It takes a lot for Penangites to swap their ais kacang (sweet shaved ice dessert) and pisang goreng (banana fritters) for other desserts – but swap they have, because these 10 places have made Penang a sweeter place all around.
Between 2012-16 there was a flourish of boutique cafés converted from pre-colonial buildings everywhere from Butterworth to Batu Ferringhi – but not all survived. The ones that did banked on tourist crowds (which is why so many are now concentrated in George Town), novelty (who doesn’t love a selfie with a funky-looking slice of cake?), or desserts so good it drew even the local crowds away from their beloved ais kacang and pisang goreng. So here are 10 places still thriving today.
Cafe, Dessert, $$$
The desserts at Dolce aren’t just dolce (sweet), they’re also incredibly pretty. Exquisite crème brûlées, lemon pralines and passionfruit pavlovas are presented with such Instagrammable flair that it’s almost a shame to eat them. This dessert place is also known for its macarons, which are a light, fluffy, not-too-sweet affair running the full gamut of flavours from orange butternut to pistachio and coffee.
The combination of waffle, ice-cream and whipped cream
The reason you’re here is simple: You want your Kopitiam (coffee shop) white coffee hot, and your salted egg cookies and your tau fu fah (soft beancurd in gula melaka, Malaccan palm sugar) iced, sweet and in a cone. Between salted egg Oreo ice cream and tau fu fah flavours topped with swirls of sticky gula melaka, this is the best place to indulge in your post-meal cravings without hitting the street stalls.
One of the few remaining cafés on the mainland is still here for a reason, and not just for its excellent coffee. Pentagon 5 brings you solid mugs of soft-serve matcha ice-cream, best spooned up with a crispy, flaky biscuit roll. Those who prefer to slurp up their dessert may also want to give the pandan cha yen a try – it’s an iced Thai-style milk tea flavoured with the local aromatic pandan leaf.
The variety of waffles with toppings such as ice-cream and banana
If you want waffles, coffee, cocktails and a bit of joy, this is the place to have it all. Warm, crispy waffles are the norm here – from the Regular Joe waffle topped with rich, melting butter to the Monkey Business banana split drizzled with chocolate sauce. Culture Trip recommends the Go Go Coco, with coconut ice cream, homemade kaya (coconut jam) syrup and toasted palm seeds – because joy should be the norm, really.
Bring your friends, because Fourspoons shouldn’t be a one-person secret. This delicious hideout in Icon City, the new strip mall in Bukit Mertajam, delivers apple crumble pancakes, sweet potato waffles and black sesame soft-serve ice cream to your table or your door (even if it’s in Kuala Lumpur). Paralysed by choice? Go for the classic chocolate banana waffle – you may even forgo the optional four spoons and have one all to yourself.
Minimalists will love The Craftisan’s decor, coffee enthusiasts will love its cold brew, and sweet-toothers will love its dessert. The delicately crafted delícias de serradura (sawdust pudding) is served with soft gelato, while the decadent jackfruit panna cotta is topped with coconut flakes and gula melaka. For novelty, you can also try the unique Stacko Valentino: a crispy donut layered with whipped cream, fresh fruit and chocolate glaze.
Ever thought you could combine fresh honeydew, green tea and crepes? Well, it’s time to expand your gastronomic horizons at Crepe Cottage, where crepe-based sweets and savouries reign supreme. Between strawberry rolls, coconut parcels and mango crepe cups, you’ll be spoiled for choice at this simple, no-frills, cottage-style establishment.
While usually known for its savoury meals, this café also offers impressive desserts. From gluten-free orange polenta to honey cake marlenka, fruit scones served with jam and butter to brownies bursting with melting lava, this café serves up excellent treats for a fraction of the price of other establishments. Believe it or not, you can have one of these cakes for an affordable RM 3 (US $0.75) – it’s the best deal in Penang yet.
Scoff all you may, but once you’ve tried the Taiwanese desserts here, you’ll quickly dispense with your anti-franchise prejudice. The menu here is an exciting mix of grass jelly toppings, sweet potato balls and pinto beans (you read that right!). You can mix and match your dessert bowl or have your pearls in a stocky drink full of delectable tang yuan (tiny rice balls). Dessert just got serious.
No list would be complete without China House. Known for its generous varieties as well as its hipster vibes – think courtyards with ponds, life-sized murals and rock bands in the evenings – this shophouse-turned-café is Penang’s pride and joy. Nobody goes to Penang without visiting China House, and nobody leaves China House without a slice of its excellent lumberjack: a delightful apple-and-date cake topped with glazed coconut flakes.