Expedia: Asia’s Food Havens – Starter Kit

In this series, Expedia highlights the best food to try in each city, as recommended by locals. Start here to find out the must-try popular local dishes that should be on every tourist’s list. Plus the best restaurants or hawkers you should visit to try them.

Must-Eat Penang Food

Laksa mania. Home of the nonya dishes by the Straits-Chinese in Malaysia, featuring beautiful fusion Asian flavourscompass-divider

Must-Eat Penang Food: Nasi Kandar

Aromatic white rice with curry ladled over it, and lots of ingredients on the side. Nasi means rice, and kandar means balance – a reference to the old days when hawkers would balance a pole over their shoulders, with containers at either end holding rice meals.

nasi-kandar-penang-food CC2.0 / Krista

Penang is famous for the full flavours of the hearty Nasi Kandar, which has Indian roots. Deep-fried chicken, sliced beef, fish roe, vegetables in sauce, brinjal, okra (ladies’ finger) are some of the usual suspects you will have with your rice. You should heap this onto the rice for banjir (flooding). Flooding your rice is how you get a nice rich flavor and a good mix of your favourite ingredients.

Best Nasi Kandar in Penang

When you get to Penang, make a beeline for Merlin Nasi Kandar in George Town. It’s a standalone Nasi Kandar restaurant in the coffeeshop of Merlin Hotel, at the corner of Union Street and Penang Street. It’s great for us locals as it isn’t one of the high-profile tourist draws. The food is truly sedap.

The usual fish, beef and chicken curries deliver the promise of spiciness. The only tasty exception is the hard-boiled egg curry, which is a little sweet. Try those and toss in some brinjal and other vegetables. Have some icy cold drinks ready to wash down the heat dancing on your tongue. 

Nasi Kandar Penang  CC2.0 /  amrufm

Alternatively, head to one of the oldest Nasi Kandar stalls. Line Clear Nasi Kandar is an authentic Malaysian-style street stall, located near Chulia Street. It runs 24 hours a day.

Merlin Nasi Kandar
Merlin Hotel, 10200 Pulau Pinang
Merlin Hotel, Lebuh Union
+60 4-264 2826
Open 11.30am-6.30pm

Nasi Kandar Line Clear
Jalan Penang, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
+60 4-261 4440
Open 24 hours

Must-Eat Penang Food: Asam Laksa

Oh Laksa. One of the shining stars of food in Southeast Asia. Penang Laksa is a sour, fish-based variation, quite different from the laksa you would find over Singapore, which has more of a coconut base. Penang’s assam (sour) laksa  involves spicy soup, noodles and a mix of Chinese-Malayan ingredients. Hollywood actor Mel Gibson once named Laksa as his favourite food in the world.

Penang Asam Laksa

There is a certain home-cooked goodness to laksa, particularly at the street stalls and humble family-run restaurants in Penang. Shrimp, shallots, garlic are some of the staples that go with the fish broth.

Best Place for Asam Laksa in Penang: 

Air Itam Asam Laksa

Air Itam Market Pasar Road  (Beside the Air Itam Market)
11500 Air Itam Penang


There’s lots more food in Penang to try of course, we’re just kicking you off with the two of the most basic dishes you shouldn’t miss. What’s your favourite food in Penang? Leave your tips for other travellers in the comments below.



Find Out More About Asia’s Food Havens

Jump to Cities: Bangkok | Hanoi | Hong Kong | Osaka | Penang | Seoul | Singapore | Taipei

Travel Asia from Plate to Plate

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Travel Deals for Asia’s Food Havens