Penang Street Food: 5 Local Bites that Will Change Your Life
Penang street food is awesome. Packed with sweet and savory flavor, these dishes will have you frantic for ways to recreate at home. Read on for great bites.
The island of Penang in Malaysia is world-renowned for its delicious street food. In 2004, Time Magazine named it the “Best Street Food in Asia. In 2014, Lonely Planet named it their number one food destination in the world.
George Town, the state capital of Penang, was set up as a trading port in 1786 by the East India Trading Company. The trade in Penang grew quickly after its founding and quickly became a melting pot of the surrounding cultures.
Because of this multicultural heritage, Penang street food became a blend of cuisines from Malay, Indian, Chinese, Peranakan, and Western culture, so you can experience a unique blend of different cultures in each dish.
If you’re an international foodie, getting to try some authentic Penang street food should be at the top of your list. We recommend you try a little bit of everything (and don’t be afraid to be adventurous and try something you normally wouldn’t), but if you don’t want to hold up the order line trying to decide, here are the five Penang street food dishes you absolutely have to try!If you're an international foodie, trying some authentic Penang street food is an absolute mustClick To Tweet
Top 5 Penang Street Food Dishes You Have to Try!
1. Char Koay Teow
Char Koay Teow is arguably the most popular local street food in Penang. It originally began as a Chinese pork dish, but on the island of Penang, seafood is easier to come by than pork, so immigrants began incorporating seafood into the dish.
It generally consists of the main seafood ingredient (usually king prawns but often sliced fish, mantis shrimp, octopus, or squid), flat rice noodles, soy sauce, chili paste, garlic, bean sprouts, blood cockles, Chinese chives, egg, and pork lard.
For the best Char Koay Teow in Penang, we recommend you go to Famous Ah Leng Char Koay Teow on Jalan Dato’ Keramat. They’re famous for offering a wide variety of extra ingredients, including duck or chicken eggs, mantis shrimp, and HUGE prawns.
Pasembur is a blend of Malay and Indian salad dishes with a Chinese twist. It consists of shredded jicama, cucumbers, fried beancurd, prawn fritters, and slivers of jellyfish, topped with a mildly spicy, sweet potato sauce. Some variations on the dish include octopus rings, crab, or chunks of hardboiled egg.
As with most Penang street food dishes, there are many variations on Pasembur throughout the island, so if you can’t stomach the idea of eating jellyfish slivers, you can easily find it with or without certain ingredients (but we highly recommend at least trying the jellyfish.)
The Kompleks Makanan Persiaran Gurney has a delicious Pasembur “Rojak” and it’s great for the more picky food-lovers, looking for a lot of different options and variations.
3. Asam Laksa
Asam Laksa is a noodle soup dish that is popular all over the island. It gained international notoriety when it was named as the number 7 most delicious food in the world by CNN Travel.
The soup base is a sour-tasting fish and tamarind broth. It consists of poached mackerel, cucumbers, shallots, chilies, lemongrass, shredded pineapple, lettuce, mint, laksa leaves (or Vietnamese mint), torch ginger, and fermented shrimp paste.
Some variations (like the hae ko) come in a thick, dark, sweeter sauce, while others (like the belachan) come in rock-like pieces and taste spicier.
If you’re looking for the best experience, the Asam Laksa at Ayer Itam market is famous for having an “infinity pot,” where the same stock is used throughout the day.
4. Penang Prawn Mee
For those of us who like things a little more on the spicy side, the Penang Prawn Mee (or Hokkien Mee) is going to be the highlight of your trip.
Mee is the Hokkien word for egg noodles (although some variations use rice vermicelli) and as you might have guessed, the other main ingredient is prawn. The broth is made from dried shrimp, prawn shells, pepper, garlic, chili paste, and sometimes with pork bones and lard.
In addition to medium to small prawns, the soup is served in most places with pork slices, fish cake, bean sprouts, Chinese watercress, and boiled egg. These are the basic ingredients. However, it’s not difficult to find places that offer a variety of add-ons. These can include roast pork, pork intestines, squid, and spare ribs.
5. Oyster Omelette
You might find a thicker, sweeter variation of this dish in Taiwan. Or you can find a crispier variation in Thailand and Indonesia. But the Penang Oyster Omelette blows them all away for a few reasons. First, they use fresh oysters in Penang rather than frozen as is often the case in places like Singapore. They also use fried rice flour batter and eggs. This produces a lighter, crispy finish rather than being gooey and thick.
Aside from the fresh oysters and eggs, this dish consists of potato starch, coriander, and chopped garlic. You’ll also find variations on the chili dipping sauce that is served alongside it. Most places in Penang serve it with a sweeter chili sauce. But you can find spicier variations if you’re looking for that extra kick.
If you’re in George Town, you can get a delicious Oyster Omelette at the Kafe Heng Huat on the Lorong Selamat, with a sweet or spicy chili sauce.
Finally, what meal is complete without something sweet for dessert?
Chendol is a sweet and chewy rice flour jelly formed into thin green slivers like string beans. It’s normally served in a bowl of shaved ice, with red beans, fresh coconut milk, and a light topping of brown sugar syrup.
It’s sweetly delicious and ice cold, which makes it the perfect treat for the blistering Malaysian temperatures.
For the most famous (and delicious) variation on this tasty dessert, check out the Joo Hooi Cafe. It is on Jalan Penang in George Town. There’s always a line outside the stall, but the vendor moves quickly, so you’ll never have to wait long.
This doesn’t come close to being a comprehensive list. There are thousands of different Penang street food dishes. Each one is more delicious than the last. If you find yourself near Penang you can (and should) try whatever you want. But you can’t go wrong with any of the items on our list. We highly recommend trying each of our dishes (especially if it looks a little intimidating to you at first glance).
You never know when you’re going to bite into the most amazing thing you’ve ever eaten for the first time. But Penang just might be the place you’re going to find it!
ChrisPosted at 02:28h, 12 November
I love street food, and your little list throws up a whole swathe of options I’ve never wrapped my lips around!
Whilst I can appreciate that location will dictate the ingredients used, I think if given the choice I’d go for the pork Char Koay Teow
The Travel NinjasPosted at 02:30h, 12 November
Chris, the pork Char Koay Teow was also one of our favorites! You must try the others when given the opportunity, though. 🙂 Your taste buds will be pleasantly surprised.
Tracie HowePosted at 21:56h, 12 November
I keep kicking myself for skipping past Penang when I was in Malaysia. Now you’ve got me regretting that decision even more! Well, I guess I’ll have to go back! 😉
The Travel NinjasPosted at 22:18h, 12 November
Tracie, now you have an excellent reason to come back! 🙂
nehaPosted at 10:54h, 13 November
Almost all of these are non-vegetarian dishes. Bad for me. Do these come in veg flavors as well? Or can the veg counterpart be prepared on special request? I would be really happy if they would
The Travel NinjasPosted at 03:05h, 14 November
Neha, yes there are numerous amounts of vegetarian options and a majority of these can be made as a vegetarian dish prepared on special request. There is a large percentage of vegetarians in the area so rest assured that there are plenty of delicious dishes that you can enjoy!
AlessandraPosted at 15:16h, 15 November
I love trying local street food, they are sometimes the best! The penang prawn mee sounds delicious!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 16:33h, 15 November
Alessandra, we love trying the local street food as well. We learn so much about the culture simply by trying out their food. 🙂
JohannPosted at 23:05h, 15 November
The names and the descriptions are so intriguing. I want some photos to be satisfied now. 🙂
The Travel NinjasPosted at 23:34h, 15 November
Johann, your wish is our command! 🙂
Mar PagesPosted at 23:09h, 16 November
wow your list made me crave for all the food in Penang. It was as delicious as it sounds when I was there! Very accurate share 🙂
The Travel NinjasPosted at 23:41h, 16 November
Mar, it’s so cool that you got to taste all of the delicious food that Penang has to offer! Thanks 🙂
VyjayPosted at 02:51h, 18 November
The street food looks spectacular. I do believe that unless you taste the street food of a place, your travel is incomplete. Authentic flavours of the local street food need to be experienced for a lovely experience.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 03:56h, 18 November
Vyjay, exactly! Trying street food is a delicious window into new cultures, and is an integral part of the travel experience.
Christina from Happy to WanderPosted at 22:00h, 13 December
Omg! I can honestly say I’ve never tried ANY of these. gotta fix that soon. I love Southeast Asian street food!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 22:03h, 13 December
Hello Christina. Definitely give these a try. We love the street food in SEA too.
AllisonPosted at 22:04h, 13 December
Oooooh yum this post has me drooling! I also loved Penang street food. My favorites are asam laksa and char kway teow!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 22:08h, 13 December
Hello Allison. Asam Laksa and Char Kway are awesome.
Nadine RohnerPosted at 00:20h, 14 December
I am personally not a huge fan of street food but your pics look amazing and since I am in KL quite often I might even try it 🙂 Thanks for all your tips
The Travel NinjasPosted at 00:22h, 14 December
Hello Nadine. Great give some a try and let us know if you like them.
Iza Abao, Two Monkeys Travel Group WriterPosted at 08:36h, 14 December
I would definitely try these varieties of street food in Penang. I love noodles and seafood. If they are spicy, I would like them even more.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 08:38h, 14 December
Hello Iza. We love our food super spicy too.
StaceyPosted at 09:03h, 14 December
All of these look so good. I really want to try all! I guess I have to put Penang on my list and visit just for the food!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 09:05h, 14 December
Hello Stacey. Penang is a great place to visit for many reasons – like yummy street food.
NataliePosted at 09:26h, 14 December
Wow! These dishes all look so beautiful! We love trying new things when we travel. I have to be careful to avoid allergy triggers – pecans and kidney beans of all things! Since red beans and kidney beans look so much alike and translation is difficult to figure out which ones are which I have to miss out on things like chendol. I’ll just have to take your word for it. 🙂
The good news is that you CAN travel with allergies – you just need to be very prepared!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 09:30h, 14 December
Hello Natalie. We’re lucky that we don’t have food allergies. It’s very cool that you don’t let them quell your adventurous spirit.
nehaPosted at 11:02h, 14 December
I am a fan of street food and all those platters look yummy. However, I am a vegetarian..are there plenty of veg options here?
The Travel NinjasPosted at 11:05h, 14 December
Hello Neha. There are a large number of Indian immigrants in Malaysia (as I’m sure you know). So there are many delicious vegetarian options.
Meg CalePosted at 12:42h, 14 December
Street food is definitely the way to go when you’re traveling on a budget. I LOVED the street food in SE Asia but I haven’t tried many of these dishes. Definitely will on my next trip.
The Travel NinjasPosted at 12:45h, 14 December
Hello Meg. We love the street food in SE Asia too. And we’re always trying new dishes ourselves.
Diana - MVMT BlogPosted at 12:45h, 15 December
I’m going to Penang in March, and the street food is one of the things I’m most excited about! I would like to try the noodle soups, although I’m not sure if I’ll be able to handle their level of spice, especially when it’s really hot outside! The dessert looks very interesting, and seeing as I have a huge sweet tooth, you know I’ll definitely be trying that. Thanks for sharing!
The Travel NinjasPosted at 12:50h, 15 December
Hi Diana. How exciting! You are going to LOVE it. Their street food is the best. You can always tell them to make it mild and they will usually accommodate. We typically ask for EXTRA spicy! Ha ha. Enjoy Penang! 🙂