes you to the local markets where you can gather your ingredients in the morning. In the afternoon, you’ll head back to the kitchen to start cooking! Chef Samuel’s cooking classes start at 330 RM (around $70USD) per person.

The food in Penang offers much more than just a gastronomy experience. This island is full of history and culture which is heavily reflected in its varied cuisine. The diversity and quality of the food available, along with the laidback vibe of capital George Town, makes Penang one of the best destinations for any food enthusiast!

The people of Penang are proud to be a part of Malaysia’s burgeoning food scene and this is evidenced by the number of street food tours and cooking classes available. These are highly recommended if you’re looking for real local advice about the best places to eat and drink on the island. 

Which of these awesome Penang dishes takes your fancy the most?!

Sophie Varney bio pic
Sophie Varney | Ty & Soph

Sophie has dreamt of travelling the world ever since she can remember and so finally decided to book that flight, pack her bags, travel to Southeast Asia with her partner. She’s a huge foodie and loves the beach but also loves going on adventures and hikes! Together, Sophie and her partner create travel content with lots of helpful tips and inspiration which you can follow on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok!

Find her on: YouTube | Instagram | TikTok

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