Penang Food Guide: 7 Must Eat Foods + Best Places to Try Them

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Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is a destination for many travelers, offering a variety of experiences ranging from gastronomic to daring outdoor activities. And most people agree that one of the best destinations to visit in Malaysia is Penang Island.

Also called Pulau Pinang, the island lies off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia in the Strait of Malacca. You’ll find all of the dishes in this Penang food guide in its capital city, George Town.

Groups as varied as Malay, Chinese, Indian, and western people live here, as well as an ethnic group known as the Peranakans, or Baba-Nyonya. Descended from the first Southern Chinese settlers who arrived and married locals centuries ago, their culture and cuisine can be found nowhere else on the planet.

Thanks to this multi-ethnic background, Penang food is rich and varied, and the island has a reputation as one of the best places to eat in Asia. In fact, it’s so good that Lonely Planet named Penang the Best Foodie Destination of the Year in 2014. And that’s how this Penang food guide began.

For an authentic culinary experience, read on for 7 of the best foods you must try in Penang, Malaysia. Prices are in Malaysian ringgit (MYR). For easy reference, calculate 4 MYR per US dollar (one ringgit = $0.25).

ⓘ PLEASE HELP ME EXPAND THIS ARTICLE! As a clean eating foodie, I can’t recommend popular Penang street foods like char koay teow (flat rice noodles sauteed in lard), hokkien mee (prawn noodle soup), or anything made with shrimp paste like ikan bakar, assam laksa and nasi lemak. If you know of any Penang street food stalls that make a halal version of char kway teow or curry mee, or that don’t contain shellfish (including oyster sauce/belacan/shrimp paste), please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

1. Ayam percik

Ayam percik (eye-am PURR-chick) is a delicious Malaysian spicy chicken dish you won’t easily forget. The chicken is marinated in a blend of coconut milk, tamarind, lemongrass, and spices like turmeric, clove, cumin, and coriander before being grilled or roasted. The marinade caramelizes on the meat as the chicken cooks, lending a delicious coating that’s hard to resist.

One of the best places to enjoy it is at China House, a long and narrow space made up of three heritage homes. Their “Ayam Perchick” comes served with green mango & cashew salad, roasted sweet potato with green lemon sauce, and coconut rice.

China House offers three restaurants at different price points, an event space, shops and more. Come here to enjoy the aircond and try one of their 30 exquisite, handcrafted pastries, or go western style with their fusion dishes influenced by Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines.

They’re open from 9 am to 8 pm every day.

closeup of delicious ayam percik street food

2. Roti canai

Roti canai (ro-tee chan-EYE) is Malaysia’s version of an Indian paratha. Roti means bread in Malay, and the term ”canai” derives from ”Chennai”, a region in India which is formerly known as Madras.

Roti canai is often eaten hot off the grill with a side of curry, but it comes in a variety of flavors to satisfy both sweet and salty palates.

For the best roti canai in Penang, head to Transfer Road Roti Canai, a true piece of Penang history. They have been serving this traditional Malaysian meal for the past 80 years. You’ll find a variety of roti to suit your mood, including egg, garlic, and cheese, and their aromatic chicken curry is pleasantly spicy and full of fall-off-the-bone-moist chicken meat.

Prices start at 1 MYR and the shop is open from 7:30 am to 11 am daily.

closeup of tongs flipping roti canai

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Plate with rice, dried ikan bilis fish, peanuts and half of a hard boiled egg. Text overlay says "Food guide to Penang Malaysia"

3. Nasi kandar

One of the best hawker foods in Penang is nasi kandar, an aromatic steamed biryani rice (nasi) served with variety of curries and side dishes. Literally translated as “rice on the shoulder,” this favorite northern Malaysian dish got its name from the kandar poles that nasi (rice) vendors balanced their huge containers on.

Even though that Penang street food tradition has died out, you can still find this delicious food in most “Malaysian Mamak” restaurants and Indian-Muslim food stalls. And it’s still one of the cheapest meals you can buy!

While its back-alley vibe might put you off, Line Clear Nasi Kandar serves one of the best nasi kandar in Penang at some of the best prices. For about 7 MYR, you get a platter of biryani, fried chicken, egg omelet, vegetables, and assorted gravies. Fish curry and beef gravy are among the daily specialties.

It’s a popular spot for Penang night food because the restaurant runs 24 hours a day, so come whenever you get hungry.

nasi kandar rice and accompaniments 

4. Banana leaf rice

Banana leaf rice, also known as Nasi Daun Pisang, is a South Indian staple thali served on a rectangular cut from the leaf of a banana tree. Even though it’s a vegetarian dish, you can also order it with meat, such as chicken or lamb. When eating it, the locals traditionally use their hands rather than cutlery.

Veloo Villas, on Penang Street, serves some of the greatest banana leaf rice in the city. White rice is provided with three small side curries, papadum, gravy of your choice, and vegetables. A dish of simple banana leaf rice costs about 7 MYR.

The restaurant is open from 7 am until 10:30 pm every day.

assorted foods on a banana leaf penang

5. Apom manis

Apom manis is an Indian crepe-like treat made with sugar, eggs, coconut milk, and flour. It’s a light, low-cost snack that isn’t very sweet, so you can eat a couple of them at one time. To make thin crisp rims around a fluffy, eggy center, the batter is put into little clay pots or mini woks.

You may buy yours at the night hawker stand on Chulia Street, which is regarded as one of the best Apom Manis stalls in Penang. Each piece costs just 1 MYR.

Open from 6 pm to 12 am every day.

YouTube video

6. Cendol

Sometimes spelled chendul, cendol is an iconic Malaysian dessert that’s especially popular on hot afternoons. This sweet treat begins as a bowl of shaved ice, which is then topped with strings of neon green pandan flavored rice flour, bathed in coconut milk and laced with gula Melaka (brown sugar). Then red beans, grass jelly squares, durian, jackfruit, or creamed corn are added to enhance the flavor.

The best cendol in Penang is found at the well-known Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul. The shop has been around for decades, right in the heart of Georgetown, Penang. Don’t be intimidated by the long, passionate queue; the line goes quickly. A bowl costs 6.50 MYR.

They are open every day from 10:30 am to 7 pm.

green ribbons of rice over cendol iced dessert

7. Satay

Satay is one of the most popular street foods in Penang. All types of meat can be used, but the most popular Penang satay is probably beef and chicken.

Bite-sized slices of meat are marinated before being skewered and grilled over charcoal. The skewers of meat are usually slightly charred to enhance the flavor and come served with a sweet-and-spicy peanut dipping sauce.

When in Penang, bring along your pals to Hamid Satay, one of the best satay stalls in the city. Available in chicken, beef or mutton, each order of satay includes ketupat (rice cake) along with as much peanut sauce as you care to eat. The mutton one sells out quickly. Each piece of satay costs 0.80 MYR so you can eat your fill for very little money.

Open from Monday to Saturday, 7 pm to midnight.

grill with skewers of satay over hot coals

Did our Penang food guide inspire you to try some new foreign cuisines?

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Top: Satay on a charcoal grill. Bottom: spoon in a bowl of cendol. Text overlay says "Penang best dishes"

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to around 60 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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