There’s a reason Krispy Kreme and Big Apple won’t make it in Penang. Compared to the frontier-pushing creativity in the local dessert scene – think jackfruit parfait, durian cheesecake and chocolate ice-cream pizza – your run-of-the-mill donut just won’t do.
Thanks to Penang’s historical reputation as the ‘Food Paradise of Asia’ (and its determination to stay that way), locals are fiercely proud of their cuisine, especially when it comes to desserts. Argue with a Penangite about where the best sweet treats are at your own peril – but these 10 dessert spots are sure to give you an excellent case.
It’s not every day that you see durian cheesecake next to a jackfruit crumble pie, next to a three-tiered dark forest gateau. The cakes at Passion Heart hit all the sweet, soft, moist, crumbly places, pairing local flavours with a wonderful edge of first-class connoisseurship. If you go nowhere else for a slice, go to this café.
Moody Cow is like going to a bar, except you’re having cake and coffee. The vintage furniture and elaborate Chinese screen are afforded extra class by dim lighting, wingback armchairs and a forest of potted plants that almost completely obscures the entrance. The prices are higher than at other cafés, but the cake slices are huge, preservative-free and meant to be shared with friends.
Next to China House, Gayo Coffee is your shy next-door neighbour who doesn’t sing too loud or drink too much but will nevertheless win you over with quiet, unimposing charm. An extensive, narrow compound that runs the length of several heritage shophouses, this old-meets-new café brings you memorably delicious almond cakes and salted egg croissants. Live bands are also a feature in the evenings.
Who said chocolates were for heartbreak? With rich dark chocolate fondues and chocolate pizzas topped with upside-down ice-cream, Chocolate Passion will be the reason you believe in love again. The thick, mellow notes of molten, frozen, baked or “bombed” chocolate will send your head spinning and your heart racing – ‘passion’ being the key word here.
When it comes to churros in George Town, nowhere does this Spanish treat quite like The Alley. This small and cosy café brings you cheesecake, cronuts and churros so crispy-soft you’d wish that heaven was made of it. Perhaps that’s why everyone always seems so suspiciously joyous here.
After you’ve had your main fill at Bali Hai, Khun De or Mr Pot Cafe – all local favourites along Gurney Drive – this is the place everyone convenes for sweet afters. Crepes here run sugary and savoury, fruity and creamy, cold and warm. The apple crumble crepe, which comes with warmly toasted cinnamon-apple slices, is highly recommended.
This sweet little bakery-café brings melt-worthy macarons and strawberry “chocolicious” crepes to your plate and maybe even to your house (customised orders should be made seven days in advance). Their made-to-order cupcakes are a creative delight, and themes typically run the gamut of elegant, baby-cute and pop-culture funky. You’ll want to be ordering these for every event after a taste.
Mugshot Cafe lives up to its hype. The team make their own croissants and cream puffs, which are buttery, creamy-soft reasons to be happy, and when you try the jackfruit parfait, you may want a few joyful moments to yourself. For a bit of fun, you can also have your mugshot taken at the famed mugshot wall like a true millennial.
Tucked inside what used to be the living room of an artistic couple is an assortment of colourful bakes and cakes. Think salted gula melaka cheesecake and coconut clitoria cheesecake (made with the Asian pigeonwings flower), plus a side of coconut palm wine mojo to add some zing to your afternoon.
The only place you should be calling the kettle black is at Black Kettle, and that’s because Black Kettle has turned their ‘average’ pre-colonial shophouse into a trendy café with vertical foliage and gluten-free treats such as their moist, refreshing orange flourless cake. For the non-gluten-sensitive, check out their soft flaky pastries and thick, gooey tarts. Bliss will abound.