Penang, Malaysia is a foodie haven. Which is surprising, because when you think of Malaysia, the first thing that springs to mind probably isn’t succulent street kebabs and red bean shaved ice. Because Penang is home to such a diverse mix of cultures — including Malay, Chinese and Indian — you’re bound to find something delicious to satisfy your palate.
Not only is the food in Penang famous, but so are the prices. If you’re on a western budget, you can live like royalty in Malaysia. Pretty much everything is cheap, a dollar or less, and you can include as many or as few things in a meal as you like, choosing Indian for dinner and a typical Malay treat for dessert.
Chulia Street in Georgetown is the Mecca for cheap hawker food stalls. The typically busy main street transforms into a fragrant, bustling conglomeration of steaming food stalls by night. Some dishes are not to be missed. Check them out here:
Arguably the most famous dish of Penang is this delicious, spicy fish soup. Mackerel is poached and stewed in a thin broth flavored with chilies, tamarind, lemongrass and shrimp paste. Rice vermicelli is plopped on top to make a delightfully slurpy soup. If you try only one street food dish in Penang, let this be it.
Another famous dish in Penang is this yummy snack. Rice is cooked in coconut milk and combined with prawns and sambal (a sauce made from chili peppers, shrimp paste, ginger, scallions, sugar and lime juice) and wrapped in a banana leaf to seal in the flavor. Cheap and available in many flavor combinations, nasi lemak is worth seeking out for an authentically Malay breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Cheap and easy to find, dumplings are a delicious staple in the Penang street food scene. They can be filled with vegetables or any kind of meat or fish, steamed or fried, served on a plate or a stick. Any way you like, you can find. Make sure not to forgo the tasty five spice sauce that’s served on the side, as it really takes the flavor up a notch.
This is a flat, flaky bread that goes well with everything from curry to Nutella. Available on the street for less than a dollar, it’s a great snack for when you’re waiting for dinner from a slammed street cart down the way. Be sure to stick around to see how it’s made, as the guys twist and slap the dough around, smother it with ghee and magically transform it into a piping hot, crunchy yet chewy morsel that melts in your mouth.
Dry rubbed in taste bud-tickling spices and served with naan and sweet, spicy and sour sauces, chicken tandoori is a quick meal to satisfy and delight. A fresh assortment of cucumbers and limes are also served to provide a crunchy refreshment from the spice of the chicken.
Steam Your Own at a Street Cart
This one is really a more fun experience than it is for fantastic food. The carts are set up with all sorts of vegetables, meats and seafood that are skewered and color-coded. Pick what you want, dunk it in the pot of boiling water to cook for a few minutes and enjoy standing around with the other locals.
Treats from Little India
Do yourself a favor and take a stroll through Little India while in Penang. The streets are fragrant with samosas, curries and all types of sweets like puddings, candied nuts and coconut balls. Take only one of each, as you’re bound to want to sample everything this drool-worthy neighborhood has to offer.
Because Penang is situated on the ocean, the city offers many types of fresh seafood for cheap. You can get curried prawns, steamed fish or squid stir fried with vegetables and served over rice. This is best eaten at one of the many beaches Penang has to offer, while sipping a freshly hacked open coconut.
There are also tons of desserts to try, like coconut grass jelly and crumbly condensed milk squares.
Penang has one of the best food scenes in the world, second in Asia only to Bangkok. If you’re there to enjoy the food, make sure not to eat too much at one meal since you’ll likely want to try the next 15 delicious-looking things you see on the street.