Prepare your belly for the food adventure it never asked for. If you wear a belt to hold your pants up, wear it no more! 24 hours in Penang is all about local cuisine, you could take a day to recover from your food coma.
Being a nation of mixed races, the range of ‘national’ dishes are vast, covering noodles, rice, soups, curries, seafood, halal, chicken, raw, sweet, sour, spicy. Think of something you like, you’ll find it in a Malaysian dish for sure.
I’ll give you just a handful of things to try, you’ll find what you like and what you don’t like on your own.
Before we get into the food, here are a few things to see in Penang.
I have come to accept that I love tall buildings. I love to be at height and look down to the world below. Its all about perspective and taking a different view.
At level 59 there’s a restaurant called 59Sixty. You can go up for free, but just tell them you will order a juice at the bar (9 RM). The view is great and you get a 360 degree view of Penang Island. After 4PM, the bar and lounge upstairs is open, but the drinks are literally double the price (18 RM for a juice, 20 RM for a coffee) – stay on level 59 for the cheaper drinks – go back to the street for even cheaper drinks.
About 20km from George Town is the sandy beachside of Batu Ferringhi. Here you will find all the luxury and boutique hotels lining the shores. Hard Rock Cafe has a themed hotel here, and their private beach is easily infiltrated by non-hotel guests. I bet you could infiltrate any hotel’s private beach, who would stop you!?
There are buses serving this route, try hopping on Rapid KL Bus Number 101. It will probably cost 2-4 RM and take an hour to get there, plan your time to arrive in the morning when the sun is out (else you may get rain).
Unlike any other temple in Asia, this Buddhist temple also houses snakes. Vipers and pythons hang on pedestals and other elevated platforms.
Its not in reverence for the snake, but simply because the snakes traditionally inhabited this area and when the temple was built, the snakes would naturally seek refuge within its walls. These days, the snakes are a draw card for tourists, bringing much needed revenue for maintenance of this lovely temple.
This is a noodle dish with a soup base made from fish – there are flakes of fish meat making the soup rich, thick and hearty. The noodles are kinda like Japanese udon noodles, rice noodles. It is a delicious meal for a rainy day.
Hawker centres are great places to sample the local tastes – you’ll find nearly all the popular dishes you know, like laksa, nasi lemak etc, and then you will find others you’ve never heard of. What’s more, the prices are very low, around 3-6 RM for a dish.
Do you like squid? No, well too bad – give it a try anyway. There are so many ways that squid can be prepared for a meal – but usually it is a side dish or snack to nibble on with drinks.
The Nasi Lemak in Penang is delicious. A mound of rice is served with bilis (small fried fish), peanuts, a piece of fried chicken and sambal. Really, this is my favourite Malaysian dish! The drink pictured below is called Mata Kucing – literally translates to Cat’s Eyes, referring to the longan fruit which floats in the drink. Hmmm.
Here’s an interesting side dish which I am now a big fan of! It’s called Rojak, basically it is a savoury fruit salad topped with crunchy crackers and raw squid. We asked for only a few pieces of raw squid so I could try it, but it was actually pretty good!
The fruits are chopped up, there are apples, mango, pineapple and a few others I couldn’t identify (mostly crunchy fruits) and then a sweet soya sauce (possibly mixed with Oyster sauce) is poured over the top. Yum!
To round off the meal, we had some Sotong Bakar, grilled squid. This is prepared in two different ways: 1) squid pieces dried in the sun; 2) squid pieces rolled until super thing and then dried. The taste is salty and chewy – just as you’d expect.
This is a Nasi Kandar stall that opens only after dark, from 9PM onwards. So if you’re feeling a little peckish, this is the place to check out. Anyway, the food is cooked to local taste, so the flavour is authentically Penang. A meal here will cost around 4-6 RM.
Roti Cannai (pronounced chahn-eye), is an Indian dish that is considered a typical Malaysian breakfast. Its a piece of roti served with a curry (probably luke warm or cold). You can choose other curries such as Daal or curried meats, like Ayam Pedas (spicy chicken). For 6 RM this is a tasty and cheap way to fuel your body for the day.
I ordered the roti cooked with an egg in the middle. So good! To wash it down, I had an iced Milo – oh god, it brings me home to drink the delicious chocolate goodness.
The Fort is a great place to visit, to see the heritage of the city and to eat some great seafood! Below is a dish called Mee Sotong, squid noodles. The noodles are kinda like spaghetti and the red sauce is savoury with a sweet finish. The lime is great to squeeze over the top, cutting through the sweetness and giving an extra layer of mouth delight to the meal.
Here I also had a coconut juice – but be aware, they add sugar to everything. So ask for kurang manis, meaning ‘less sugar.’
If you’ve got filipino friends, you’ll have heard them talking about Halo halo. Its a sweet drink made up of a whole bunch of sweet beans, jellies, glutinous wormy things, topped with evaporated milk.
In Penang, there is a dessert called Cendol (pronounced chen-doll). Its got those wormy things made from glutinous rice and pandan. The red beans are sweet and creamy, giving the dessert a nice mouth feel. Crushed ice and milk (likely with sugar syrup) are poured over the top – a refreshing and light dessert to finish any meal. 2 RM for a bowl at this famous vendor.