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Food is a big deal in Penang. The locals are very proud of their cuisine. There a restaurants, food courts and hawker centres everywhere.

Our First Hawker Centre Meal - We ordered FAR too much food!

Hawker centres are a fantastic concept. Picture an outdoor food court where you can pick and choose from Chinese, Malay, Thai and Indian cuisines. Plates of food are cheap, at around 5 RM, and small enough to allow you multiple choices at every meal. Place your order with a vendor, tell them where you’re sitting and when it’s ready, your meal is served up to your table. If I could pick one conecpt to import to my life in New Zealand, the hawker centre would be it. The best ones we came across in Georgetown were the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre and Red Garden.

Having said that, we didn’t warm to the traditional Penang delicicies. We found the famous fish laksa unstomachable, the char kway teow (fried noodles with prawn, cockles and Chinese sausage) overly greasy and the ice kaching (shaved ice topped with candied fruit, corn and beans) just down right weird. We tried the Malay food on offer, several times, and couldn’t enjoy it. After Thai food, which we could happily eat plate after plate of, the Malaysian food tasted oily and bland. We much prefer the array of vegetables that comes with Thai food and the lighter, more fragrant palate of herbs and coconut milk. I can’t stand chicken skin and it seemed to be in abundance in every meal we ate – sometimes more skin and bone than actual meat. MSG is used in almost everything which left us headachey and sleep deprived. Even when we asked for our food to be cooked without adding MSG (aginomoto) and were assured it wouldn’t be used, we still felt the effects. It sure is nasty stuff!

After a few meals we worked out what we did like.

Chicken Satay... Yummy!

Lee and Reuben ate endless amounts of chicken satay… I’m talking 40-50 skewers per sitting!!

Restoran Jaya

I couldn’t get enough of the wonderful Indian food. If my meal had roti in some form I was a happy girl. Fortunately for us, there was a Resotran Jaya (found in several spots across Penang and open 24 hours) across the road from our hotel which made for conveinient breakfast, lunch and dinner. Roti Canai was the best – a warm, flaky roti filled with chopped tandori chicken and cucumber dipped into a mild dahl and a spicy curry. Just a few ringgits for a plate full of deliciousness.

Roti Canai

We had a few meals in malls which were OK – a neat sushi place where you ordered from an iPad at your table and a cook-it-yourself Korean BBQ. The food court in the basement of Gurney Plaza has an excellent food court. The one in Prangin Mall and First Avenue Mall weren’t so good.

Banana Leaf Curry

We sampled a traditional Indian banana leaf meal at the best place for it in Penang – Passions of Kerala in the New World food centre. While the food was just OK, the experience itself was great. Lots of little vege side dishes to accompany a big leaf full of rice and two massive bowls of chicken curry. I really enjoyed digging in with my fingers though found it hard to fight the urge to use my left hand. One only eats Indian food with the right hand. The left hand is reserved for my unsavoury activities.  I had to sit on my left hand to stop it creeping into my curry.

Expectations are a funny thing. After five weeks in Thailand, we were so looking forward to a different cuisine. We’d heard so many good things about Penang’s food scene but ultimately we came away disappointed.

I’d love to hear from others on their opinions of the food in Penang and Malaysia.

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Showing 11 comments
  • Mary

    I have to say I totally agree with you. We did not care for the Malay food at all. But the Indian food there was fantastic! Sri Anada has the best paneer butter masala I have ever tasted. The hawker markets were great, Long beach is really good in batu Ferringhi.

    I also love how they use stainless steel trays rather than the plastic crap they use elsewhere:)

    • Bethaney

      Why is everyone always banging on about it then? It’s not a patch on Thai food. After a week of Indian food in Penang I was thoroughly sick of it – literally! Too much curry is a dangerous thing!!

      How are you finding the food in Cambodia?

  • Lou

    Ew the shaved ice thing sounds horrendous (and I usually like weird food!)

    I LOVE Thai food…. from the sounds of it, I wouldn’t dig Malay cuisine at all. The banana leaf-meal looks fun though – I agree, it’s so hard not to use your left hand, huh?

    Darn MSG – so sneaky!

  • Reply

    That picture of your son with the satay is adorable. I have to admit that I LOVE Char Kway Teow and will probably miss it when we move away from Penang. Thumbs down on Ice Kacang, but only because I grew up eating Filipino halo-halo which is similar but better (in my opinion). I also don’t like Penang Laksa — too fishy. Singaporean Laksa which has a coconut milk base is what I prefer. My friends and I meet weekly at Sri Ananda Bawan for Roti Canai. I need to take my kids to eat Banana Leaf since they are prone to using their fingers. I do agree that Penang food is on the heavy, oily side.

  • with2kidsintow

    We don’t ‘get’ the hype with Malaysian food either. When we were there, we really liked the traditional Chinese food on offer as well as the Indian. Here in Australia as well as in Canada, people are over the moon about Malaysian restaurants too.

  • Simon P

    Haha, I too found fish laksa to be utterly and completely disgusting – and don’t even get me started about ice kachang, a subject I blogged about once after a run in with one in Singapore!

  • Erin

    That roti canai looks great, I am not very adventourous with new foods, but I want that! I love roti for breakfast with kaya spread (coconut) so delicious! Is the roti indian? I want to find it now!

    • Bethaney

      You’ll have to find this chain of restaurants in Penang. It was so cheap and so good. It’s Indian food but I guess it’s the Malaysian or Muslim version of it. Whatever it was, it was YUM!

  • Travel with Bender (Erin)

    So I’ve just reread this and agree, cant stand any of the malay food except the satay sticks, but love the indian food! I still got to try that roti!!!

  • Lilian

    I love the fishy laksa! But I guess personal taste when it comes to food is very subjective =)

  • Heidi (@WagonersAbroad)

    uh oh, I think we may have trouble with this when we get there next year. I am researching Penang now to see how we will fair living over there for a bit. We have gotten used to Spain for the past year and with a few picky eaters in the family, this should be interesting. We may have to live off of rice and satay. I am not sure if I should show Alan (hubby and picky eather #1) this post or not. LOL

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