From day 1, I have remained circumstantially vexed about my Penang food adventure, but my constant procrastination has shifted my writing skills into the longest glacial era ever that more than 1 year later, the experience feels completely obsolete. As a whole, Penang actually permeates into the classification of a place that you need to re-visit because you kinda need to. First there’s the food — so distinct in flavours that there is nothing like it in the world! Then there’s the venerable atmosphere wherever your feet leads you, and primarily the homey inkling you will mysteriously feel once you have walked along one of it’s antiquated streets.
It was a lot of firsts for me when I was in Penang: I had no camera so I relied entirely on my phone for photos, I didn’t do any research as to where we should go, and lastly, FOOD was the focal point every single day. I’m so used to fussing about OOTD’s and the best route to go to one place in each of my travel, but in Penang, the only thing that matters in my day is where should I dine next. It was a like a complete turn around on my travel style, and I absolutely am bragging about it until now.
Snippets of what you should know…
Point of Compass
Located at the north western coast of Malaysia, Penang is a tiny town that is very rich in cultural heritage, and is considered as the food paradise in the whole peninsula. The main city is Georgetown, which was declared as UNESCO Heritage Site because of its vintage houses and colonial structures almost everywhere. Penang people is multi-cultural like any other Malaysian city, but based on observation, Chinese is the more dominant race.
Walking along Georgetown, it was noticeable that Penang is indeed every foodie’s paradise. Hawker centers, little eating places and even middle class restaurants line up most of the major highways. These people treat eating as the ONLY way of life, and their cuisine deserves to be listed as one of the best in the world.
In 2013, I have tackled the ropes on getting in the borders of Malaysia without any glitch. Although Immigration points are generally open to all foreign visitors, it is always wise to come in fully rigged with the essentials of traveling.
Here are the links that detail all of that, so go ahead and read about the 2 cities of Malaysia I have been to. Click buttons below:
Penang International Airport opened to the world in 1935, and is actually the oldest commercial airport in Malaysia. It isn’t too big when it comes to size, but it serves as the major connecting hub in the Northen region of the country, with both domestic and international flights.
First, Eating Hot Spots!
Penang may be a tiny province in one corner of Malaysia, but its name is loudly resonating in the world of foodies and travelers, alike. You may be wondering where exactly in town should you go, but believe me, finding the best food with the cheapest price is the least of your problems.
Merely stepping out of our accommodation, I can already start choosing which busy hawker centre should I settle in for a meal. But here are some of the famous food places that should land in your list in case you found yourself trapped in this food adventure:
Gurney Drive has got to be the most popular amongst food savvy people, especially for tourists who rely online on their food research. Why not, this whole street has innumerable food stalls that serve local delights. We honestly planned to head over one evening, but we were advised that meals served here are actually much more expensive than they are suppose to. No surprise in that as most customers who dine here are foreigners.
When we passed by the area, it was already brimming with hungry people. It was well into dinner time and the whole street, even the adjacent roads were almost completely blocked. Imagine the traffic jam we had to endure, this is perhaps a usual scenario, an obvious sign that Gurney drive is a culinary haven to all people, tourists or not.
Address: Gurney Drive — 10250 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Opening hours: 4:30pm – 11pm DAILY
Kafe GoodAll didn’t even pop up in our Google search when my friend was looking for a nice place to have dinner. We booked a Grab going to Gurney drive, but the driver was so friendly, and actually told us that there is a very famous eating place just a few blocks away from Gurney that is a local favourite. He was so adamant to bring us there that he managed to convince us within 2 minutes.
It was raining, and the roads were a bit dark. We initially thought that a con man is bringing us somewhere isolated where he could slaughter us three, haha. But to our delight, we parked to a huge hawker centre that was well packed with eaters despite the nasty weather. This is where we’ve tried the best laksa in all of Penang, as well the freshest seafood. In the end, we didn’t regret listening to our Grab driver’s suggestion, he even joined us and have offered to take us back here the following night.
Anywhere in Georgetown!!!
Always full of people, always serving freshly cooked, super hot meals — Penang is never short of culinary gems. I suggest that you choose the most obscured, unkempt looking eating hall and I promise you will have the best meal of your life!
Each hawker offers different local food, from Chinese to Malay even Indian cuisine. The choice is absolutely yours. Price range plays at around RM3-RM6, depends if you’d like to have rice or noodles. The complexity of their flavours is like a long journey that you never want to end. 😋
Penang Food I LOVE!
Penang Asam Laksa
The laksa we are accustomed to has coconut milk & curry in its soup. Well, Penang laksa is a world away from that. Similarly it has noodles, greens and proteins like chicken, but the broth is actually thicker, sour & spicier. Yes, SOUR. And yes, delish!!!
It is quite surprising that I didn’t have the time to comment on it while eating considering that I’m one picky eater. But I discovered that the key is to let the flavours settle in, then wait for the exact moment where they burst altogether inside your mouth. Jeeez I’m salivating a ton right this sec.
We had this bowl at Kafe GoodAll, there was only one stall who sells asam laksa in this hawker centre, so there’s zero chance that you’ll miss it. 1 bowl sells for RMB5.00 with an option to top up the noodles & soup.
Char Kway Teow
For months I have been trying to search in Singapore for the closest taste of char kway teow I have eaten in Penang. Well just to let you know, so far there was NONE! Singapore char kway teow is black and a little sweet, the one in Penang, however is more tasty and has a lot more toppings.
I found it weird at first why my travel companion, See Boon, always orders this in each of our meal time. It was on the last day that she told me, there is nothing like it anywhere else. Damn, how true was that?! And the funniest thing is, amongst all the char kway teow in Penang, the one that hit the top spot was our first ever plate when we ate on a side street of Georgetown. It was a very cute and friendly uncle who sells it, and for sure I will be hunting him down when I have the opportunity to come back. 1 plate sells for as cheap as RMB3.50 and you have the choice to upsize.
It is moist, tasty and fresh! It will automatically give you a home run feeling, like you’ve reached the nirvana without planning to. LOL. It was so addictingly good! Not sure if I am being biased here considering that fried oyster is my all time favorite, but having bought and eaten countless packets of this dish in Singapore, I sure well know the difference. The best ones could be found on the streets, so when you stroll around Georgetown, keep an eye for the most unassuming stall and most humble uncle selling fried oyster.
Sotong & Satay
Cooked fresh, served fresh. These 2 dishes really made my heart melt, as they slowly disappear on our plate merely 3mins after being served. LEGIT! Haha. We could not stop eating, and even planned of ordering another set. But we were forced to finish 3 of the other dishes we ordered, and we end up being too full. I tried copying this sotong recipe, but I’m afraid success is not coming in the years ahead. Whatever, haha.
Sambal Sting Ray & other seafood
The fact that the ocean is just nearby, Penang cuisine includes a lot of seafood in their menu. We were so delighted to have tried the sambal sting ray, sotong and cuttle fish — all served fresh, with a wonderful spicy taste. They were awefully cheap too, the price as compared to SG was way way below and you can be sure that each dish’ taste is never compromised. Yum!
There is only one stall in Chew Jetty that sells this cendol. It was one of the best I have tried, much much tastier than that of Malacca. The stall was just a regular floating house in the area, with a little patio where customers could sit and enjoy this sweet cooler. The pandan taste was lovely, and the gula melaka wasn’t as sweet, something my 2 travel companions really enjoyed. Price: 1 bowl = 5 RM.
Penang Street Eats
See, when I declared that this trip’s focal point was FOOD, I wasn’t joking. My 2 friends and I didn’t waste any moment to dig in at every plate of food that locals seem to enjoy.
I think we have eaten to pretty much every hawker centre we have come across with. And each time, we were immediately sent to this state of satisfaction and glee. This travel experience as a whole was pretty much new to me, but I would not hesitate to make eating as my focal point next time. It was different, but fun and overwhelming.
<Quirky> Coffee Shops 🖤
China House Cafe
Famous for breakfast, China House Cafe is currently the longest cafe in Penang, boasting of its gazillion selection of cakes and pastries. This coffee shop is so pleasing to the eye the moment you enter, even more so when your eyes landed on their long table that displays the cake they have prepared for the day.
We ordered 3 slices of different flavors, and I have got to give credit on how well made their pastries are. Creamy, not too sweet and the appearance lives up to its taste. Sadly, their coffee was an unexpected disappointment. The aroma is enticing, but both their americano and macchiato are frankly not nice.
But whatever downer their coffee might create, the design of the place could easily compensate everything. I love how not only it was very, very long, but each corner was designed impeccably. There was a library, a music bar, a garden and an artsy graffiti wall. All these if you have the time to walk from end to end.
Address: China House Cafe 53, Beach St, Georgetown, 10300 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Open: 9:00am-1:00am, Monday-Sunday
Old Town Coffee
Home to the best tasting coffee brand in Malaysia, Penang’s Old Town coffee is popular across Asia. I would always bring home some to family and friends, and most people are really crazy about it. We had coffee at Old Town in its branch at the airport. It was an early morning flight, and to actually enjoy a cup after waking up too early eased out my grumpiness a bit. So when you visit Penang, add this on your list and try one of their coffee blends. Sure worth the trip and buck. 👍🏻
Something to bring Home
Tau Sar Pia is a locally made biscuit that is a common bring-home goodie. They are being sold almost everywhere, but I recommend stopping by those factories that sell them freshly made. This bakery is situated at the foot of Kek Lok Si temple. When you pass by, you can immediately smell them baking, something that enticed us to go in .
They sell for RM5.5 per box, and also come in different flavours. They taste like your favourite hopia, but tau sar pia are more crumbly and tasty.
Never Dare Miss…
Georgetown and the Famous Graffiti Walls
Within Georgetown, which is the city center of Penang, are walls full of wonderful graffitis created by some of the most artistic locals. There was no specific theme depicted on each art, but I have observed that most of them reflects people and their way of life.
The combination of grunge and iconic, these wall arts made Penang popular amongst photo savvy people, and also to people like me who finds joy in taking photos to every corner of every city I explore. I mean, look at those unique creations, aren’t you going to be inspired to pose when you look at them? 😍
This area was also declared a UNESCO Heritage site, wherein you can still see locals live on stilts by the sea. Not only they made this as their home, nowadays the tiny alleys made up of bamboo and pure wood are lined with business stalls selling from ready-to-wear clothings, to common tourist souvenirs, even food and snacks for all visitors.
I thought at first that it was just one long wooden platform that stretches until the middle of the sea. But when we made our way, I have noticed that people are really staying in this Jetty. There were a lot of tourists enjoying the sun and sea breeze, but for me and my 2 friends, the area is just another hot spot to take more memorable photos. As a whole, this experience has been nothing but interesting, I’ve learned a lot with such short time.
Penang Peranakan Musuem
This museum is located within Georgetown. According to the tour guide provided free by the people managing it, this vintage but well kept mansion was once owned by one of Penang’s wealthiest family. They were the most successful business people in their time.
I was in awe the moment we entered the grand front entrance. The ceiling was 2-storey high, the center has a sunroom that opens up to the sky, and all the old furnitures were made of solid wood and plated with gold and other precious stones.
The family has a massive collection of expensive silvers, porcelains and jades. Each room displays a different collection. Their wealth is astoundingly unimaginable even to this day, one cannot even determine the value of those riches even if one tries to.
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday, 9:00am-5:00pm
Entrance Fee: RM20 for Adult, RM10 for Kids
Penang Hill underwent some major rehabilitation in late 2017 and was closed to public for months. But our timing to visit Penang could not be more perfect. Our last day happens to be the first day that Penang Hill was back in operation. We reached the bottom of the hill via Grab car, and it only cost us RM25 to get there from Georgetown.
To get to the peak, you would need to take the tram that travels up the height of 700 meters. The ascend was not that fast, and the view while traveling was so beautiful. Once you reach, the grounds you need to walk around offer multiple viewing points, and as expected, temperature drops a few notch. So ideal for walking around!
Some of the wonderful photo points in Penang Hill are the Locks of love with a gorgeous view, there was even a huge viewing deck where you could go watch downtown Penang enveloped with a thin layer of fog. What a relaxing sight.
This vintage Pox Box is the oldest one in Penang, and was believed to be put up during the reign of Queen Victoria in the 1800’s. No wonder my friend See Boon has listed this on her “bucketlist”, and it was one of the first few things we checked out in Penang Hill. The red colour is so hard to miss, and I was honestly surprised that it was a tad bit smaller in person. Feels great to visit something that is actually older that anyone you know, so the 15-minute walk towards its location was worth the sweat.
This house with elegant stone walls was situated at the far end of the hill. I think this area isn’t actually part of the tourist attraction, but we were mesmerized the moment we saw it from afar. And so my friends and I risked getting in the small compound to take as much photos as we can. How’s that for a “buwis buhay” shot?
Opening Hours: 6:30am-11:00pm Everyday expect Public Holidays
Ticket Price: RM30 for Adult (Standard), RM15 for Kids (Standard) — accurate as of April 2019.
Kek Lok Si Temple
Buddhism being one of the major religions in Penang, the believers erected the Kek Lok Si Temple in one of the nearby mountains of Air Itam. It is internationally known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, and is an important pilgrimage centre for Buddhists not only in Malaysia but also to neighbouring ASEAN countries like Singapore.
The entrance is located at the base, kinda like a small passage with vendors on both sides. I didn’t know what to expect before heading to this place, but from afar, we could already see the enormous bronze statue of Kuan Yi (Goddess of Mercy) and the seven-storey Pagoda with 10,000 buddha. It screams of grandeur and serenity covered with lush greens. And it sparked my curiosity that I didn’t notice the slow climb we were making.
Most of the areas in the temple ground are open for people to see, but if you would like to go up and visit the Pagoda and the worship centre, you need to pay for tickets. They also have this inclined lift that could take you up on the peak of the open space that houses the Kuan Yi statue.
Opening Hours: 9:00am-6:00pm
Entrance Ticket: RM2 for the Pagoda, RM2 each way for the inclined lift.
This trip was actually one of those spontaneous bookings we did at Scoot during one of their Take Off Tuesday sales. My friend SeeBoon was so keen to come back to Penang, so when we saw the sale price, there was no time for second thoughts and we hastenly bought.
Our return ticket only costs $80 per pax, no baggage. It was a bargain already as usual ticket price is $100+ one way. We didn’t need to check in luggage as the trip was only over the weekend, so we packed lightly. Some other airlines also offer low ticket price for Penang like Jetstar and Air Asia, you just have to be patient and fast once ticket sales become open to public.
Where to Stay
Of course we booked thru Agoda, but this time we opted for AGODA HOMES and not your typical hostel/hotel. Our aim was to stay in a traditional Peranakan house, and the accommodation we managed to book didn’t disappoint.
The location is within Georgetown, the nearby Graffiti walls were walking distance, and in almost every corner or sidestreet, there seem to be eating places. The house itself is a 2-storey concrete & wood, bearing the traditional Pinang design. The stairs leading up to the 2nd level was so steep and narrow, you would have to climb barefoot so as not to fall. The first level is actually filled with vintage stuff, it even has a kitchenette for your coffee or tea fix, and a tiny library at the back also adorned with old musical instruments.
The house actually requires deposit for foreigners, but it was SeeBoon who is actually Malaysian that booked and interacted with the owner, so we were spared from paying. A house key was given to us aside from our room key, so we could go in and out of the house whenever we wish to. The room was big enough for 3, and the place was quiet at night. Highly recommended!
Grab has certainly played a major role in taking us from point A to B while getting around town. Not only the rates are flat out cheap, the drivers were also reliable. There was even an uncle to took us to a cheaper hawker centre instead of Gurney Drive because he said the place is a little bit overrated. He even offered to tour us around the next day, but we have already made plans and politely declined him in the end.
We also tried taking the bus from Penang Hill going to Kek Lok Si Temple. There is actually a bus station at the base of the hill that could take you not only to nearby places but also back to town. The fare was of course very affordable, and the buses as coming and going constantly.
We were in Penang because of our fascination with its food and the feel of being transported back to early 1900’s. Penang is so rich in all aspects — tradition, culture, art and most especially their supreme cuisine, that it DEMANDS to be included in your bucketlist. 🌍
Me and my 2 friends who shared this culinary adventure with me are all gastronomes in our own rights. And it didn’t occur to me until then that there is so much to traveling than seeing a famous tourist spot and buying keepsakes. Imagine, after being a frequent traveler all these years, there is still a colossal space for learning where echoes of “I told you so” are resonating so vibrantly.
So in my limited and tiny world, I am giving PENANG an 8.5 rating.
Not only that I committed to return in a few years time, but I have brought home with me an eternal craving for authentic Penang Cuisine that could only disappear once I find myself dining again in one of the busiest hawker centre in Georgetown. Good food in the company of good people, who ever tires of that? 🖤NOT ME. ✈️