Glorious food: Homegrown Favourites

Penang and hawker food are inextricably linked. Never the two be torn apart! It is not very surprising then that when one thinks of Penang food, the mind automatically conjures up visions of freshly cooked hawker fare. Whether you are a local or a tourist, hawker fare has something to satisfy many palates. Best of all, eating out at hawker stalls won't break the bank.

The varieties of hawker fare and hawker centres are seemingly endless, and there are plenty to choose from at almost any time of the day. It is prudent to leave your stomach with a little room for some of Penang’s famous desert or snacks – before or after a meal.

Ais kacang

The mother of all Malaysian dessert, it is also known as “ABC Ais”. Ais kacang literally translated means “Iced beans”, but it contains more than that. Ais Kacang is a mixture of shaved ice with red and brown syrup over red beans, jelly, sweet corn, “attap chi” and evaporated milk. Ice cream is an additional ingredient available upon request. Super stuff in a bowl not the be missed.

For the best ais kacang in town (in no particular order): Hawker stall at Swatow Lane and Lorong Selamat in the afternoons.


Cendol is a favourite desert among locals. It is easily identified: green pandan flavoured noodles in white coconut milk with brown sugar. Sweet heavenly stuff – super cheap and ultra good. Costs between RM1.50 to RM2.50 per bowl.

For the best cendol in town (in no particular order): Hawker stall at a lane off Penang Road; eating outlet at Gurney Drive Hawker Centre and Lorong Selamat coffee shop


Fruit and vegetable salad consisting of cucumber, pineapple, nutmeg, unripe mango, cuttlefish and jambu air, mixed in a potent sauce of prawn paste, chilli, belacan and crushed ground nuts. A healthy alternative for RM1.50 to RM3.50 per plate.

See kor th'ng

Dessert of fruits and jellies in syrup served hot or cold. Costs from RM1.50 per bowl. Try the Gurney Drive hawker centre in the evenings.

Sotong bakar

Thin strips of grilled squid taken with sweet and spicy sauce. A fishy delight for RM4.00 to RM8.00 per serving. For the best sotong bakar in town: Hawker stalls at Gurney Drive.

Other goodies

Don't miss the opportunity to savour other specialities such as: apom (Indian pancake cooked in a claypot); bubur cha cha (sweet dessert made from steamed sweet potatoes, yam, white beans, tapioca jelly in coconut milk); cheh thau (a sweet porridge made from green peas); gandum (Indian pudding made from wholewheat, brown sugar and coconut milk); eu char koay (fried puff bread sticks); gadogado (malay vegetable salad topped with peanut sauce); ham chin peng (deep fries snack food made from sweet and salty dough, sometimes filled with red bean paste or glutinous rice); mua chee (made from steamed glutinous rice flour, chopped into small pieces and rolled in ground peanuts, sugat and roasted sesame seeds); pie tee ("top hats" small deep fried paster shell filled with pohpiah filling); goreng pisang (deep fried battered banana); poh piah (nyonya spring roll filled with cooked shredded turnip, beans, chopped prawns and soyabean curd); and putu piring (brown sugar and rice flour cake cooked by steaming and eaten with grated coconut).

Local fruits

There is nothing quite like a plate brimming over with freah sliced fruits, packed around with ice, to end any meal in Penang. It's also a good chance to experience with the huge variety of tropical fruits found here. You'll find fresh fruit stalls at virtually every food center, and if you want to buy some for sampling later, any wet market, supermarket or fruit stall will be happy to help you choose the pick of the crop. Local fruits to try include durian (an acquired taste), rambutan, starfruit, nangka (jack fruit), mangosteen, duku and chiku.

One way to try local fruit is in juice form. Most food centers offer freshly squeezed juices, including the standard orange and apple varieties. But for real treat, try starfruit, watermelon, and pineapple, or a mixed juice "cocktail".

Lipsmacking local cookies

When talking about Penang's biscuits, the tau sar peah (tambun biscuit) reigns supreme. Available in two varieties, one with green bean filling and another one with gula melaka, these biscuits are suitable for eating anytime of the day. They also make great gifts. Coming in at a close second at the popularity stakes is the hneoh pneah – a flattish biscuit with a flaky crust and sticky caramel filling. Both biscuits are available from most shops at Chowrasta or direct from the source – Ghee Hiang and Him Heang are famous brands.

Check out Little India for a variety of Indian crunchies like savoury muruku and kacang putih. If you have a craving for sweet and savoury nibbles Malay style, try the pisang manis sira gula, bahulu, pisang abu masin, kerepek ubi masin, kerepek ubi and tempeyek. Available from Chowrasta, the Lorong Kulit flea market and night markets (pasar malam).

The ever versatile Nasi Goreng (fried rice)

Penang fried rice © Adrian Cheah

Thanks to its unique cultural mix, food lovers in Malaysia get to enjoy a mouth-watering blend of various flavours in their victuals (or makan-makan in local speak). Think sambal belacan with wantan noodles, Nyonya curries, Malay char koay teow and the ever popular and versatile nasi goreng or fried rice. It can be eaten any time of the day and is found on the menu of any Penang or Malaysian eatery, from street vendors to five-star hotels.

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Something blue, something rice, something nice at Mews Café

Yes, this blue-coloured rice dish from Mews Café that is simply delicious also titillates the senses. It looks amazing, smells appetising and tasted heavenly as well.

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Penang tau sar peah, food for the Gods

Penang's tau sar peah is legendary and spoken of in the same breath as Kuala Kangsar's pau (dumpling) and Kampar's chicken biscuits.

Indeed, conversations about Penang food inevitably turns to the celebrated Penang tau sar peah. For Penangites who work outside the state (and even those who live overseas) and return for periodic sojourns to their beloved hometown, the tau sar peah is invariably among the items that line their bags when they depart.

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Time always for Laksa

Penang Laksa © Adrian Cheah

Penang Assam Laksa is amongst the best known and loved of hawker fare in Penang. A bowl of steamed spaghetti-sized rice vermicelli is first generously garnished with finely sliced vegetables including onions, cucumber, red chillis, pineapple, lettuce, mint and pink bunga kantan (ginger buds).

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Durian, the sensational "king of the fruits"

Penang durian © Adrian Cheah

“You should wash your hands using the water poured from a durian skin. It will remove the smell from your fingers," urged Mr. Teh, my neighbour who accompanied me on a durian feast at Balik Pulau. We had a satisfying breakfast like no other amidst the natural surrounding of a durian orchard.

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That harry fruit called Rambutan

Penang rambutan © Adrian Cheah

Among the vast range of fruits available in Penang, Rambutan comes a close second to Durian as a popular choice when in season. Sold along roadsides at market places and by fruit vendors, rambutans are tied up in bunches of 50 or 100 and prices vary according to size and quality.

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Penang’s all-time favourite Char Koay Teow

Penang Char Koay Teow © Adrian Cheah

I have always wondered where the all-so-famous Penang Char Koay Teow came from? Who were its original creators? Some believe that Char Koay Teow (‘fried flat noodles in Teochew) was first sold by Chinese fishermen, farmers and cockle-gatherers on the island who moonlighted as Char Koay Teow hawkers in the evening to supplement their income.

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Coconut water – the perfect tonic for the tropics

Coconut © Adrian Cheah

On our way back from Pantai Kerachut, my friends and I were contemplating what drink to quench our thirst after an exhausting hike, aside from the obvious choices-100 Plus, Coke or Kickapoo. Why not coconut water, we thought, so coconut water it was.

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