Penang – a foodie paradise!

I recently went to Kuala Lumpur for a friend’s wedding and decided to tack on 4 extra days in Penang. I had never been before, but had heard rave reviews about the island off the west coast of the Malaysian mainland. Particularly about the food.

While the food was AMAZING (yes, sooo tasty and so cheap!), I was slightly disappointed by the actual island – I guess the beaches weren’t as good as I expected from South East Asia. However, I am from Australia so it’s always going to be hard to impress me on the beach front.

During my 4 days, I not only got to try some of my favourite Malaysian dishes from my two go to places in Sydney – The Malaya and Mamak – but also got to try some new ones and learn more about Malaysian cuisine! I actually realised how much I dont know about Malaysian cuisine, despite having grown up in Australia. A must do is to go to the hawker markets in the evening on Gurney Drive – we got to try a whole bunch of dishes for a total of $10 per person!

Here’s the wrap:

Some old favourites

  • Roti canai: my favourite Malaysian dish, I had this for breakfast whenever I could – so good. As good as at Mamak in Sydney 🙂 It was super cool to learn how to make roti canai from a professional chef! (I will post the recipe later)
  • Otak otak: (pronounced ota ota, as I learnt during this trip) Otak Otak is hands down my favourite dish at The Malaya in Sydney – it’s a piece of fish smothered in curried spices, wrapped in a banana leaf. I had very high expectations – however, I’ve only ever tried it there, so I was worried these expectations may have been too high given our friends said they had a really bad version in KL that didn’t resemble the version at The Malaya. BUT – I was pleasantly surprised – it was AMAZING. The fish was spicy yet so zesty at the same time! LOVED IT – this was my favourite dish the whole trip.
  • Laksa (a.k.a. curry mee): need I say more? YUM! Although I discovered a new variant – the Penang or Asam laksa (see below)
  • Ais kacang!: I couldn’t resist putting the exclamation mark there – anything with “kacang” deserves one! This is an amazing street food style dessert – it’s probably the only dessert in the world where I like mixing ice with red bean and corn! I even got to make my own at a restaurant – the ice machine churns out the ice, then I topped it with a few syrups and then added red bean, green jelly, corn and ice cream. It sounds disgusting, but it’s SO YUM! I would had this almost everyday 🙂

Some new favourites

  • Pie tee: the cutest little appetiser you’ve ever seen, its basically a little vol-a-vent filled with yummy vegies and spices. So tasty!
  • Char kuey teow: I’m surprised I’ve never tried this actually – it’s basically like a pad thai minus the ground up peanuts, flatter noodles and a smokier taste. Yum!
  • Roti jala: this was a real find – we walked past a small stall at the start of Little India and saw an interesting spiral-y thing of batter being fried on a pan. We asked the stall owner what it was and he replied ‘roti jala’ – I had never heard of this! We decided to give it a go and were pleasantly surprised – it was SO good! A really light pancake-y thing that went beautifully with the yummy chicken curry – it rivals roti canai!
  • Penang or Asam laksa: this was really new to me – this was not like the typical laksa I was used to back home in Sydney. It was more like a sour fishy soup with thicker noodles – without the coconuty-ness of the traditional laksa. I did like this version, but to be frank, preferred the traditional laksa more.

We even found some R&R time to treat ourselves to some high tea at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Georgetown, a hotel reminiscent of Singapore’s Raffles.


Clockwise from top left: pie tee, roti jala, otak otak, high tea at the E&O hotel in Georgetown

A little bit about Penang

Penang is an island off the west coat of Malaysia, around 4 hours drive away from Kuala Lumpur. During our tour of the Penang Museum, I learnt that Penang has been settled by Europeans, Arabs, Indians, Chinese and Malays from the mainland. This diversity is evident in the cuisine. I would say the two main parts of Penang to visit are Georgetown, littered with colonial buildings as well as churches, temples and mosques, and Batu Ferringhi (which means Foreigner’s Rock), which is the beach area.

Sights of Penang

Clockwise from top left: beach at Batu Ferringhi, the hawker night markets at Gurney Drive, Kek Lok Sei temple, the line of Buddha statues at KLS temple


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