If you're only in Penang for a short amount of time or it's your first visit and you want to do a self-guided tour of some of the best local food, then follow this guide to the highlights of Georgetown. The aim is to give a mixture of some of Penang's most famous dishes along with some stand-out food that hopefully will make you want to return. Each restaurant or stall links through to the full review with its location, opening hours, photos and details about the food. This list is part of a bigger food guide to Penang.
Roti Canai @ Taha's
Roti canai is Indian paratha flatbread served with a small pot of curry, daal and/or sambal and it's one of Malaysia's national treasures. I'm very picky with my roti canai and it's regularly a let down so choose wisely. Taha's is my favourite place in Penang. It's a little road-side stall catering to local workers. Get there before 11am and be sure to request that your roti are cooked fresh so they're still hot and crispy. The beef curry is great but I recommend asking for just the gravy (no meat) as the meat isn't great (the same goes for if they only have the chicken curry). If you're still hungry afterwards then grab a small nasi lemak from just one street away (see below).
Banana Leaf Rice @ Veloo Villas
Chicken Samosa @ Penang Special Samosa
Possibly the best samosa I've ever had. The stall also has vegetable, egg and mutton versions but chicken wins.
Cendol @ Penang Road Famous Teo Chew Chendul
Nasi Lemak @ Ali Nasi Lemak
The most common way to eat nasi lemak (Malaysia's national dish) is in banana leaf pyramids. I recommend getting the traditional version with anchovies and egg.
Hokkien Mee @ Old Green House
Known as "prawn mee" in other parts of Malaysia, Hokkien Mee is an intense prawn noodle soup which I highly recommend. The standard of Hokkien Mee in Penang is actually very high but the version at Old Green House wins for me and it's a great lively place to visit in the evenings. They have another branch that's open for lunch and is closer to Georgetown, but it lacks the atmosphere.
Other local favourites...
Asam Laksa @ Pasar Air Itam Laksa or Joo Hooi Cafe
Different from the coconut milk laksa that you may have had before, the Penang version is sour and fishy. It's delicious and is a big deal in Penang.
Char Koay Teow @ Kimberley Street or Siam Road
Char koay teow is one of the most famous dishes in Penang. The stall on Kimberley Street is in a handy location and the stall on Siam Road is possibly the most popular but that comes with a long waiting time.
Wantan Mee & Curry Mee @ Chulia Street
They are two separate stalls, next to each other. The wantan mee is really great but make sure you get the right stall as there's a second on further along the street which isn't good. It's common to order both the wantan mee and curry mee to the same table.
And if you have time...
Nasi Kandar @ Line Clear or Deen Maju or Beratur
Nasi Kandar is one of Penang's most iconic dishes. It would be on the main list but it's not everyone's cup of tea and it's very filling so not ideal if you're attempting to try as many local dishes as possible in a short space of it. Line Clear is popular with tourists and is in a very central location. Deen Maju is more of a favourite with Malaysians and you'll have to queue. Beratur is a unique experience as it doesn't open until 10pm and there will be a long queue, especially on weekends.
Tandoori Set & Almond Milk @ Kapitan
The tandoori set is really delicious (especially with butter naan) but it doesn't make the main list because it's similar to tandoori you can get in other countries, so it's not special to Penang.
Mee Sotong & Coconut Shake @ Esplanade Park
A great lunch spot. You can order the mee sotong and coconut shake together but they're actually from two different stalls.
Popiah @ Kimberley Street
A tiny stall on the street corner opposite the char koay teow stall recommended above. Order some popiah to have with the char koay teow.
Most "coffee shops" (the name given to the indoor collection of food stalls) have fresh nutmeg juice on their menu. It's quite unique to Penang and reminds me of cola. It's worth a try!
Pepper biscuits @ NG Kee
This shop has been making these interesting pepper biscuits since 1928.