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Penang food tour – tasting Malaysian local cuisine

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The world heritage Georgetown, in Penang is one of the top places to visit in Malaysia and renowned for it’s excellent food and buzzing hawker centre scene. It is often referred to as the food capital of Malaysia, and the cuisine is a wonderful mix of traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes. This was my third visit here and even though I already knew the city’s food scene pretty well – I still felt there was more to be explored. I booked myself onto an evening Penang food tour with Food Tour Malaysia, with the aim of visiting new places that were a little bit off the beaten track, whilst trying out some brand new dishes.

I arrived at the group meeting point at 5pm outside Prangin Mall having tried to eat as little as possible all day. That particular evening it was just myself and a family from Slovenia joining the wonderful Jesi (a Penang born and bred food guide) and our personal driver for the evening – Baptist.

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Penang food tour stop 1 – a local family run restaurant

Penang food tour blog post

Our first stop of the Penang food tour was a popular family run restaurant in Georgetown (it opened in 1936) to sample a few typical Malaysian dishes.

To start with we tried Penang Assam Laksa – a bowl of delicious sour and tangy shrimp broth filled with thick noodles, and garnished with thinly sliced onion, chilli and mint leaves. I’m a huge fan of any kind of soup noodles so we were off to a cracking start here. I’ve since learnt that because this dish is so tasty, it was placed number 7 on a list of the the world’s most delicious food by CNN!

I wanted to devour the entire bowl then I remembered from previous food tours that pacing yourself is essential if you want to keep enough belly space to eat for the entire 4 hours!

Penang food tour blog post
Assam Laksa

Up next is Char Koay Teow – a personal favourite of mine in Malaysia and one of the country’s most popular dishes. The main ingredient of the dish is flat rice noodles, which are stir fried over a very hot heat with soy sauce, chilli, eggs, chinese sausage, prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and chinese chives. It is a heavenly dish and very very addictive (and can be found very cheaply pretty much everywhere across Malaysia).

Penang food tour blog post
Char Koay Teow

Our final dish at the restaurant is Cendol, which is served up to locals from an outdoor street cart (also owned by the restaurant).

Cendol is an extremely popular shaved ice dessert dish and is made from a mixture of coconut milk and palm sugar syrup, with droplets of worm-like pandan-flavoured palm flour noodles. Kidney beans are also added as an additional topping (I find this so strange as in the UK, kidney beans are only used in savoury dishes).

Penang food tour blog post

It seemed to work though and the dessert was lovely and refreshing to eat, and very cooling in the mouth after consuming two quite spicy dishes.

As we exited the restaurant we got a look at the amazing street mural painted above the cendol cart (it was commissioned by the restaurant owner). Before jumping back into the minivan we made a quick stop at a snack cart where Jessi purchased some baked flaky pastry biscuits called Tau Sa Piah which are filled with grounded mung beans. I personally found the biscuits a bit too dry for my liking (I really needed some water after!), but the flavours were nice.

Penang food tour blog post
Penang food tour blog post
Tau Sa Piah stall (famous local biscuit)

FURTHER READING – Ultimate guide to in Georgetown, Penang

Penang food tour stop 2 – Clan Jetties

We headed to the famous clan jetties to snack at a food stall which is very popular with locals. We devoured a plate of deep fried delights, served with the stall owners very own secret spicy sauce (she will not disclose the ingredients!). The sauce is so popular to the point where she actually sells bottles of it to locals (I totally would have purchased one if I didn’t have 4 months of backpacking ahead of me!).

Jesi told us she had to order our food in advance as it would normally be sold out at this time of night! We crowded around a large bowl and feasted on cut up Loh Bak (five-spice pork roll), tofu and prawn fritters. The Loh Bak was definitely a winner with the children in the group!

Penang food tour blog post
Loh Bak, prawn fritters and tofu served with a ‘secret’ spicy sauce

We then took a short stroll through Tan Jetty to walk off all the food we had eaten so far and to take some photos.

Tan Jetty

Travelling around Malaysia?

Check out our blog posts for travel tips on LangkawiKuala LumpurMelaka and Cameron Highlands.

Stop 3 – street food snacks

Baptist drove us a little bit further out of Georgetown into the centre of a large urban housing estate, which housed a fantastic large night food market. This was somewhere that I had never heard of, let alone be able to find by myself!

Penang food tour blog post

Jessi and Baptist guided us around and we snacked on a few small items from a variety of different stalls.

Penang food tour blog post
Making Indian Apom on hot charcoal
Penang food tour blog post
Sampling delicious banana cake
Penang food tour blog post

One of the highlights from this market was eating a delicious banana and peanut Chinese pancake each. Watching the guy chop up the bananas at lightning speed was absolutely fascinating yet at the same time completely terrifying (how does one do that without chopping off fingers??!!).

Penang food tour blog post
Chinese pancake with banana and peanut toppings

Stop 4 – locals food court

Our next port of call was a large outdoor night food court located slightly away from the main tourist drag of Georgetown. The place was just starting to get busy as the sun was setting and had some wonderful charcoal BBQ smells in the air.

Penang food tour blog post

We grabbed a large round table and Jesi and Baptist brought over 2 different types of Malaysian soup noodles for us to try. The first of the two to try was Penang Hokkien Mee – a spicy soup made using a rich stock (made by boiling prawn heads and shells) with yellow noodles, rice vermicelli, pork slices, peeled prawns and a hard boiled egg. The dish was very fishy in taste and enjoyable.

Penang food tour blog post
Hokkien (or prawn) Mee

The second dish to try is Curry Mee – a very popular street hawker dish made from egg noodles in a coconut milk based curry soup, served with bean sprouts, tofu, prawns, cockles, chilli and… wait for it… coagulated pig’s blood!

The pigs blood was kept separate in a deep spoon incase we didn’t want to try it. I’m fairly adventurous and wanted to experience the authentic proper taste, so I mixed it all in and it tasted very good (well of course it did – it’s just the idea of eating pig’s blood that is a bit off putting!). The soup was rich and creamy and very more-ish!

Penang food tour blog post
Curry Mee (with pig’s blood)

Next up we were presented with a few dishes on the table for us to pick at and try – including two Indian influenced favourites – Roti Jala (lace pancake) and Mee Goreng (a spicy fried noodle dish), plus a plate of chicken skewers with satay sauce.

Penang food tour blog post
Mee Goreng noodles, Roti Jala (with chicken curry/potato, fish curry/potato & Dhall)
and honey-glazed charcoal-grilled chicken skewers with satay sauce.

All the dishes were wonderful to try but the skewers were INCREDIBLE – the chicken is glazed with honey before being cooked on smoky hot coals, plus also had little bits of crunchy fat on which is very naughty but incredibly nice! Our group loved the satay so much that Jesi ordered a second plate for us – hooray!

To wash all this down we tried an Ambra chilled drink with sour plum, which is a drink I would never order myself (I actually had no clue what ambra is) but was lovely, citrusy and very refreshing! Ambra is a very small hard fruit that is oval in shape, green in colour and commonly found in south east Asia.

Penang food tour blog post
Scenes from the night food court
Penang food tour blog post

Stop 5 – Vegetarian Indian restaurant

There are several vegetarian restaurants in Penang and our final stop of the tour was a busy restaurant in the Little India district of Georgetown. The place was packed with hungry locals – Jesi ordered us a few dishes to share but all of us were completely stuffed by this point and it was a struggle to eat, which was a real shame as the food tasted terrific!

I did force myself a bit and managed to eat as much as I possibly could of the two dishes ordered – Ghee dosa (a paper thin savoury crepe) and Poori (deep-fried bread). Both served with small bowls of various chutneys and curries. I also really appreciated the warm milky tea and refreshing lime juice that Jesi ordered for me to wash everything down with.

Penang food tour blog post
Left: Ghee dosa with various chutneys/curries (green chilly chutney, yoghurt, vegetarian curry, dhall), iced tea and lime drink. Right: Poori set with potato/carrot filling

With our bellies full and satisfied, we said our goodbyes and were dropped back off at our hotels. A wonderful evening!

How to book this Penang food tour

This was a really excellent food tour and I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting the city who has a desire to try local dishes and learn about the Penang way of life. Both Jesi and Baptist were fabulous and looked after us so well, plus we got to eat heaps of delicious food!

I booked this dinner food tour with Food Tour Malaysia. The tour starts at 5pm and lasts 4 hours. A minivan is used to shuttle you between the different stops. The price for the tour is $62USD per person.

Other Malaysia blog posts

Download the Grab app

Grab taxis are widely used by both tourists and locals, and the fares are really cheap! Download the Grab app here and use the code GRABCKTRAVELS to earn a free ride when you sign up.

Sim cards and pocket WIFI

Having data on your phone whilst travelling is almost essential these days – from planning your route around the city, booking a Grab taxi or for staying connected with friends and family back home. SIM cards are pretty cheap in Malaysia with generous data allowances and are available to purchase from airports, malls and convenience stores (bring your passport along for identification purposes).

You can also prepay online and collect a SIM from KLIA2 airportJust remember to make sure your phone is not locked to your local network provider before purchasing one.

Alternatively if you do not want to change your sim card then renting a pocket WIFI device might be for you. We’ve used them multiple times and love that we can both connect our devices to it, however the downside to the Malaysian ones is that there is a data allowance of 1GB per day. Pre-order one online with Klook for collection when you arrive at either KLIA or KLIA2 airport in Kuala Lumpur. 

Georgetown accommodation


Some hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:

House of Journey hostel 
Family owned hostel is located in the heart of Georgetown. Check out prices and availability for House of Journey hostel 

Old Penang Guesthouse hostel
Charming heritage guesthouse a stone’s throw from Penang’s major historical landmarks and tourist attractions. Check out prices and availability for Old Penang Guesthouse 

Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel
Highly rated hostel located in the heart of the UNESCO Heritage zone. Check out prices and availability for Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel

Mid range

If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are in excellent locations with great reviews:

Chulia Mansion
Located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site with rooftop bar. Check out prices and availability for Chulia Mansion

Le Dream Boutique Hotel
modern accommodation featuring a rooftop spa tub, restaurant and rooftop bar. Check out prices and availability for Le Dream Boutique Hotel

Nam Keng Hotel
Comfortable rooms with traditional decoration in a great location. Check out prices and availability for Nam Keng Hotel

Treat yourself!

Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Georgetown:

Seven Terraces
Stylish hotel with swimming pool and rooms with balconys. Check out prices and availability for Seven Terraces

Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion
Boutique accommodation with individually designed rooms housed in a Chinese courtyard-style mansion. Check out prices and availability for Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion

Eastern & Oriental Hotel
19th century heritage accommodation with spacious colonial-style suites and an outdoor swimming pool with ocean viewsCheck out prices and availability for Eastern & Oriental Hotel

Disclosure: The Penang Food Tour was complimentary, but as always opinions are all my own​

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  • Reply
    Food Tour Malaysia
    February 3, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Thanks for being a great sport during our tour! Your photos are amazing! Looking forward to host you the next time round!

  • Reply
    March 8, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    One of the main reasons Penang street food is so tasty is they use real charcoal to fry or grill their from char kuey teow to apam balik. Believe me, it does taste different compared to using a flat top grill!

    • Reply
      March 9, 2019 at 1:44 am

      Oh really? I had no idea! Thanks for sharing. I’m really missing the food already – I had some incredible Char Kuey Teows there 🙂

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