As a Penangite who is passionate about my island state, I consider it my duty to ensure that my foreign clients and friends enjoy their time in Penang. After all, Penang has been ranked by international media as one of the top epicurean, cultural and retirement destinations in the world. That’s what inspired me to write this blog about the best places to eat in Penang.
In fact, at a recent Chinese New Year gathering, I spoke with a dear friend. She has recently married a Scandinavian expat and she remarked that her husband has been introduced to a different side of Penang since she came into his life!
And that’s what I’m hoping to do through this post. By taking you off the beaten path and introducing you to the ‘hidden gems’, I hope that you too will see a different side of Penang.
Eat your way through Penang
Named after its founder, Ah Chai is a nondescript chicken and pork satay stall located at the corner of Chulia Street and Carnavon. With just a metal table and a few plastic chairs, it’s easy to miss this hidden gem. That is, until you catch a whiff of the smoky sweet smell of roasting meat. Succulent, tender and slightly charred, the satay is grilled to perfection with a skill that has been passed down generations from Ah Chai’s grandfather. Not forgetting the creamy potato sauce, which is a family recipe and the perfect complement to the satay. Sedap! But the dining experience extends beyond the food.
The stall is set against the backdrop of elegant Chinese pre-war shop houses. Street food vendors and curious travellers intermingle around. There’s no better place to soak in the hustle and bustle of Penang! If you’re lucky, you might even have the pleasure of Ah Chai’s company.
Unfortunately, as Ah Chai has no helpers or successors to the business, he is the last of his family’s satay legacy. So if you’re planning a trip to Penang, do seek out this stall. No epicurean trip to the state is complete without a visit to Ah Chai. It could be your only chance to enjoy one of the best places to eat in Penang!
Step into this pre-war shop house and the first thing you’ll notice are the numerous plaques. They proudly announce that Hameediyah was “Established in 1907”. That’s right. Hameediyah has been serving up nasi kandar for more than a century. In fact, it’s the oldest nasi kandar restaurant in Penang and even Malaysia! Just take a look at the many black-and-white photos framed in wood adorning the walls of the restaurant. This was a place where tycoons and labourers alike sat down for a hearty meal after a long day of work.
Since I visited in my youth, the restaurant has undergone a facelift. However, it’s still more or less how I remember it. Judging by the constant flow of patrons coming in and out and the shouts of waiters taking orders, many share my sentiments.
If it’s your first time at Hameediyah, take a deep breath and breathe in the fragrance of the many spices. Not sure what to order? Just point at the dish that appeals to your eyes! Personally, I would recommend the creamy mutton curry with long-grain white rice and beef murtabak (beef omelette/pancake). Or fill your tummy with a hearty plate of nasi briyani.
If you’re in Penang on a culinary trail, definitely don’t miss this Indian Muslim restaurant!
The hawker fare and street food in Penang is the stuff of legends. But every once in a while, we crave the decadence of starched tablecloths, gently clinking glasses and sparkling cutlery. Enter the Indigo Restaurant. Located in the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Blue Mansion), this fine-dining restaurant is one of the best places to eat in Penang. It promises to impress not just with its ambience but its food.
Headed by Penang-born Executive Chef Beh Wang Chia, whose culinary prowess was honed at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, Indigo serves up an impressive menu of appetisers, canapés, entrées and sweet desserts. The best part: all of the dishes have a unique twist to suit the Asian palate.
Devour the curried pumpkin soup, filled with chicken and eggplant. Tuck into the grilled Japanese mackerel, seasoned and flavoured like Penang’s famous assam laksa. End your meal on a sweet note with the pandan panna cotta, which is chockful of old-school ingredients such as sago and candied red beans and topped with a hefty drizzle of gula melaka.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my post on the best places to eat in Penang as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. I’m looking forward to adding to this list. In the meantime, I’m off to do more ‘research’ on Penang’s hidden food gems. Till next time!
Author: Sam Choong
Sam Choong is a lawyer practising in Penang, Malaysia. His areas of practice include estate planning, wills and UK inheritance tax for expats residing or seeking to retire in Malaysia.