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Penang Hawker Food (Penang Street Food)

Famous Penang Hokkien Mee or prawn noodles
Famous Penang Hokkien Mee or prawn noodles pictures (9 of 40)

Penang Private Tour and Culinary Tour

My family runs a private culinary tour where we take you to sample the best of Penang food plus local culture: hawker food/street food, local wet markets, fruit orchards and spice plantations, belacan (prawn paste) and soy sauce manufacturing plants, Nyonya food, home-stay meals, and more! Click here to learn more or contact me to inquire further.

Penang hawker food—also known as street food—is world famous and legendary one has to try it out to justify it. In my honest opinion, Penang offers the best street food, thanks to its people and state authorities who fiercely embrace, cultivate, and take great pride in Penang’s unique street food culture and living traditions.

Born and raised in Penang, I might be bias, but great press such as Time Asia’s Best of Asia for “Best Street Food,” The New York Times’s “44 Places to Go in 2009,” plus throngs of tourists and foodies alike who come to Penang in search of great street food don’t lie. The recent UNESCO world heritage listing is just an icing on the cake for Penang tourism…

Excerpts from Time Asia:

Imagine a free-ranging buffet, several hundred square kilometers in area, through which to graze at will. This limitless cornucopia brings together some of the liveliest culinary traditions of Asia, and participation costs only a few dollars. That’s the Malaysian state of Penang. Mere mention of its name will set mouths watering—not only among Malaysians, but anyone lucky enough to have encountered its exceptional street food.

Got a thing for blistering sambals and sizzling noodles? Then make yourself at home. Generations of Chinese and Indian migrants certainly have—and it’s their cuisines, when added to the indigenous style (which itself incorporates elements of Malay and Thai), that have helped make Penang the food-hawker capital of Asia. Try Gurney Drive for char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles), Balik Pulau for “Penang-style” laksa (more sour than the norm), and King Street for roti panggang—flat bread with coconut jam, toasted on a charcoal grill. Only in Penang could food this good be this cheap.

With this post and my Penang hawker food photo gallery (which do no justice to what Penang has to offer), I urge you to pay a visit to Penang if you can. With our very own low-cost carrier Air Asia flying to Malaysia and Penang from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, United Kingdom, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Taiwan, etc., you can get to Penang a lot easier than you say “Assam Laksa.”

For me, my dream is to take Anthony Bourdain, the “No Reservations” crew, my friends at Saveur to Penang one day. I wish to give them an insider’s guide to savoring the best of Penang hawker food.

To read more about Penang street food, please check out my good friend Eating Asia’s Penang chronicles here, here, here, here, and here.

If you’ve been to Penang, leave me a comment and let me know if Penang hawker food reigns supreme?

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68 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

  1. Valerie

    You should totally bring Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmerman to Penang! I love their shows. Anthony Bourdain is very adventurous and I like his attitude about food. He even tried durian when he was in Indo. I bet the food in Penang is worth the trip. I am planning a trip home to Singapore and catch on Air Asia or coach to Penang. I will surely contact your family run business tour! Thanks again.


    • Hey Val – Andrew Zimmerman went to Penang before but it was part of a SEA tour, so the Penang part was very short. He barely scratched the surface. To produce a very good show in Penang, you really need to have a great local guide who knows Penang well, plus the guide has to be able to communicate well with the production team. I have seen many TV shows that cover Penang that could have been done better. I am hopeful that one day my dream will come true. :)

  2. ah..the pic compilation of penang food is making me drool. As a M’sian, no other food could satisfy my taste buds but m’sian food and penang food is indispensable :)

  3. Wow Bee, the food looks absolutely beautiful! I’m all dreamy right now. :-)
    It’s really too bad my schedule was so tight when i was in Singapore because i would have loved to go explore Malaysia and particulary Penang. Your post reinforce the idea that i must come back SOON. Already in Singapore i was having on average 7 meals a day (mostly street food) … i can’t even imagine if i come to Penang. Oh Lord!
    My psychic powers tell me it’s just a matter of time before Anthony Bourdain shows up with his TV crew… but i want to beat him to it! :-)

  4. Hey Bee, looking at these pix at 8am in the morning makes my tummy growl….and gives me lots of inspiration to get back to Penang this year! I guess, after 20 years, it won’t be such a bad idea after all :-) Thanks for sharing!

    • Wow, 20 years away from Penang. You have to head back soon, and you will probably find your favorite hawker selling the same food at the same spot. Yep, that’s Penang, things remain the same and pretty much unchanged. :)

  5. It makes me smile to think of you and Bourdain eating your way around Penang. Penang was our last stop in Malaysia after traveling all around the country, and we relaxed into the rhythm of the city instantly. I hope to visit again some day.

  6. Jay

    Andrew Zimmerman … is a joke. Really. He pales compared to Anthony Bourdain. On the episode Zimmerman was in M’sia he tried durian and spit it out. Almost gagged. Probably overacting on his part. But the durian guy was offended when Zimmerman says it tasted like rotten wet socks.

    • Well, I saw that episode. When it comes to Penang durian, you can’t find better variety elsewhere as Penang always win the regional competition when it comes to the best durians. I heard Sumatera has great durians, too, but I agreed that Andrew Zimmerman over exaggerated. Durians in Penang are fantastic, I can think of a lot more foods which taste much worst and smell much rotten than durians, but yes, to many people, durian is an acquired taste. ;)

  7. After the Chengdu post and this Penang one, all I can think is this: there is pretty much zero street food in the US and Canada (well, relatively speaking). A few hot dog carts, taco vendors, etc. just ain’t enough. Even if the Chengdu street food wasn’t up to the Penang par, I’ll take it over nothing!

    • Agreed. I think I should get an investor and open a street food center which sells all kinds of street food, I think it will be a hit, especially in the LA area. Any investors??? ;)

  8. Although Im not a Penangite I have to agree that when it comes to hawker food, Penang won hands down. One has to reserve the trip to Penang solely for the food and that alone is worth the travel across the world.

    • CClarice

      My my … I am really drooling esp over the curry mee and assam laksa.
      From all I know, I have never been hungry for a minute whenever I visit Penang.
      When I am not eating hawker food, I will be munching away its famous preserve nutmeg, mango, papaya ……
      Yes, thumbs up for Penang food … cheap and good.

      • Clarice – exactly, I am always eating and eating and eating when I am in Penang. Too little time, too much good eats. And yes, the preserved shredded nutmegs are awesome, and fried banana chips. Yum!

    • KL hawker food is also great, but Penang still reigns supreme. Well, when it comes to food, I think Malaysian food is just really awesome! You can’t beat it because if offers a full spectrum of different tastes in just a hawker center. You can’t find it as great elsewhere. :)

  9. Oh my goodness! You’re killing me with your gorgeous photos! I think I may have short circuited my keyboard with drool. I reckon Penang is the only place on earth where we ate 15 meals in one day. I have only been to Penang once (as a teenager) and I can still remember just enjoying myself so much with my family. It’s definitely a place I’ll be taking my kids to see and eat (maybe when they’re older so the road trip won’t be so torturous for me!)

  10. Totally agree with you, Bee. More has to be done to produce a TV show that cover Penang in more detail. Hope to see one in the near future.

  11. One of those places I have yet visited and always wanted to. Would you be my guide when the time comes? How many episodes do you need to cover Penang? I can see one complete series with you as the guide :D

    • Tiga – of course, next time I will let you know when I head back to Penang and will be your personal guide to eating all the great hawker food. I think I will be happy with 1 episode, I am not greedy.

  12. Jenny

    I haven’t been to every part of Asia yet but from what I’ve had so far, I agree Penang street food is the best! In terms of cuisines as a whole though, I still think Chinese reigns supreme. Considering all the regional types (and I’m talking when it’s done well; at home, in restaurants, whatever, not just streets) -and don’t forget Hokkien/Teochew/Hakka food that is well known in Singapore is also Chinese -seems to satisfy me the most :)
    Malaysian food is still good though! In addition to Japanese, Vietnamese…I can go on and on.

    • Yes, Penang street food is the best, but I agree that Chinese reigns supreme–the regional Chinese food is just great. Every region has its own flavor and that’s what so great about Chinese food.

  13. NYMY

    I have enough Taiwanese friends to tell me Penang’s street food trump Taiwan :) I also ate enough Thai, Indonesian and Singapore street food to say Penang still on top. Mostly, they concluded the street food in Malaysia tasted more complex where spices and flavors mixed harmoniously. Personally, I wonder how every Penang char koay teow I had just tasted better than anywhere else in the world? Talking street food makes just want to go downstairs and get a taco. At least I get to fulfill the street part of my wanting meal now :(

    • Correct. I went to Taipei for their street food but was rather disappointed. There are many stalls in the night markets selling street food but the taste is really so so. For example: their oysters omelet is certainly not as good compared to the Penang version.

  14. this is a very good post. all in one, with a little promo in the fray. :)

    Penang’s hawker food IS the best in M’sia. no comparison, this coming from someone from Ipoh. I stayed in Penang for a good 4 yrs back when I was a student, and from there, my foodie instincts flourished. many, many folds. hahaha …..

    • A little promotion doesn’t hurt, as long as the food delivers. LOL.

      Oh yes, when I was attending college in KL, the first few months was so tough because the food was just really tasteless and bland compared to what I have used to. So it was a difficult adjustment for me. It didn’t only happen to me, but all my friends from Penang. No offense to KL hawker food though. ;)

  15. Nora

    Oh my god the food in Malaysia is crazy good everytime I go there I put on like 5 kg.
    I am such an asian foodie I almost died when I went to France for an immersion trip everybody was like I LUV FRENCH FOOD~~ but I was already craving for my spices and what nots on the first day. Hehe I’m a Singaporean and I think the food in Singapore is rly good as well just not as cheap as Malaysia, but my dad is Malaysian and he is obsessed with Penang food I swear he gets so excited whenever he sees a newly-opened restaurant (we usually go to KL). Would really like to go back to Penang one day I used to go there quite often when I was a kid and I remember staying at the Rasa Sayang hotel (? so long ago I don’t know if it’s changed its name or something heh) and walking out to eat Char Kway Teow along the roadsides :)
    What an epic long comment hahaha sorry!

    • Nora – ha, if your dad is from Penang, and I can totally relate to his excitement when taking about Penang food. It’s in the blood of those born and raised in Penang. We might have left our little island, but our heart and stomach are left there forever. LOL.

  16. Penang hawker food IS the best. The char kway teow from hawker stalls is my favourite, it never tastes the same anywhere else. Add to that a fresh orange juice with ice in a bag, oh yeah.

    When I was a kid (before I gave up meat) my favourite was the hawker style of vegie + noodle + meat plunged into the simmering chicken stock for thirty seconds.

    • Ooooh, I just don’t understand why elsewhere fruit juice is not as celebrated. I looooove the fresh fruit juice available at Penang kopitiam: watermelon, apple, orange, carrot with condensed milk, and starfruit, so good. Oh, and yes, the pat poh peng, sui kam peng, keat po, etc. So good.

  17. Sze

    I really miss all those foods!!!
    Every dish have its own story, it is not just simply food but represent to different culture of Malaysia.Marvelous!!!!

    • Yes, you are right. To me, each dish conjures up certain memories of my childhood, my family, the place, the hawker, etc. I was eating my favorite apong in Pulau Tikus Bee Hooi kopitiam, and the same vendor still sells the apong, which means I have been eating his apong for almost 30 years. I asked him if he will be retiring, and he said “as long as he can continue selling his apong, he will do so. If he retires, then there will be no apong for his customers.” And that’s the very reason why Penang hawker food is so special. The hawkers take pride is what they do, even though the apong sells for 40 cents each, or a noodle sells for RM3 each, it’s their way of life, and it’s a living tradition that hopefully will transcend time.

  18. Ivy – I am not sure about the origin of Panang curry. Curry is really not a hawker food. But if Panang curry is from the south of Thailand, it might be named Panang because of Penang? I seriously don’t know. Sorry. :(

  19. yowzah

    AIYO looking at those pictures made me homesick and hungry!!! Haven’t been home for 2 years already, absolutely gotta make a trip home soon! You’re so lucky you get to balik kampung quite often :) I remember eating this super spicy and unforgettable delish indian food, banana leaves and all at this little restaurant in gelugor where my aunt lives. My dream is to go back to that restaurant again…Thanks for posting the pictures, definitely brings back memories :)

  20. Joey

    I’m a former resident of Malaysia now living in Portland, Oregon. We actually have a kind of ‘hawker stall’ business here. They are called food carts and the City of Portland supports these businesses. They are popular and growing. All kinds of food from all over the world, even Bosnia. No Malaysian yet. Here’s a link to a site about these food carts

    You should try them if you come up here.

  21. Michelle

    Hi Rasa Malaysia,

    I always sneak peek on your website as you have a great recipes on Malaysian food wheter its chinese, malaysian or nyonya food and I’m so lucky to found your website, such a coincidence.I’m an Indonesian lived in Toronto. I’ve been to Penang last year, ohh the foods is UNBELIEAVABLE, so cheap (even cheaper than in Spore) and its so niceee. Thou there is a bit similiar to Medan’s food ( North Sumatra, Indo) but There is a unique taste that diffrentiate from other place. I love the char kwetiao & asam laksa ( me & my mum eat that a lot)=p I forgot what other things that i tried but those two i remember the most lolz=p Btw do you have any char kwe tiao recipe? I don’t know how they cook it so nice, like the dryness with the egg and the flavour is different from how i cook at home. Thx and good job on you recipes & photos. Keep it up! Cheers

  22. Xuwen

    These photos of Penang hawker foods make me feel hungry each time I look at them! I am glad that I have discovered this great Rasa Malaysia website when I wanna learn how to cook proper Malaysian foods. I really miss my hometown and Penang foods are always the best to me!

  23. idah

    Hi! I’m Idah. I’m from the Philippines but am currently studying in USM. My research topic is actually on food tourism here in Penang. I was wondering, has anyone availed of the food tour you offer in this website, and if so, how are the feedbacks? Hoping to hear from you! :)

  24. rob towles

    i always believe that best way to learn the people’s culture and find great food is to get in the streets. great article. had fun reading it.

  25. easyly

    Hi, need help on a good char keow teow stall other than lorong selamat and the 3 sisters’. Also, where to find best curry mee. In Penang of course. Thanks.

  26. NormalSurfer

    its very obvious you are biased. penang may have a lot of street stalls, how sure are you they are all tasty? there are some that tastes like shit and yet so many people like them. and you know why? they have never been out of penang island before.

    • Dear KL resident commenter with IP hawker food stalls in Penang are generally better than those outside of Penang! It’s a fact and that’s why people from all over Malaysia and overseas come to Penang for the delicious hawker food. Take for example the simple kuey teow fish balls soup in Penang vs. KL’s version, the difference in taste and texture are pretty pronounced. As a Malaysian, which I hope you are, you should be proud that Penang has great hawker food that is world famous. Where is your 1Malaysia spirit?

  27. MR Callo

    I was in Penang last year before Christmas and visited some of those fabled street hawkers emporiums. The food was fantastic but what stayed on my mind is kindness of the people of Penang. At one of the hawker centers, I left my expensive camera in the bathroom. When I realized I had left it, I went back to retrieve it but it was gone. Our waiter, an elderly gentleman, heard me telling my driver that I had left the camera in the bathroom. He took it upon himself to find it and presented me with my “lost” camera before we left! My precious pictures of Penang were saved! And I left with a very warm feeling for the people of Penang. Sometimes, it really is the small things that stays in your mind!

  28. leandro lopez

    iam interested in going to penang next year will be their for 2days can you recommend a tour package for me we are 2 pax and how much will it cost

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