Auck Ward

A Honeymove Blog

Penang Street Food Over Four Days

Hokkien mee in Penang. Photo by Tina.

Penang is a place I think gets overlooked on Southeast Asia itineraries, often overshadowed by Thailand, or Angkor Wat or Vietnam.

But Penang is worth the trip, even if you have to take two days to get there. You can’t walk a block in Penang without missing a food stall where you can get your fill of noodles and or rice. Noodles of all kinds. Noodles in soup. Noodles alone. Rice. Chicken rice. Fried rice. Fried chicken rice. Rice with curry. Noodles again. Wild card: roti! And most dishes cost roughly $1 to $3.

Penang let us fondly remember a couple of Malaysian restaurants in D.C. that sadly closed: Straits of Malaya, which had a great roof deck overlooking the mammoth Lauriol Plaza; and Malaysia Kopitiam, which closed this past summer. The restaurant owner emailed foodie website Eater and said that the property owner found new tenants once the lease was up. A giant bummer. When ourselves or friends would get our paychecks, Kiwi would send out a call to see who was down for “payday Malay.”

To guide us through the street food scene, a brochure stand in Fort Cornwallis offered a Penang street food map with explanations of the best-known dishes. Perfect for playing Penang street food bingo or just figuring out the next thing to try.

The problem with eating your way through Penang is: If you eat three meals a day, and have only four days to explore Penang, it’s not enough time to try everything. Your limitations are your stomach and your need to eat more of a favorite delicious thing. Why try something new when you know what you like and want more of?

But we pursued new things anyway, mostly at New World Park, stalls in George Town or along Jalan Burmah. There are dishes that we missed, and hopefully I can try them in Kuala Lumpur or in Singapore. But who knows, maybe those cities will have specialties of their own.

Here are the dishes tried during our four days in Penang:

Char Kway Teow
Char kway teow, oh myyy. Smoky noodles in soy sauce with garlic, egg, bean sprouts, shrimp, sometimes clams and a little spice. Easy standby. Hard to try something new when char kway teow is always there and always good.
Ice Kacang in Penang. Photo by Tina.
Ice Kacang
This dessert is the weirdest thing eaten in Penang: Red beans, corn, jelly, some evaporated milk, shaved ice on top, with some syrups: one that tasted like root beer, one that tasted like rose. It wasn’t bad. It was sweet and icy, and therefore qualifies as dessert. But part of me can’t shake Yankee logic that if you start a meal with red beans and corn, you’re halfway to chilli, not dessert. (Cendol, another dessert, is similar to ice kacang in that it has shaved ice and red beans, along with some green noodles.)
Penang laksa. Photo by Tina.
Penang Laska
Penang laksa is fish noodle soup with a broth made of tamarind and mackerel. It’s considered one of the best street foods according to a often-referenced CNN article. If you like mackerel and sour tastes, you’ll like this. (I did not because I am not a fan of mackerel.)
Hokkien mee in Penang. Photo by Tina.
Hokkien Mee or Prawn Mee
Shrimp noodle soup with slices of pork. Good. Shrimpy. But after eating this and eating Penang laksa, I was ready to take a break from seafood. Too much fishyness.
Pork steamed bun in Penang. Photo by Tina.
Steamed Buns or Bao
On the way home from picking up some laundry, we stopped by a steamed bun shop off Jalan Burmah. Sweet pork with some pork fat in a sweet sauce, akin to teriyaki. It cost something like 50 cents. Winner.
Chicken rice. Photo by Tina.
Chicken Rice
Chicken rice doesn’t sound like anything special. It could sound rather boring. But roasted chicken in soy sauce with scallions, a little bit of hot sauce similar to salsa and rice to soak it all up? Better than you think. A reminder not to overlook simple things just because they are simple.
Popiah and banana pancake at New World Park in Penang. Photo by Tina.
Popiah and Banana Pancake
Popiah and pancakes are not complements necessarily; I ordered them both from the same vender at New World Park while waiting for breakfast rotis. Popiah (left) is like an egg roll, wrapped in something like a crepe to sop up the sauce that goes over it. It’s filled inside with a mix of vegetables and tastes rather mild. The banana pancakes (right) were more like a dry, crispy crepe with banana slices and crushed peanuts inside. We ate them as if they were sweet tacos.
Roti canai in Penang. Photo by Tina.
Roti Canai
Ahhhhh! Flaky, crispy flatbread to dip into curry. The most delicious thing, easily ordered at every chance we could. The curry often had a few cubes of potato in it, which I would eat with my fingers. I have no shame, no regrets.
Nasi kandar in Penang. Photo by Tina.
Nasi Kandar
Nasi kandar is rice with curry: you pick what goes on top. I asked for two plates of chicken curry and some cucumber salad, which was actually cucumber, carrot and pineapple. The vendor spooned a brick-sized piece of chicken and some sauce from the chicken curry, plus sauces from two other curries: one that tasted like butter chicken and one that was straight up spicy (me likey). This was the most expensive thing ordered at eight ringgit, or roughly $3 a plate. We waddled out of the food stall after eating this for lunch.
Wan Tan Mee
Wan tan mee is noodle soup with dumplings (wan tans) and pork slices. Really good for breakfast as it is light and filling. A simple dish, like chicken rice, but you’ll never not look forward to a bowl of wan tan mee.

Anything here making you hungry? Tell me in the comments. All photos by Tina.


  1. When do I get some???

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

© 2022 Auck Ward

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑