Foodwise, there’s just so much to choose from in Penang that even locals are confused! The varieties are seemingly infinite. Having a reputation as a food heaven, be it haute cuisine, or cuisine bourgeoise (hawker fare), Penang offers an exciting mix of delicious cuisine to choose. Penang food is both famous and marvelous. Talk about Penang food, they are more often than not referring to hawker food and coffee shop dining. It’s true that some of the hype is overblown but it cannot be denied that Penang is home for many uniquely delicious chows. Some of the hawkers advertise their cuisine as specialties from another state, like Johor bak kut teh, Ipoh chicken and bean sprouts or laksa Kedah. In short, an infinite variety of dishes are yours to taste.
Penang hawker food can be divided into several varieties, with each being attributable to Penang’s multi-cultural spirit: Nyonya, Chinese, vegetarian, Indian, Malay, Hakka-styled Western, seafood and desserts. Hybrids are also known to exist, and some famous examples are Malay style chicken rice and char koay teow, and Chinese satay and nasi lemak. Prices are cheap and reasonable.
Fishing is being a major economic activity on the island, Penang is naturally a sanctuary for seafood lovers, and a handful of restaurants have already achieved legendary status among locals and foreigners.
Another major role in Penang food is dessert. You will just have to let your eyes and your nose is your channel. A word of warning though - most local desserts tend to be sweet and rich, as coconut milk, flour and sugar are main ingredients.
Chinese cuisine ranges from Cantonese to Teochew to Hokkien to Hainanese to Szechuan cooking. There’s also Penang Nyonya food, which is a blend of Chinese, Malay and some Thai, what is different from the Malaccan or even Singaporean versions. For a touch of luxury, try a five or ten-course Chinese meal at one of the restaurants or hotels in town.
Banana leaf rice and nasi kandar is the most popular in Indian foods. Both are hot and savoury with rice being the main staple, and a menu from north Indian tandoori and nan bread, to South Indian rice and capati. Nasi kandar is famously popular with Penang bites, and many restaurants selling it are well known not only to those on the island but those in other states as well. It is quite common to find people from other states detouring to Penang just to stop for a serving of food of nasi kandar before going on their journey elsewhere.