• An eating holiday in Penang

Penang. Penang. An island where eating is the favourite pastime and food trail brochures are yours for the taking at every tourist hub. Spending Christmas in Penang, I had no doubt we would be eating a lot, but with a country (and family) unsympathetic to vegetarianism, would I be able to enjoy it?

Full tables, multiple small meals per day and speciality hawkers that only the locals would know. It was bliss. The key to eating in Penang is knowing where to find the best stall for that specific dish - be it on a street corner, in an old house, or at the back of a coffee shop.  The best is not always where one would expect. Here are my favourite dishes (vegetarian versions) and where we ate them. Enjoy!

My favourite dish: Indian Mee
Seng Lee Café
Lebuh Bangkok Lane
Pulau Tikus, Penang

The best Indian Mee in Penang? Bangkok Lane of course. Also known as Mee Goreng, this noodle dish is inspired by the Indian Muslim community in Penang. The noodles can be done dry or with sauce. I found the dry noodles much more enjoyable (the noodles in the dry version seemed to retain more flavour) with chilli, lettuce, fried onions and egg. The wet noodles had whole eggs and tofu. Ask for this dish without cuttlefish.

Vegetarian already: Char Koay Kak

Sin Seow Fong Lye Café
Loreng Macallister
94C Macallister Lane
10400 Penang

Char Koay Kak is vegetarian, which meant it was an instant hit for me. It is made with what they call “carrot cake” in Singapore, but the sliced dumpling like base is actually made with flour rather than carrot. Wok fried with a real charcoal taste, served with friend onions, garlic, bean sprouts and egg, this dish was very enjoyable.

Wan Tan Mee with no Wan Tan for me

Island Park Restaurant
Lintang Tembaga
11600 Pulau Penang

Our food journey started on the way back from the airport with Wan Tan Mee. The vegetarian version includes squiggly egg noodles, thick soy which I was told to call black sauce, greens and pickled chilli. As the name suggests, this dish would usually be served with meat dumplings, but it is equally satisfying without. This really hit the spot for breakfast after a long flight. The flavours are interesting but not too intense for the first meal of many in a day. We ate at Island Park. This is not necessarily the best but it was on our way back from the airport.

Roti Canai at Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu
A-29, Ground Floor, Rumah Pangsa, Jalan Kampung Melayu,
Kampung Melayu
Pulau Pinang, 11500,

Christmas day two years ago we found ourselves up at 6am for Roti Canai at Kampung Melayu. We continued the tradition this year.  We have been told that this is the best place in Penang.  Away from the centre of town this coffee shop is hidden between large high rises of compacted living. The Roti Canai is delicious. Hot, fresh, light and crunchy, the rounds of dough are stretched out and cooked to perfection. Ask for dahl to dip instead of the meat based curry. This eatery also does great The Tarik (pulled tea) where they pour the sweet tea from a high distance so that it froths up. The rose drink is also delicious. It is only open in the mornings so make sure you get there early.

Many customers at Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu are from the surrounding
apartments, which are helpful landmarks when trying to find this place.

Indian Curries and Banana Leaf at Sri Ananda Bahawan

55 Lebuh Penang
Pulau Penang
04264 4204

For some reason, Indian food always tastes better when you eat with your hand. There are many Indian Restaurants in Penang, we came here for its locations (it was only five minutes from where we were staying). Many meat curries are pre-prepared but the vegetarian ones are made fresh which means you may have to wait a while. The curries are tasty but I think it is the atmosphere that I most enjoy with casual outdoor tables. The lassies are good too.

Char Kwey Teo
Jalan Macalister, 108, Lorong Selamat
10400 Penang (ask for no prawns)


near the airport
Solok Kanpung Jawa 6
11900 Bayan Lepas (ask for no prawns or cockles)

Usually cooked with prawns, good Char Kwey Teo can be done without whilst still being tasty. The best Char Kwey Teo has a charcoal taste where the cook will only cook one or two in the wok at a time.  The Macalister stall was the source of much gossip in Penang with hawker charging 7RM per dish. As the story goes, the cook claimed her noodles to be worth the price and told the customers who did not appreciate them to eat elsewhere.  People were outraged, but that did not stop them from eating her delicious noodles.  Still, 7RM when converted into AUS$ is little to pay for a plate. Rice noodles fried with garlic, onions and bean shoots. Not exactly healthy but oh so delicious.


Next to Joo Hooi Café
475 Jalan Penang
10000 Penang

Cendol made with kaizen style efficiency.
The best Cendol can be found on Penang Road besides Joo Hooi Café (where they serve seafood based luksa). You can pick the popular one. It is on the right as you enter the lane and has a frenzy of people working and eating the refreshing Malaysia sweet. As I queued, I wondered what made this place the best. What does the best cendol taste like compared to the second best? Cendol is made with ice shavings, red beans, coconut milk and palm sugar. The actual cendol part is green noodles made from pandan leaves. This dish is very refreshing. Mine tasted a bit salty. I was unsure if it was from the sweaty frenzy of the maker, or the secret ingredient which puts this place on a pedestal.

Peanut pancakes with an hour wait

Road side stall outside Kedai Kopi Swee Kong
Corners of Solok Moulmein and Jalan Burma
10350 Penang
I love peanuts, but I am less of a fan of corn, which is usually an ingredient in these desserts. On a street corner, this dedicated cook typifies the hawker style of Penang. I am told stories of hawkers having their little carts turning out to be extremely wealthy if they are discovered and become popular. With nothing but his little cart outside a coffee shop, we were told the wait for pancakes was one hour with forty pancakes ahead of us in the queue. The man calmly pours the batter into one of his six little pans. When it starts to cook he adds sugar, peanuts and usually corn. These were delicious. Eaten hot the sweet and flavoursome combination explodes in your mouth.

Skill and patience are key ingredients for making the best pancakes - and for eating them too.