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The 10 Best Nasi Lemak Spots in Penang

Colorful plate of banana leaf "nasi lemak" or coconut milk spicy rice with fried chicken drumstick, peanuts and anchovies, prawn crackers, cucumber and egg.
Colorful plate of banana leaf "nasi lemak" or coconut milk spicy rice with fried chicken drumstick, peanuts and anchovies, prawn crackers, cucumber and egg. | © kaykhoon / Shutterstock
If there was ever a ‘national dish’ in Malaysia, it would be nasi lemak. This fragrant, rice-based dish is cooked with coconut cream, topped with sambal (spicy shrimp paste) and devoured with gusto by hungry locals. Want to do the latter yourself? Here are the 10 best places in Penang to have your fill of Malaysia’s favourite meal.

The humble nasi lemak has its origins in farming. Long before the boutique cafés of Kuala Lumpur served nasi lemak with lobster and burgers, this humble dish was the no-fuss, no-frills, go-to meal for farmers who toiled endlessly on the soil. Today, nasi lemak is the nation’s pre-eminent reason for getting out of bed. From street stalls to upscale restaurants, the appetite for this dish has become sambal fierce (that is, “spicy shrimp paste” fierce), and the competition is even fiercer.

Ali Nasi Lemak

Food Court, Malaysian, $$$
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Ali Nasi Lemak
Packs of delicious nasi lemak lined up ready to be packed and sold | © Michelle Leong
Everyone in Penang knows Ali Nasi Lemak. Nestled in George Town’s main financial district, this stall is the reason bankers and analysts leave their air-conditioned sanctuaries to brave the sun and heat. Small servings of coconut rice are doused in generous lashings of spicy sambal and pre-wrapped in banana leaf. The basic anchovies-and-egg combo goes for only 1.80 Malaysian ringgit ($0.45). Additional toppings are available.
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Mon:
7:00 am - 4:00 pm
Tue:
7:00 am - 4:00 pm
Wed:
7:00 am - 4:00 pm
Thu:
7:00 am - 4:00 pm
Fri:
7:00 am - 4:00 pm
Sat:
7:00 am - 2:00 pm

Meal service:

Breakfast, Lunch

Atmosphere:

Loud, Casual

Jin Hoe Cafe

Cafe, Malaysian
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Jin Hoe Cafe
The perfect combination of bitter-hot 'sambal belacan' and anchovies with rice | © Michelle Leong
Don’t be fooled by this weary-looking hole in the wall. When the clock inches towards 9am, a queue begins, and if you knew that food typically ran out within the hour, you’d be queuing too. Nasi lemak here runs Nyonya-style, with bitter-hot sambal belacan (a variation of the traditional spicy shrimp paste) and skinny shrimps still in their shells. An average dish costs RM5 ($1.25).
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Mon:
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Tue:
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Wed:
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Thu:
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Sat:
9:00 am - 12:00 pm

Meal service:

Breakfast

Atmosphere:

Casual

Projek Nasi Lemak

Cafe, Malaysian, $$$
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Projek Nasi Lemak
Lobster with blue-tinged rice, a twist to the traditional nasi lemak | © Project Nasi Lemak
Projek Nasi Lemak was founded by an unnamed woman who sold her three-wheeled car in 1978 in order to begin her now-thriving business. Here, the Malaysian favourite is served with blue-tinged rice (possibly made with bunga telang, the Asian pigeonwings flower) and can be upgraded with a handsome side of lobster. It’s not cheap, but then again the best things rarely are.
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Sun:
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Sun:
6:00 pm - 10:30 pm
Mon:
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Mon:
6:00 pm - 10:30 pm
Tue:
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Tue:
6:00 pm - 10:30 pm
Thu:
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Thu:
6:00 pm - 10:30 pm
Fri:
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Fri:
6:00 pm - 10:30 pm
Sat:
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Sat:
6:00 pm - 10:30 pm

Meal service:

All Day

Atmosphere:

Casual

Paya Terubong Nasi Lemak

Coffee Shop, Malaysian
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Nasi Lemak Fried Chicken.
Nasi Lemak Fried Chicken. | © Huey Min / Shutterstock
If there’s one thing you should know about Penangites and their food, it’s that they never queue for it. But when it comes to this particular family-run business in Paya Terubong, it appears that even Penang has to bend its rules. The queue begins as early as 4am and the stall sells out 800 packets before your “normal” breakfast time. Sambal is tangy and spicy, and the shrimps are crispy fresh.
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Mon:
4:00 am - 10:00 am
Tue:
4:00 am - 10:00 am
Wed:
4:00 am - 10:00 am
Thu:
4:00 am - 10:00 am
Fri:
4:00 am - 10:00 am
Sat:
4:00 am - 10:00 am

Meal service:

Breakfast

Atmosphere:

Casual

Alamak

Food Stall, Malaysian, $$$
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Alamak burger
Cheesy, sambal-filled burger | © Alamak
In Malaysian slang, “alamak” isn’t usually a good thing but at Alamak the nasi lemak is so good it’s bad, which does a weird kind of justice to its name. This trendy mamak stall offers a modern burger spin on the farmer’s classic, with traditional sambal submerged under thick gooey cheese so divinely sinful you’d think “alamak!” just by looking at it. Its modest location may make it easy to miss though – just be sure to look for an alleyway sheltered by a makeshift roof and hemmed in on one side by an iron fence.
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Sun - Mon:
6:30 pm - 2:30 am
Mon - Tue:
6:30 pm - 2:30 am
Tue - Wed:
6:30 pm - 2:30 am
Thu - Fri:
6:30 pm - 2:30 am
Fri - Sat:
6:30 pm - 2:30 am
Sat - Sun:
6:30 pm - 2:30 am

Meal service:

Dinner, Late Night

Atmosphere:

Casual

Adam's Famous

Food Stall, Malaysian
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Pulau Tikus
The traditional nasi lemak with anchovies and a slice of egg | © Michelle Leong
This shy stall on the busy intersection of Jalan Pasar serves two snacks that may change your life: a soft, warm, potato-based curry enveloped in a crispy, deep-fried pastry parcel (otherwise known as “curry puff”) and palm-sized, pre-portioned cocoons of nasi lemak. The latter opens up into a small pyramid of coconut-based rice with spicy sambal and can be yours for an easy RM2 ($0.50).
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Meal service:

Breakfast, Lunch

Atmosphere:

Casual

Nasi Lemak Liverpool

Food Stall, Malaysian, $$$
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Malaysian local food Nasi lemak with curry chicken.
Malaysian local food Nasi lemak with curry chicken. | © Air Elegant / Shutterstock
Heaping portions of rice, sweet-ish sambal and sworn allegiance to the Liverpool football team – this could be your new home if you’re a fan of lemak and Liverpool, and would like to have them both at the same time. Beef rendang (cubes of beef stewed with coconut milk and assorted spices) and shrimp sambal (shrimps in their shells fried with sambal) are also available to help put the ‘oomph’ in your meal and your rallying cry for Mohamed Salah.
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Sun - Mon:
6:30 pm - 1:30 am
Mon - Tue:
6:30 pm - 1:30 am
Wed - Thu:
6:30 pm - 1:30 am
Thu - Fri:
6:30 pm - 1:30 am
Fri - Sat:
6:30 pm - 1:30 am
Sat - Sun:
6:30 pm - 1:30 am

Meal service:

Dinner, Late Night

Atmosphere:

Casual

Intan Nasi Lemak

Food Stall, Malaysian
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Delicious and aromatic Nasi Lemak with fried chicken, a popular Malaysian delicacy.
Delicious and aromatic Nasi Lemak with fried chicken, a popular Malaysian delicacy. | © ThamKC / Shutterstock
The Free Schoolers (students from the nearby Penang Free School) are lucky, because this is what they get to eat on their doorstep. With a variety of curries and sambal dishes, you get to style up your nasi lemak with as much gastronomic pomp as your plate can take. Fried chicken, beef rendang and stir-fried greens are yours for the taking, typically for under RM15 ($3.75).
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Sun - Mon:
5:00 pm - 1:00 am
Mon - Tue:
5:00 pm - 1:00 am
Tue - Wed:
5:00 pm - 1:00 am
Wed - Thu:
5:00 pm - 1:00 am
Thu - Fri:
5:00 pm - 1:00 am
Fri - Sat:
5:00 pm - 1:00 am

Meal service:

Dinner, Late Night

Atmosphere:

Casual

CJ Nasi Lemak

Food Stall, Malaysian
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Nasi Lemak is a commonly found food in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. It is also an unofficial national food in Malaysia.
Nasi Lemak is a common dish found in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. It is also an unofficial national food in Malaysia. | © Hafizussalam bin Sulaiman / Shutterstock
Hidden by the river in Sungai Dua, this place is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. But look for it you will, because the nasi lemak is a mouth-watering delight of fragrant rice topped with blackened fish, hard-boiled egg and fried chicken. The portions are your typical breakfast size (about the size of your palm), but every bite is saturated with flavour. Prices run from RM3 ($0.75).
More Info
Sun:
4:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Mon:
4:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Wed:
4:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Thu:
4:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Fri:
4:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Sat:
4:30 pm - 10:00 pm

Meal service:

Dinner, Late Night

Atmosphere:

Casual

Spicy Lemak

Food Stall, Malaysian
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Colorful plate of banana leaf "nasi lemak" or coconut milk spicy rice with fried chicken drumstick, peanuts and anchovies, prawn crackers, cucumber and egg.
Colorful plate of banana leaf "nasi lemak" or coconut milk spicy rice with fried chicken drumstick, peanuts and anchovies, prawn crackers, cucumber and egg. | © kaykhoon / Shutterstock
Located in the touristy nucleus of George Town, Spicy Lemak perfumes the air with delicious, strong wafts of its tri-coloured nasi lemak. This basic combo is a rainbow assortment of flavoured rice, cucumber slices, not-too-spicy sambal (in spite of the restaurant’s name), fried anchovies and peanuts. For a little extra, you could also go for the sambal-stuffed fish on the side.
More Info
Sun:
11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Mon:
11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Tue:
11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Wed:
11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Thu:
11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Fri:
11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Sat:
11:00 am - 10:00 pm

Meal service:

All Day

Atmosphere:

Casual