Glorious Food: The spice of India

Budget Indian food in Penang is mainly of the South Indian variety. Rice and vegetables are a prominent feature in sumptuous meals like the banana leaf rice; while flour based pancakes and fried rounds of dough with dhall or potato curry are hot favourites for breakfast or tea time snacks.

Muslim-indians are a small minority in Penang with great culinary skills. The not-too-politically-correct coloquial slang of “mamak” is the Malaysian term of description for these people. Mamak cooking is the merging of indian and malay cooking, so expect thick curries with coconut milk and spicy chillies.

Banana Leaf Rice

White rice served on banana leaf with assortment of vegetables, papedom and curried meat to choose from. Best eaten with hands. A sumptuous meal for any big eater on a budget. Don't forget to ask for yogurt. It goes well with the meal. RM3.00 to RM5.00 per serving. Rasem, a spicy soury drink is usually taken after the meal.

For good banana leaf rice try Jaya at 4 Taman Sri Tunas at Bayan Baru or Ranis Restaurant at Pulau Tikus.


North Indian flattened bread made with wholewheat flour. Goes with your choice of curry. Costs vary depending on choice of curry.

Mee Goreng and Mee Rebus

Mee goreng is fried wheat base mee, dry and spicy with potatoes, beancurd, squid and egg. Mee Rebus is of the same ingredients except it comes with a thick gravy flavoured with potato and tomato. Both are popular meals that are usually sold together and are easily available in most coffee shops. 

For the best Mee Goreng in town (in no particular order): Corner coffee shop at Bangkok Lane at Pulau Tikus in the afternoons; Mee Sultan stall at Swatow Lane in the afternoons; and the hawker centres at Gurney Drive and Esplanade.


Murtabak is a meat filled version of roti canai (see above). Choice of fillings include minced mutton, beef or chicken in beaten egg, onions and spices. Goes well with chicken curry and pickled onions.

Nasi Briyani

Rice cooked with spices and 'ghee' accompanied by choice of curried dishes. Kurma Chicken is recommended as the top choice. Goes well with air manis or a glass of iced rosed syrup drink. Prices range from RM2.50 to RM5.00 per person; depending on dishes ordered.

For the best nasi briyani in town (in no particular order): Hameedeyah Restaurant at Campbell Street; Taj Restaurant at Campbell Street

Nasi Kandar

Indian muslim rice with curried dishes. Derived its name from the shoulder poles (kandar) used by vendors of the past. The assortment of curried squids, chicken, fish, and prawns are worth a try. 

For the best nasi kandar in town (in no particular order): Taj Restaurant in Campbell Street; coffee shop opposite Gama Departmental Store; Kayu Nasi Kandar at Bukit Jambul and Penang Road.


Indian salad comprising of shredded cucumber, turnip, bean sprouts, beancurd, and potatoes topped with prawn fritters, spicy deep fried crab, and octopus, covered with a generous spread of spicy nutty sauce. Costs between RM2.00 to RM6.00 depending on choice of serving. For the best Pasembur in town (in no particular order): Hawkert stalls at Esplanade and Gurney Drive.

Roti Canai

Indian bread prepared on the spot by skilled hawkers using 'ghee' to fry stretched and layered dough. Can be eaten with sugar or curry. Super cheap meal. Roti telur is the same thing with egg while roti sardine is filled with sardines.


Indian savoury pancake made from rice flour and served with curry. Served with your choice of curry.

Tandoori chicken

The Punjab's most famous contribution to Indian cooking has to be the tandoor – an oven made from clay, a simple artifact which does many things like bake bread or roast chicken on long shewers.

Savour this authentic tandoori chicken usually served with nan bread and curries. For refreshments, try the fresh tang of lassi (yoghut drink), with choices from mango to rose and more. Available at most Indian restaurants and nasi kandar shops throughout Penang.

Murtabak – a hearty meal all by itself

Penang Murtabak © Adrian Cheah

Hameediyah Restaurant in Campbell Street serves good Murtabak. Established in 1907, this is one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Penang.

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Pann – Treat of the Real Thing

Pann © Adrian Cheah

Literally translated from Tamil, 'otthu kadai' – that quaint little wooden roadside shop specking the streets of George Town – means "small shop".

The 'otthu kadai' is a pretty interesting emporium – tiny, compact and mottled with a collection of different things. Each of these small convenience shops is a veritable miniature open-air mart selling an exhaustive range of items in an incredibly confined space.

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