Georgetown – the capital of Penang – is an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and its vibrant street food has been recognised as one of the world’s very best. Abundance of pushcarts and hawker stores frequented by locals are living testimonies of Penang’s rich street food culture. These humble coffee shops have been serving multi-cultural Malaysian delicacies for generations and word of its gastronomic wonders soon spread worldwide.
Do not let the shabbiness of eateries put you off, as the locals’ favourite haunts are often unassuming holes in the wall. Your palates are in for a treat once you successfully venture into the unknown territories and overcome the potential language barriers (most cooks speak either Bahasar Melayu or Hokkien, a Chinese dialect).
Travellers can easily travel to Penang from Singapore within an 85-minute flight. How awesome is that?!
Warning: Be prepared to gain a few pounds from just a weekend of feasting!
When we boarded the plane to Penang, we had only one mission in mind to accomplish: to eat as much as we can. With the help of our Penang native friends, we conquered a total of 11 food destinations within 36 hours. Feasting in Penang brought us so much joy because the amount that we spent could not compare to what we pay to feast in Singapore.
The only downside was the excess baggage that we had to return to Singapore with i.e. our weight gain. Half of our time was spent hunting down local vendors (unfortunately several were closed when we arrived) while the other half was spent catching up on their growing café scene.
Day 1 | Saturday
1. Kedai Makanan Song River – order the Guinness stout chicken
Kedai Makanan Song River is an old Chinese coffee shop that has been around for nearly half a century and is very popular amongst the locals. Its seediness would easily put off tourists but the number of foreigners visiting Song River has increased steadily over the past few years. Like most coffee shops, a wide variety of food is available and it is common practice to order several dishes for sharing. The Guinness Stout Chicken (RM$10), Tofu with Egg Plants (RM$10) and Eggs with Bitter Gourd (RM$8) were hands down our favourite dishes.
Address: No. 65, Persiaran Gurney, Georgetown, George Town, Pulau Pinang, 10250
Approximate $ per person: US$3.60 / S$5
Distance from Penang International Airport: 19.8km, 28 mins drive (without traffic)
2. Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng – it doesn’t even need a signboard
Ask any local in Penang where the best Mee Goreng is and they will direct you to this tiny stall in Seng Lee Coffee Shop. When translated, Mee Goreng literally means “fried noodles” and is a commonly eaten dish in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. As one of the Mee Goreng pioneers in Penang, Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng has a large following despite not having any visible signboard. The only inkling is on the mini vendor’s printed menu.
Sweet, spicy and savoury, the yellow noodles are stained bloody red with its special sweet and spicy tomato sauce, served with potatoes and chewy cuttlefish. The secret sauce has remained a well-kept secret till date, as it is after all Bangkok Lane’s winning recipe. The cost of this dish starts from RM$3.
Address: Seng Lee Café, 270, Jalan Burma, Georgetown, 10050, Pulau Pinang, Pulau Pinang Malaysia
Approximate $ per person: US$1.10 / S$1.50
Distance from Kedai Makanon Song River: 1.9km, 6 minutes drive (without traffic)
3. Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul – didn’t live up to its hype
Endless images of celebrities posing with their bowl of teochew chendul and its slogan ‘since 1936′ got us really excited. Getting a table was tough, especially when the crowd consisted of not just tourists but locals as well.
If you hate to wait, you can opt to eat whilst standing in the alleyway. Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul is owned by three generations of the Tan family. The Tans’ dedication have been rewarded with global fame but they remain humble, keeping their prices low at RM$2.10 per bowl of chendul.
To my dismay, the dessert tasted ordinary. No offence but you can find similar chendol in Singapore’s hawker centres and food courts. But for those who never had chendul in their lives before, you might want to try this bowl of icy goodness – a simple looking shaved ice dessert with kidney beans, palm sugar, and coconut milk etc.
Address: 27 & 29 Lebuh Keng Kwee, 10100 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Approximate $ per person: US$0.70 / S$1
Distance from Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng: 3.9km, 11 mins drive (without traffic)
4. Jooi Hooi Cafe – famous for its authentic Penang assam laksa
Jooi Hooi Cafe is located right beside Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul. Honestly, we wouldn’t even dream of walking in if it weren’t for our Malaysian friends. The ‘cafe’ was stuffy and gloomy with very unfriendly staff that forced everyone on each table to get a drink. Assam laksa (RM$3.50 per bowl) is what they are known for and this bowl of sour fish-based noodles actually reminded us of the bun mams we had in Ho Chi Minh.
Poached mackerel, tamarind, pineapple, onion, prawn paste, mint leaves and chilli are the key ingredients behind assam laksa. This tangy dish has been ranked number 7 in the world’s 50 most delicious foods by CNN International. It is said that assam laksa is unique to Penang, as the laksa sold in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is curry-based with yellow noodles. True enough, this dish is worth a try!
Address: 475 Jalan Penang, Georgetown, 10000 Georgetown, Pulau Pinang
Approximate $ per person: US$1.40 / S$2
Distance from Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul: Negligible. You can walk.
Sunway Georgetown Hotel – right beside New Lane Hawker Street
We checked into Sunway Hotel Georgetown in the late afternoon and rested for a short while. The hotel wasn’t fantastic but it was clean, spacious, had free wifi, free parking & was at a convenient location (New Lane Hawker Street is right outside). We paid about S$70 / night after taxes which was a pretty good deal.
Address: 33 New Lane (Off Macalister Road), 10400 George Town, Malaysia
Distance from Jooi Hooi Cafe: 750 meters, 2 mins drive (without traffic)
Approximate $ per person: US$25.60 / S$35
5. New Lane Hawker Street – dare yourself to try nutmeg juice
As mentioned earlier on, New Lane Hawker Street is located right outside where we stayed (Sunway Hotel). The place was dead in the afternoon but came to life at 6pm. It was heartwarming to see locals making the bulk of the crowd. We took a stroll down New Lane Hawker Street and it was a fascinating sight to see local vendors lined up on both ends of the streets. The variety of Penang delicacies sold here is truly impressive and we were tempted to try everything.
We had many dishes but it was the Duck Egg Char Kway Teow (RM$7) that stood out and stole our hearts forever. The fragrant savoury plate of noodles was a far cry from Singapore’s sweet version and undoubtedly the best Char Kway Teow we had. We could never forget the nutmeg juice too, but for an entirely different reason – it was beyond awful! Penang is one of the only few places on earth that sells nutmeg juice and you can get your hands on a cup here. The beverage is a burst of multiple flavours; sweet, spicy and bitter. The complementary sour plum – that was dunked into the nutmeg juice – left a lingering sour aftertaste, making it even more difficult to register the overall taste. We were bewildered by how the locals drank it with ease. It will take a seasoned drinker to appreciate it, just like how it takes an acquired taste to enjoy durians and smelly tofu.
Address: Lorong Baru, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Approximate $ per person: US$3.60 / S$5
Distance from Sunway Hotel Georgetown: Negligible. It’s located right outside the hotel so you can just walk.
6. China House – probably the best cafe in Georgetown, Penang
China House is a compound of heritage buildings that are home to 14 unique spaces; art gallery supporting the local artists, restaurant serving Asian-Western cuisine, cozy wine bar, outdoor courtyard where you can take a dip in the pool, a stage where bands perform and more. China House has successfully challenged the notion of a typical café and surprised me endlessly with each step I took – who would have known that so many concepts could co-exist together in one place? The crowd is diverse and everyone seems to be there for a different purpose. Besides the entertainment, Beach Street Bakery’s glorious array of 30+ cakes is also a showstopper. Must-order: The tiramisu cake (RM$15) is worth every calorie and ringgit.
Address: 153 Lebuh Pantai Georgetown 10300 Penang Malaysia
Approximate $ per person: US$3.60 / S$5 (for just cake)
Distance from New Lane Hawker Street: 1.7km, 6 mins drive (without traffic)
Day 2 | Sunday
7. New World Park Food Centre – street food in the food court
New World Park Food Centre is a large and clean food court where many hawkers can be found. Most of the vendors used to work on the old Swatow Lane, but were eventually forced to move their shops into New World Park Food Centre. The shift however, had its pros and cons. While cleanliness and comfort have improved tremendously, its popularity has dropped. Some people argued that the food used to be better and lost its luster upon relocation. Perhaps an authentic street food ambience is what resonates most with the older Malaysians.
New World Park is famous for their ice kachang (RM 3.50) – a shaved iced dessert drenched with colourful sweet syrup and condensed milk, topped with sweet corn, jelly, red beans and a scoop of ice cream. Unfortunately, it tasted like any ice kachang in Singapore.Other popular dishes include curry mee (RM 4) – an interesting complex dish with coconut milk, congealed pig’s blood, fried bean curd, fresh mint leavee and thick sambal paste; and lor bak – minced pork wrapped in deep fried bean curd skin. Their char kway teow was delicious but could not hold a candle to the duck egg char kway teow at New Lane.
Address: Near Jalan Hutton and Jalan Burma Penang 10300
Approximate $ per person: USD 2 / SGD 2.80
Distance from Sunway Hotel Georgetown: 1.4km, 4 mins drive (without traffic)
8. Ghee Hiang – baked tau sar pneah to take home as souvenirs
Ghee Hiang has been around for 155 years and is a household name amongst Malaysians. Its success has extended beyond baked pastries and today its produces even sesame oil and beverages. The baked goodies are sealed airtight individually and make great souvenirs. Choose from the famous tau sar pneah – flaky baked biscuits with green bean filling; phong pneah – puffy light pastries with melted sugar; hneoh pneah – baked wheat pastry with brown sugar filling; beh teh saw – melted refined dark brown sugar wrapped in multilyayer flaky flat dough; almond cookies; sesame crips and matcha cookies. The pastries’ short two weeks shelf life is attributed to the absence of additives, MSG and preservatives. Prices start from RM6 for a box of tau sar pneah.
Address: 216, Jalan Macalister, 10400 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Approximate $ per box: USD 1.60 / SGD 2.20
Distance from New World Hawker Centre: 2.5km, 6 mins drive (without traffic)
9. The Alley Cafe – 40% probability of finding a cute barista
While the hawker culture remains strong, we cannot deny that several new cafes are making considerable waves in Penang. It is a lot pricier to dine in these cafes but what you get in return is free WIFI and air conditioning – the two traits that every digital nomad looks for in a make shift day office.
The Alley Café is a coffee shop and also a clothing store. Besides the gourmet coffee (starting from RM6) and churros, they are also well known for their quirky yet catchy artwork. We hope you have a sense of knacky humour to appreciate their audacious jokes of weed and poop.
Address: 5 Steward Lane, George Town, Malaysia
Approximate $ per person: USD 1.60 / SGD 2.20 (coffee), USD 3.20 / SGD 4.40 (coffee and churros)
Distance from Ghee Hiang: 4 km, 8 mins drive (without traffic)
10. Brown Pocket – level 6 of Gurney Paragon mall
The owners of Brown Pocket were inspired to open this spacious airy cafe after a trip to Melbourne. Brown Pocket’s focus is on waffles, crepes and all things sweet. But healthier alternatives such as coffee, teas and juices (from RM5.90) are also available for the mindful ones. Strategically located on the 6th level of Gurney Paragon Mall, the cafe can be spotted from afar with its transparent high ceiling glass and makes a great escape for exhausted shopaholics.
Address: Gurney Paragon, Jalan Kelawei, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Approximate $ per person: USD 1.60 / SGD 2.20 (just coffee), USD 5.80/ SGD 8 (coffee and waffle)
Distance from The Alley Cafe: 4.7km, 9 mins drive (without traffic)
11. Spade’s Burger – spoilt for choice
Spade’s Burger is renowned for their vast selection of burgers (choose from beef, chicken, pork, seafood and even vegetarian) made with with soft charcoal buns (starting from RM9.50). Malaysians flocked to Spade’s following its opening for their shrooms burgers, which was a unique offering when compared to other burger competitors. The names of the burgers are very interesting; a few remarkble ones include Orgashroom and Spiderman! Most burgers are ultimate sinners, with multiple juicy meat variations, gooey cheese and flavourful sauces all sandwiched between the fluffy buns. Eating them is quite a handful, so do expect a mess.
Address: 302, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10350 Georgetown, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Approximate price per burger: USD 2.90 / SGD 4
Distance from Brown Pocket: 1 km, 3 mins drive (without traffic)
You can download our Penang itinerary in word document or pdf file.
Feel free to tweak it according to your own preferences! Disclaimer: We embarked on this weekend trip to Penang in early February 2015 and are not liable for any inaccuracies. Do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you spot any outdated information. Note that the USD $50 we spent each were only on hotel and food. Air tickets & transportation fees were excluded. You can rent a car/bike, take a taxi or bus to travel around Penang.
Below is a Google Map of all the places we have visited in 36 hours.
There are so many places in Penang to check out, but with limited time and stomach capacity, that was all we managed to see and eat. Leave a comment if you have any recommendations for our future trip there :)