The first and only time I had heard of ‘Penang’ was when ordering Thai food, where the menu often includes ‘Penang Curry’. Spoiler alert: Penang Curry doesn’t come from Penang, Malaysia.
Fortunately however, the Island of Penang in northwest Malaysia is home to some of the best food in Southeast Asia, and in my opinion the world.
Now that I’ve visited, I’m surprised I don’t hear more about Penang (or Malaysia for that matter.) The food is delicious, the people are friendly and multicultural, it’s inexpensive, the streets are clean, building are colourful, and a whole lot more. I ended up there somewhat by chance and I’m already plotting my return!
Having spent a busy week exploring Georgetown, believe me there is so much to discover, taste and enjoy! To help make the most of your time there, I’ve put together a mini Penang guide with places to stay and eat and things to see and do! I either discovered them through friends, suggestions by locals or from simply wandering the streets.
As always, if you have any additional questions for your visit to Penang or Malaysia, do not hesitate to leave a comment below or send me an email here.
WHERE TO EAT IN PENANG
Finding really good eats in place that is unfamiliar to you can be a hit and miss. As a nomad, I rely so heavily on other’s recommendation and regularly crave my tested and trusted spots back home. In Penang however, the quality bar is set so high that getting a ‘bad dish’ is pretty rare. If you see it, eat it!
Still, here are some of the best spots that I chowed down in Georgetown!
HAMEEDIYAH (164a Campbell Street)
This Indian muslim restaurant was my favourite in the city, suggested by my friends Stefan and Sebastian of The Nomadic Boys. I ate here 3 times, each time getting the murtaback (Indian pizza). With Indian/Turkish heritage, they’ve been cooking up a storm in this spot for over 100 years and are super friendly. Show them my photo above and tell them Brock sent you, they’ll treat you extra well! The tandoori chicken and lassis are also delish!
TEK SEN RESTAURANT (18, Lebuh Carnarvon, George Town)
Recommended by my friend Cailin of Travel Yourself, as well as a local I met while eating at Hameediyah, Tek Sen is little more expensive then the other spots on this list but not pricey by any means. Every dish we had was incredible! Ask for the candied roast pork, steamed pork in salted fish and sayur rumi in sambal – which is a somewhat bitter vegetable and they’ll be surprised a visitor knows to order it! It gets busy so check opening times and go early.
MING XIANG TAI CAKE AND PASTRY (133, Jalan Burma, George Town,)
Right around the corner from the Chendul above, this little bakery serves up scrumptious sweets and tea. I tried the Crispy Kaya Puff and the Trishaw Egg Tart – all for $1 USD. Yum to the power of 20!
FAMOUS UNCLE JOE’S PUTU MAYAM (Pulau Tikus Hawker Center)
Oh Uncle Joe, what a sweetheart! I visited Uncle Joe’s hawker stall during both my food tour and cooking class (more on those below), and savoured his Indian pancake! Made with a steamed paste, sugar, coconut and love! If you ask nicely, he’ll let you try to make the pancakes. There’s no way you can be worse than I was. He loves a cheeky photo too!
PENANG ROAD FAMOUS TEOCHEW CHENDUL ( Hawker Stall on Keng Kwee Street)
Made of coconut milk, red kidney beans, ice and maybe some noodles too, this refreshing snack is perfect for beating the heat. You’ll notice a line and a beautiful mural above the stand.
KRSNA RESTAURANT (276, Market Street, George Town, 10200)
My new friend Hannes from Germany brought me here for a vegetarian dinner and he won the day! I spent 2 months travelling India, mostly in the south, and this took me right back! Ask for the veg southern meal and add some iddly to that as well. You’ll get some naan, dosa and sauces. I suggest eating with your hands (mainly right hand). There’s a little sink where you can (and should) wash your hands before and after. A meal and drink was under 10RM.
BEST CAFES IN PENANG
The first cafe I tried in Penang and the one I visited the most. Great coffee, solid wifi, good music, relaxing atmosphere and best of all: the green Pandan Chiffon Cake is to die for. Go early before it runs out!
LITTLE NAP COFFEE BAR
I discovered this cafe when staying at the Time Capsule Hotel as it is in the lobby. The wifi is the fastest I found in Penang, the coffee and beer is affordable and the western breakfast was a nice taste of home. While it’s great to cool off from the heat, the air conditioning was sometimes a bit too aggressive. Ask them nicely to turn it down and they will, as usually everyone else is thinking the same thing.
This place is much more than your average cafe. They have wifi and coffee but they also make a lot of treats with liquid nitrogen. Every so often you’ll see the waiter bringing a guest some drink or snack that’s bubbling over with fog. You have to try the Dragon’s Breath Popcorn! When you eat the caramel flavoured popcorn, ‘smoke’ blows out of your nose and mouth! If the owner is there, tell him Brock sent you!
Right in the centre of busy Chulia street, Mugshot cafe is very popular and for good reason. The design is beautiful, there’s plenty of space, yummy yogurts and bagels, as well as coffee of course! The wifi can be hit and miss so you may want to check it before you purchase something if surfing the net is your reason for visiting.
WHERE TO STAY IN GEORGETOWN, PENANG
Ideally, you’re going want to stay in the heritage quarter of Georgetown, Penang, shaded in yellow on Google Maps. This will give you easy access to explore Georgetown’s streets by foot or bicycle.
SPICES HOMES (Lebuh Clarke, George Town, 10050)
These heritage homes are quintessentially Penang, some of the oldest on the island and made of wood. I had a two floor house to myself and felt as though I had stepped back in time. The bed was comfy, the AC and fan kept me cool through the warm nights and hot afternoons, and there is a breakfast hawker right across the street serving good eats and coffee! 5 Brock Smiles!
(More Info & Book Here)
TIME CAPSULE HOTEL (418&420, Lebuh Chulia, George Town, 10200)
This Japanese style take on compact rooms was more than just a place to stay, it was an experience. Each guest has their own pod complete with TV, mirror, safe, single or double bed, AC, wifi, lights, locker and charing ports for international plugs or USBs. At night I could crawl in, close the hatch door and fall asleep in the cool, quiet. The hotel has free bikes to borrow, a cafe downstairs and communal showers. If you’re claustrophobic it may not be the best fit, but if not, hop right in!
(More Info & Book Here)
THINGS TO DO IN PENANG
Another recommendation from the Nomadic Boys, Pearly Kee’s Penang Home Cooking class was yummy and fun! Pearly, known around the globe for her Nonya style cooking first took us to a market to teach us about the ingredients we’d be working with, then brought us to her home to cook up a storm! Naturally it’s fun to learn about a cuisine and the history attached to it, but it is Pearly’s cheeky and quick witted humour that makes this the best cooking class I have taken!
(More Info & Book Here)
Penang’s food is not only some of the best in the world, but it also has a plethora of of influences due the islands diverse blend of cultures. I wanted to take a food tour to learn some more about what I was eating and what brought it to Penang. Myself along with Alessia and Vincent of Lessilu spent a morning eating and learning from the lovely Joy of Delish Asia. By the end I’m not sure why which was more full – our brains or our stomachs!
(More Info & Book Here)
VISIT THE TEMPLES
There are many temples in Georgetown and on the island of Penang. Some are Chinese, some hindu, others muslim. Many of them welcome visitors, just be sure to respect the customs and guidelines when inside.
Built out over the water to avoid paying city tax many years ago, the UNESCO Heritage site Chew Jeddy is worth a visit, even if quick. You can walk along the narrow walk ways out to the end of the jeddy to get a beautiful view of the water, boats and the mainland on the other site. For an extra treat, come at sunset when the sky fills with colour!
DISCOVER THE GEORGETOWN STREET ART
Scattered through Georgetown are some amazing street art. Some have historical context, others are just bright and colourful. There are numerous guides to where they are all and as they are always changing, its best to ask for the most recent version when you arrive. You will also spot them by watching for a group of people taking photos at the same spot! My personal favourites would be the bakery kids reaching for the goodies on the back of the bike and the Indian man guiding his boat.
WHAT DID I MISS?
Hopefully this guide gets your visit to Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia off on the right food and gives you a taste of this amazing island!
There is obviously so much more to keep a visitor busy for weeks on end so, if you tried or experienced something particularly amazing that I should include, share it in the comments below or send me an email here.