Penang, Malaysia is the Food Capital of SE Asia

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Penang, Malaysia is the Food Capital of SE Asia

Penang is best known for the variety and quality of it food. In fact all of Malaysia has a renown cuisine that is a mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malay. The best part is you don’t have to go to an fancy restaurant and spend a lot of money to enjoy a good meal. Eating in Penang is an adventure. The best place to eat is right in the street at the multitude of street venders or “hawker” centers.

Gurney Drive hawker center

Gurney Drive hawker center.

Penang is an island, but it is not the kind of island that is known for its beaches. It is more of a cultural experience, especially in the city of Georgetown. However, for someone who would rather be on a quiet beach or on a jungle trail in the mountains, it can be an overwhelming city. There are not many sidewalks in town and the ones that do exist are mostly covered with people welding or something of the sort. Crossing the street can also be an adventure because drivers here will not hesitate to run you over if you get in their way. Of course if you don’t know what to order at the hawker stalls that can be a hectic experience also. The people behind you in line will start yelling at you if you don’t immediately know what you want. In fact that seems to be a common theme in SE Asia. I’m not sure why, but you are expected to know exactly what you want to eat before you even sit down. Its kind of annoying to try to read a menu with a server breathing down the back of your neck.

Anyway if you get past the busy streets and know exactly what you want to order the whole city provides for a great experience and by the time you leave you will probably be so full you won’t want to eat for a week.

What to eat in Penang

You really should know what you want to eat before you get into line at a street vender or hawker. Most of the stalls specialize in one or two dishes so its not that bad. For the most part everything either contains mee(noodles) or nasi(rice). Goreng means something is fried. So something like mee goreng is pretty common, but everyone does it a little differently. I got an excellent mee goring at the Fort Cornwallis hawker center. Just look for the longest line and that is the place. That is good advice for any hawker center or street vender. Generally if you see a long line of locals that is the place to be.

Hawker stalls and street venders are a little different. I’m used to street venders since they are very common all over Southeast Asia. In Malaysia and Singapore hawkers are very common. They are more permanent businesses since they don’t pack up and roll away their carts everyday. Each stall rents space from the hawker center. So you can order your food and go sit down. Unless it says self service they will deliver your food to your table. Then someone else will come along and take your drink order. You are expected to order a drink since it is the owner of the hawker center who sells drinks. It’s sort of like rent for the table you are sitting at.

There are so many other foods you have to try while in Penang. Char Kway Teow is probably the best know of the fried noodles in Penang. It is fried in a special soy sauce, each one a little different, and has big prawns on top. Rojak is a fruit and vegetable salad with a sweet peanut sauce. Laksa Asam is a noodle soup with a spicy fish broth. Cendol is an interesting desert made with crushed ice, green noodles, beans, and coconut milk. Pasembur is a variety of fried meats and vegetables chopped up and topped with a sweet peanut sauce very similar to Rojak.



lok lok

lok lok

Walking Tour of Georgetown

The tourist information center puts on a nice free walking tour I had heard about. I thought it would be nice to go and learn some of the history of Penang. It does have a very interesting history. Penang was a British colony and trading port as early as the 18th century. During WWII the city of Georgetown was bombed twice. Once by the Japanese and then by the Americans later in the war. Very few buildings survived the bombings.


We walked through little India and China town during the tour with most of the focus on Chinese temples. Maybe because the tour guide was Chinese. There are many different ethnic groups of Chinese in the city and not all of them get along.

Different Chinese ethnic groups temples right next to each other.

Different Chinese ethnic groups temples right next to each other.

There are also many Indians who come from different parts of their country. Little India is a very vibrant part of town.

Indian mosque.

Indian mosque.

I don't think they are praying to Hitler. Does anyone know what the symbol means to the Indians?

I don’t think they are praying to Hitler. Does anyone know what the symbol means to the Indians?


Chinese god of money.

Chinese god of money.

Penang Chinatown



Fort Cornwallis which is named after the British general who was defeated by George Washington in the American Revolution and was reassigned to Penang after the loss.

Penang hot air balloon festival

The hot air balloon festival was being held in Penang this February.



Nice sculptures outside Chinese Temple.

Nice sculptures outside Chinese Temple.



I am traveling the world focusing on adventure and photography.


  • peg aikman

    Brooks, what a great history lesson! I knew none of the British history and find it very interesting! Wonderful photos and great that you are posting some stuff on FB. When you do, i try to do a ‘boost’ so that that you can get more view…More views the better if Photography is in your future.

    Swast -ika is generally about peace, life and good will to the gods? OR to Native Americans it’s the sun symbol:)

    Wondering what the life expectancy is there with all that fried food!!!

    Where you off to next?

    Travel safe and continue having a blast!

    HUGS, Ante Peg

    January 31, 2016 at 8:53 am
  • Dad

    Yea, hitler really hijacked that symbol. That all sounds pretty disgusting to me. When’s the last time you had spaghetti and meatballs, a pizza? Don’t they grow tomatoes in these countries? It would be fun to see how Italian food would fair! I’m so happy you have such an adventurous stomach, don’t know how you do it, but enjoy. Bon appetite.

    January 31, 2016 at 6:59 pm
  • Cara

    Very beutuful food. Looks so neat yet sounds so chaotic!! You are amazing Brooks! What an adventure. Cool fact about Cornwallis!!

    February 1, 2016 at 7:12 am
  • Kerri McConnel

    Food looks amazing and I would love to do a food tour in Malaysia. Great photos.

    March 27, 2016 at 3:49 am

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