Top 3 Eats in Penang, Malaysia

Candied and preserved fruit snacks make a colourful display at Chowrasta Market
Penang has a special place in my heart. It is my husband’s home town, it was one of the first places we visited as a couple, and it was where I’ve had the best har mee (known as hokkien mee in Penang), which is one of my favourite hawker dishes.

Called the “Pearl of the Orient” and a key spice trading port during British colonial rule, Penang is a known food mecca and a great weekend getaway destination from Singapore.
Road-side vendor selling fresh sugar cane juice
In my recent visit to Pulau Pinang over the Christmas break, I was spoilt for good food options. Here are my top three recommendations (in no particular order – they are all good) for travellers who are keen to sample some delicious fare, Penang-style:

May Garden Palace Restaurant (70, Penang Road, Penang, George Town, 10000)
Must-eat dish:  Suckling pig

This Chinese restaurant may not look like much more than your typical suburban, but looks can certainly be deceiving. The restaurant serves up delicious Cantonese-inspired cuisine, including their renowned suckling pig. The piglet comes out on a dish whole, the skin is delicately thin and crispy, the meat is soft and tender, and in my books it holds up its reputation as the best suckling pig in town.
May Garden's signature suckling pig
Other stand-out dishes included the whole butterflied fish, the chicken cooked in a clear broth with mirepoix (carrots, celery and onion) and the cendol, a traditional dessert made with shaved ice, coconut milk, pandan flavoured “green noodles” and palm sugar.
Although older generations might lament at the increasing cost of food in Malaysia, overseas visitors will still find great value for money. Feeding two tables of ten (each with their own suckling pig) set us back around AU$400.
Moulmein Road Hokkien Mee (Corner of Jalan Moulmein, near Pulau Tikus market)
Must-eat dish:  Hokkien mee (Prawn noodles)
Breakfast of champions: hokkien mee worth waking up for, accompanied by teh tarik

I’m not an early bird, but you have to be if you want to score a steaming hot bowl of the yummy goodness on offer here. This famous hawker stall opens early in the morning and sells out as early as 8:30am. 

Har mee or hokkien mee in Penang is a prawn soup noodle – a good rendition will have an intensely pork and prawn flavoured broth, a mixture of yellow noodles and bee hoon and pack a spicy punch. The version here arrives at your table piping hot, with a spoonful of chilli paste which you can mix in for added heat, some kang kong (morning glory) and thinly sliced pork.
Crispy thin edges with a soft fluffy centre - a great breakfast dessert!
Once you’ve had your fill of hokkien mee, I recommend trying the Apom, a pancake with crispy edges and a beautifully fluffy centre before having a wander through nearby Pulau Tikus market.
"Air plants" for sale at Pulau Tikus market

Traditional Nyonya "kueh"
Perut Rumah Nyonya Cuisine (17, Jalan Kelawai, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang)
Must-eat dish: Kuih Pai Tee
Restaurant interior
Every time we visit Penang, I've had dinner at Perut Rumah for tasty and traditional Nyonya cooking. The ambience in the restaurant feels authentic with its Peranakan tiffin pots, teapots and plates on display, and marble topped dining tables and chair.
Kuih Pai Tee
My favourite appetiser is the kuih pai tee, crispy fried shells filled with a stuffing of shredded vegetables. For mains we had lady fingers with sambal prawns, curry chicken and hong bak, a spiced braised pork and potato dish. I might be biased when I say that my tastebuds probably favour my mother in law’s versions of these dishes, but it was still a very satisfying and homely meal.
Lady fingers and curry chicken
With four appetisers, four mains and two desserts plus drinks between the hubby and me, we paid RM 106. Bookings are recommended for dinner.

With such a melting pot of delectable options out there to taste and explore, Penang values its food culture so highly that the Penang government has passed a law banning foreign cooks from manning hawker stalls. I'm hopeful this means the quality and standard of Penang's hawker scene will be upheld for many more visits to come!
Bottoms up! Fresh sugarcane juice.
  1. Traffic is surprisingly bad in Penang, especially along Gurney Drive, where a lot of the hotels and big shopping malls are located. Leave plenty of time to get from place to place!
  2. From its history as a spice port, one of Penang’s local products is nutmeg oil. You can find this in for about RM6 in market places, either pure or mixed with mace. This concoction is said to be a traditional natural remedy for aches and pains.
  3. When eating hawker dishes, I would be wary of oysters and cockles, which are used for example in o chien (fried oyster omelette) and char kuay teow noodles, which are likely suspects for causing traveller’s diarrhoea and stomach upsets. 

Happy eating!
xx Amanda

Penang is a short 1.5 hour plane ride from Singapore. SilkAir and AirAsia have daily direct flights, while Jetstar and Tiger fly five and four times a week, respectively. 


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