Gastrorgasm (n): an intensely pleasurable experience elicited by the consumption of incredibly delicious food, usually with explosive flavours. Likely to induce moans and groans.
UPDATE: This post has been refreshed with new recommendations as of 7 December 2016!
Let me just put it out there: Penang is hawker food heaven. I would even go as far as to say it is the street food capital of the world because the quality of hawker food there is just mind-blowing. With only an hour’s flight separating Penang and Singapore, it makes the perfect foodie weekend trip.
With so many amazing options, where would you begin and how would you plan your meals? We tried our best to cover as much ground as possible over a weekend in Penang and just might have the street food guide to Penang you’re looking for.
Cecil Street Food Market (aka Lebuh Cecil Market)
A good breakfast starts at one of the local hawker centers, and in our case, it was Lebuh Cecil market as this is very centrally located in Georgetown. Often a combination of hawker food stalls and raw produce, these markets are bustling with activity, a heavenly blend of aromas from all the different stalls, and a cacophony of chatter and the clang of utensils. This hawker center is famous for its Duck Kuay Teow Soup, which is the epitome of comfort food on a rainy day with the silky flat rice noodles steeped in a piping hot bowl of duck broth, complemented by tasty morsels of duck meat, fishballs and even pig’s blood (optional for the queasy eaters). What was also really interesting to us was the Pasembur, which is essentially Indian rojak with a nutty sweet potato sauce and a tinge of spice. An acquired taste, but delicious nonetheless. The Wanton Mee and Jawa Mee are also worthy contenders for stomach space, and you must complete the meal with some white coffee or (my personal favourite) a classic teh-o. They are also famous for their Fried Sago, but sadly we didn’t realise that it was located at the entrance of the market and only saw it when we were leaving.
Kedai Kopi Kwai Lock (a.k.a. Restoran 77 Food Yard)
This is another great option in Georgetown. The herbal duck mee sua is famous here and I absolutely loved the broth even though the duck meet was a little tough. If that is not your thing, you can also consider the kuay teow thng stall for a hearty bowl of noodles. The min chiang kueh – a fluffy folded pancake stuffed with ingredients like cheese, brown sugar and peanut – is another popular option. Finally, you can top this meal off with the classic Ipoh white coffee that is brewed to perfection.
If you’re a fan of chee cheong fun,this just might be worth the schlep for their special chee cheong fun lathered with thick peanut butter sauce. Doused with a healthy sprinkling of sesame seeds, that combination of sweet and savoury will leave you wanting more. It had my cousin going back for seconds and thirds and he wanted to eat there every single breakfast. I also really liked the wanton mee soup there because the broth had a herbal aftertaste. Perfect for a good start to the day!
Prosperous Dim Sum Restaurant
To be honest, I’ve never associated Penang with Dim Sum. But one of my friends had a craving and the taxi driver recommended this restaurant. Well, it’s more of a coffee shop than your traditional dim sum restaurant, but they do have an extensive variety of dishes, ranging from classics like siew mai and char siew bao to rather inventive options like the tom yum har gao. Our favourite was the cheong fun, which was melt-in-your-mouth silky and generously stuffed with shrimp and char siew. Their steamed herbal chicken was so good we had seconds. A great, off-the-beaten-path option if you’re looking for something alternative.
Lebuh Keng Kwee
A great option for lunch are the hawker stalls on Lebuh Keng Kwee. Traditionally known as the Penang Road Chendol and laced with all sorts of superlatives, you won’t miss this once you see the long queues forming for this refreshing bowl of sweet coconut goodness that is quite a godsend in the humid Penang heat. What you also need to try though, is the Assam Laksa from Joo Hooi Cafe around the corner. I used to think the world of the Air Itam Assam Laksa, but this one impressed me a lot more this time with its thicker consistency and spice-filled broth. Don’t forget to get a plate of rojak to share – I much prefer this to the Singapore version because the sauce is sweeter and they add cuttlefish to the mix.
Beat-the-heat tip: To skip the queues, take a seat at the coffee shop opposite the chendol stall, order a drink and the chendol directly from the owner of the drinks stall!
If you do end up at Air Itam because you want to try the Assam Laksa, I would recommend making the trek up to look for the Lim Sisters Curry Mee as well. These amazing women have been faithfully doling out bowl after bowl of curry noodles by the roadside for the past 60 years. I found their dedication and persistence extremely heartwarming. It’s reflected in their food too – unlike Singapore’s thick curry noodles, Penang’s white curry mee is lighter on the palate (that is, until you mix in that spoonful of sambal chilli). Ingredients include generous portions of fried beancurd, cuttlefish and coagulated pig’s blood, which somehow come together to form a savory symphony of flavours. So comforting, even on a hot day.
Cafe Ko Cha Bi
Most food blogs will tell you that Penang’s best assam laksa can be found in Air Itam, but we discovered otherwise on this trip when we went on a tour of Balik Pulau with Matahari Cycle Tours. (Read more about our experience here!) If you’re a fan of assam laksa, you must make the journey to the back of the island (Balik Pulau) for this incredibly savoury, umami-filled bowl of springy, slurpy goodness. The color and density of the thick broth alone will set this apart from other bowls of assam laksa. And if you’re looking for the best complement for your drink? Homemade nutmeg juice!
P.S. The name of this cafe is actually translated from Chinese (古早味) which means the “traditional” taste. What a world it must have been if all assam laksa tasted like this (:
You might think I’m crazy, but if you’re really serious about looking for Penang’s best food, you need to cater for more than 3 meals a day. One way to manage this is to go with a bigger group so you can share meals with each other.
Siam Road Charcoal Char Kway Teow
This char kuay teow has received wide acclaim among foodies in the blogosphere for being the best Char Kuay Teow in Penang. Much like the Lim Sisters, this hawker has honed his craft for the past 50 years, and is a true multi-tasking maestro when it comes to cooking and manning the fire at the same time. Just watch him in action and you will understand. You will taste his experience in that plate of perfectly fried rice noodles that’s bursting with wok hei – the smoky, burnt flavour in the noodles that can only be achieved with skilled control of charcoal and fire. Topped with sinful bits of pork lard and fresh prawns, it is a masterpiece, albeit a slightly oily one.
This street in Georgetown starts buzzing with activity in the late afternoon. There are quite a few pushcarts and stalls to choose from, and with our divide-and-conquer strategy we managed to order from a variety of stalls quickly and have them delivered to the relatively cooling seating area at Si Guo Tang Dessert Stall. Our favourite dish (surprisingly) was the braised chicken feet that was sold at the kuay teow thng stall. Incredibly sweet and flavourful, this version was a pleasant change from the sweet and slightly sticky one we are used to eating at dim sum.
The other noteworthy dish we would recommend is the kway chap soup. For the uninitiated, these are basically broad and slightly thick rice noodles that go very nicely with braised soup. Unlike the Singapore version that’s usually served with pork intestines, this stall’s kway chap is served with braised duck. So just imagine the silky kway chap with chunks of tender duck meat in this broth that has been broiled for hours. YUM (:
Also, for a refreshing end to the meal, don’t miss out on the Si Guo Tang (四果汤) dessert – a refreshing cold brew of gingko, lotus seeds, longan and red bean with purported health benefits!
Although this goes against all recommendations for healthy eating, I would argue that dinner/supper is truly the best meal here. Forget about Gurney Drive (seriously) and head to Lebuh Presgrave in Georgetown. We were fortunate enough to stay right at the doorstep of this supper gem and ended up eating here every. single. night. That’s how crazy we were about it.
Lebuh Presgrave Hawker Center
(You can also have dinner here as they operate from 5:30pm onwards.)
Our favourite dish here is the 888 Prawn Noodles. The winning factor here is the broth, which looks like it has been boiled for days to a deep, rich orange hue with an ocean full of prawns. I also noticed that they cook the pork intestines in the same broth, which could suggest why it’s so delicious. The chilli gives an extra zing to the briny stock, as do the shallots fried to perfection. Even though the prawns are honestly nothing to shout about because they are tiny, the different elements still come together for a very satisfying bowl of noodles.
Tip: Cut to the chase and add roast pork to your prawn noodle soup. You have the option to do that here because this stall also serves Lor Mee, noodles braised in a thick, flavourful vinegary sauce filled with all sorts of ingredients.
The other dish we really enjoyed here was the oyster omelette. I’m no connoisseur, but my friends declare this to be world’s best with its fluffiness, sweet sauce and super fresh oysters. Definitely a must-try!
If you have extra stomach space, don’t forget the char kuey teow, springy wanton noodles, the chendol which could rival the one at Penang Road, and the ice kachang with its surprising blend of flavours!
Old Green House
If you’re like me and feel that a trip to Malaysia is incomplete without a hearty meal of bakuteh, I’m happy to share that you can get your fix of Klang-style bakuteh here.This is pretty much as authentic as it can get – a huge, piping hot bowl of herbal goodness served in a claypot filled to the brim with the ingredients of your choice, accompanied with side of sinful yu char kuey. You can choose from a wide selection of pork ribs, lean meat, internal organs taukee, mushrooms and even meatballs! And yes, the meat on those ribs fall off the bone.
There are also rave reviews for the lor mee and hokkien prawn mee here, but in my opinion, they are not as good as the ones you can find at Lebuh Presgrave.
We hope you found this street food guide to Penang useful! Do you have other recommendations for amazing local food in Penang? Do share them with us in the comments section below! (:
Planning a trip to Penang?
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