There are only three places in the world you should visit for food: Milan, Mazatlán, and Pulau Pinang. One has bruschettas, another has fajitas, and the latter has nasi lemak. So here’s one for the foodies.
Cafe, Restaurant, Malaysian, Coffee, Tea , Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-free, Street Food, Fast Food, $$$
If you’re traveling in from other parts of Malaysia, you may be in for a surprise. Unlike the creamy, curry-based dish of Kuala Lumpur, or the complex, prawn-based broth of Sarawak, Penang’s Assam Laksa is a tangy, sweet-spicy, tamarind fish soup flush with fragrant bunga kantan, sour plum, onions, and rice noodles. Shrimp paste is optional.
Ever since Siam Road’s char okay teow stall closed for 10 days (due to a happy flood of customers), Penang has been hungry for an alternative, but equally appetite-rewarding, char koay teow outlet. Travelers will be pleasantly surprised by this dish of fried flat noodles, cockles, shrimp, beansprouts, and spring onions.
Locals enjoy Sin Wah’s stall in Pulau Tikus Market, manned by a father-son pair.
Deen Maju usually commands a queue round the block, but if you must have your nasi, this is the best place to have it. An astonishing variety of meat and vegetable curries are available here — so do it like the locals and slather it on your rice.
More snack than meal, this gravy-on-fruits is what happens when you live in an ethnic and religious potpourri. Guava (pink and green), mango, cucumbers, pineapple, fresh jicama, and cuttlefish are buried under a thick, dark, sometimes spicy, peanut-and-belacan sauce.
The best one is at Gurney Drive. They sometimes set up a stall at the Hin Pop-Up Market, too.
Walking around in 25°C humid weather? Ais Kacang is what you’ll need. Finely shaved ice, grass jelly, red beans, and rose syrup come together in this refreshing concoction (translated literally as “Peanut Ice”) and will slip down your throat like cold fish.
Jalil Special Ais Kacang near the Esplanade (next to the City Hall) is a top locals’ choice.
I don’t know what it is about Hokkien Mee in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, but evidently they’ve got it wrong. Also known as “Prawn Noodles,” Penang’s version is a light, spicy bone broth with beansprouts, prawns, shallots, and noodles (both yellow and vermicelli). Chili paste is optional.
Suitable for breakfast and lunch, at C. Y. Choy Road.
This dish makes use of Penang’s access to fresh seafood. Crisp and slightly gummy, this omelette delivers your oysters with coriander leaves, tapioca, and spring onions. Sweet chili sauce is available for those who ask for it.
The Oh Chien at Northam Beach Cafe comes highly recommended.
Springy egg noodles in a dark soy base with sweet barbecued pork? Yes, please! This dish comes with Chinese cabbage and a clear-soup bowl with dumplings. There’s an interesting, sweet-metallic aftertaste — not unpleasant.
Your best bet for this dish is at Kedai Kopi Swee Kong in Burma Road.
Perfect for breakfast, this Nyonya pancake sandwich features peanuts, sugar, and sometimes sweet corn or banana slices — depending on your order. Also known as “Bang Chang Kueh,” this is English crumpet without the butter. Vendors usually cook this on small, flat pans as you order, so your treat will be a warm, toasty one.
I recommend this pop-up stall at the Pulau Tikus Market.