Penang’s signature street food dish


As part of the effort to promote Penang street food against the onslaught of fast-food culture and gentrification, I thought a poll to determine once and for all the signature street food dish of Penang would help to whet everyone’s appetite.

But first, nominations, please – for the dish that uniquely captures the essence of authentic Penang street food culture and satisfies the most number of taste buds.

Here are some candidates: Penang char koay teow, Penang laksa, Hokkien mee, cendol, poh piah, ho chien (oyster omelette), nasi kandar, chicken rice, pasembur, apam balik. (We will leave aside health considerations for now!)

Any other must-taste dishes in Penang that I missed out? Please add in the comments below. Watch out for the poll proper coming soon!

By the way, I have created a new category on the menu bar above to make it easier you for to locate street food in Penang the next time hunger pangs strike, all based on readers’ suggestions.

Please help to support this blog if you can.

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I nominate KHK – Kek Hitam Komtar, as it is uniquely Penang!!!


Second place should be the Rifle Range Nasi Lemak as it is worthy of RM1000 from a PM.

Mat Salleh Celup

“Mat Salleh”s have weird taste buds.
Lonely Planet segment on Penang is kind of out-dated in terms of recommendation.

They may turn to this blog to get ideas to update next edition.

So next time you see a Mat salleh around, he’s probably refering to this blog.

Well done Anil and the rest.


I have talked to many mat salleh backpackers and most of them feel that nasi kandar is overated, unhealthy and not tasty at all.

To them the signature dish of Penang is Char Kway Teow…!!!


See how lucky we Penangites are to be born in an island tourists must come before one dies. I don’t know how many plates of Char Koay Teow I had savored in my life, but one thing for sure, it is one of my top hawker food I won’t give up even if my doctor advises me against it. No lard means no genuine ori-maestro’s Char Koay Teow.

Beng Hee

Yes, that’s the missing ingredient in kway teow kerang halal, like taking sushi without wasabi.


Anil, how about adding hawker food video clips on your menu bar. I’m sure some of us would like to share our heaven-on-earth makan-makan adventures in the streets or entice us Tham Chiak Kuis to salivate. This can be free WOM promotion for ori-maestros, most of whom are not social media savvies.
Just wondering, are there programmers out there that can recreate Penang authentic street hawker food smells or tastes for online experience like the Tron movie? My midnight owl coffee is getting me to the next dimension of reasoning!


What I mean is any one of us can directly upload to your blog or to You Tube and provided link for us to see. Some who see an interesting food video elsewhere can also provide a link. Is it possible to direct upload here?


Hi Anil,

Check out these two Penang hawker videos:


Mark & Reese
Capturing Penang


Hi Mark & Reese I’m losing self control just looking at these hawker food on video! I simply looove the coconut throwing shot. Bruce Lee couldn’t have done it better! And the Beef Soup Koay Toew lady ori-maestro, she is still so beautiful and clean with gloves! The Cengdol. Did you miss capturing one-leg standing Tham Chiak Kuis? Great Focusing (vertical framing), Tantalising Capture of the soul of street hawker food – heritage ambience, mouth-watering food and sifus in action. Your videos truly speak a mouthful of thousand hungry words! I’m wondering: how your video man can hold-still his camera… Read more »


Hi tunglang,

Thanks for the nice comments! The key to holding the camera still is to eat first, and then film.

More videos to come on Capturing Penang…


Although I am a malay, have no concern if the video clips contain non-halal food. Afterall we get to see those tantalizing food (halal and non-halal) on Astro Asia Food Channel.

it is always a good education to see how the food is cooked. We can learn the cooking method of other races.


Although almost all customers in the Melaka’s Tan Kim Hock food mart are Chinese, I dare to say more than a half of its food variety is Malay and Ngonya foodstuff.

In other hand, Chinese food like pau, tofu sauce, yu char kuih, and many others are consumed by Malay.

Cultural exchange happened slowly and may unnoticed by us.


What I love to eat may turn out to be somebody else’s distaste. To qualify any one street hawker food based on popularity may never reach a satisfactory conclusion, much less a true picture. In the spirit of diversity of Asian cultures, I prefer the individualistic approach to ‘crawl the streets’ in adventurism to savor what he or she loves at first bite, by pure gastronomical instinct or driven by hunger pangs at that moment of truth. The desire for the untried street hawker food can truly open up a new perception of hawker food dining or ‘crawling’ for hawker… Read more »

JK Kwong

I salute your passion for local street food. However, you may lament the fact that the children of your so-called food maestros may not wish to continue the trade in the similar fashion just to please your taste buds for low price. It does not make economical sense (i.e. how to afford the expensive new homes in penang) to forever cater for old timers like you when the free-spending youngsters are flocking to those hip joints that you detest. So I would like the children of your maestros to upgrade with proper eating place and higher hygiene standards to rival… Read more »


Hello, JK Kwong. Your typical impression or depression of mind of hawker as a poor man’s vocation for poor … is woefully mistaken. I myself as a child has lived with hawker family, worked as hawker helper and part-time Hokkien Mee ORI- Maestro, slept next to a giant Hokkien Mee wok, knew some hawkers and seen some well to do hawkers. I know what I speak. These humble creeds of the street stalls of society don’t flaunt their wealth, neither boast their earnings nor splurge in Hifi-Wifi lifestyle of the so-called (truly?) rich and famous spoilt kids of McDonalds, Kim… Read more »


I think JK Kwong made more sense although (as usual) tunglang’s long line of misplaced defence tried to dispute the fact that in the IT-age, youngsters do not wish to slot long hours as hawkers but rather be more efficient for better return for their effort. One has to be realistic to survice in the capitalistic society in Penang where things are getting more expensive each day. The new generation of hawkers need to be more effiicent without sacrificing the food taste. Customers can accept higher price if the hawker still have the differentiated advantage. However, you can be an… Read more »


How about 4-hr/4-day hawker work week and asking for high food price to compensate for the less volume of business in expensive rental food court! How’s that for a sensible? start?

Lucia Lai

why wouldn’t nasi goreng make it to the top 50 iconic dishes? it should! nasi goreng is so versatile – there are so many kind of nasi goreng, mind you. nasi goreng kampung, nasi goreng cina, nasi goreng sambal, nasi goreng india, nasi goreng amerika, nasi goreng tom yam, nasi goreng belacan, nasi goreng pinepple, nasi goreng salted fish and so on. since nasi – rice – is a staple dish in penang (well malaysia), and many of us, esp. the chinese are ‘rice bin’ (meaning can’t do without rice a day!), it’s not surprising, the people of penang came… Read more »


don’t forget nasi kandar sharif in gelugur!




Hi Anil, We have many suggestions for signature dishes of Penang, but thought you might find Lonely Planet’s suggestion amusing: In 2010, Lonely Planet picked their top 10 iconic dishes in the world. Penang was listed and the dish they chose…are you ready for this? Nasi Goreng! Sure, Penang has some good nasi goreng, but for Penang iconic dishes, nasi goreng wouldn’t make the top 50. It’s sad that Lonely Planet controls the travel industry when sometimes you wonder if they have even visited the places they write about. Have you tried the nasi kandar from the street cart… Read more »


Great observation. Street hawker food is always better than anywhere for the simple reason that it is affordable, delicious and if in the right location, blends in well with the heritage ambience. Even the forever busy Jalan Air Itam cannot deny the daily line up of Tham Chiak Kuis at this humble tricycle stall selling irresistible Asia’s top class Nasi Kandar. In the vicinity, you can also get excellent Putu Mayong, Char Koay Kak, Laksa, Duck Rice, Hokkien Char and Sar Hor Fun (some at the roadside, some inside the market food court). This location must be really blessed for… Read more »


My heavenly street hawker cuisine must come from the ori-maestros who are not the superlicious squeaky-slippery-cleanliness obsessed. Otherwise, nothing will do for my Tham Chiak Kui in me. My must eat till the day I ‘go’ favorites: #1) Char Hor Fun or Sar Hor Fun @ Lebuh China, a short distance across Pitt Street from Goddess of Mercy Temple. This long time ori-maestro serves the most tantalizing Hor Fun (fried just nice; do order only Hor Fun without the Bee Hoon) bathed in steaming egg gravy that never seems to stop flowing over the top. This gravy, if you can… Read more »


Penang state government did conduct a similar poll two years ago. The choice of food is already printed in the foodie brochure given to toursits.

Why should Anil redo the same thing and wasting resources?

Its PDF copy is downloadable as below link.


It was a public poll from the netizens. I participated that poll.

Charlie Oscar

1. Penang Lor Mee – not mentioned above.
2. Soup “Torpedo” – Unique
3. Fried “Tua Pan” Koay Teow – Only in Penang
4. Penang Koay Teow Th’ng (Soup)

Ling Chan

Talk about Penang food, wow & yummy yummy makes me want to go and have some now.


Yum yum…tak boleh tahan. Thanks Bigger Mouth for your recommendations.

Jazzy Nathan

Coconut Tarts (Mr Leong)
People’s Court off Lebuh Cintra (10am – 6pm)

‘Yu Char Kuih’
76 Lebuh Cintra (2pm – 6pm)

Roti Benggali (with kaya/egg jam)
114 Jalan Transfer (8am – 6pm)

Kuih Tayap / Local Crepes (Mr Lok)
Stall in front of 3 Jalan Kuala Kangsar (8am -11 am)

Line Clear Nasi Kandar (24 hrs)
(Pak Osman Mydin)
Behind 177
Penang Road Tel : 04 261 4440


1) Mee Goreng Mamak near Bukit Jambul. Had it many years back. Blew my mind. Never had anything quite as good over here in Klang Valley.

2) Rojak. WTH. How can you forget this Anil. I’m disappointed. It’s even called Penang Rojak all over Malaysia. I still don’t understand why people call Pasembur as Rojak here.

3) Sa Hor Fun. I know you can find this in Ipoh. But to hell with it. I had the best Sa Hor Fun in BM when I was growing up.

Big Mouth

A really good Char Hor Fun can be had near the counter hall flat.

Actually it is in a kopitiam just beside the “Da Mai Cai” empat-ekor shop, located somewhere in between that Chinese primary school and the counter hall flat.

The stall only operates at night – starting 5.30PM or so.

Pretty good and cheap. The seller is a little bit lan-si, but then, I eat the Char Hor Fun, I don’t eat the seller, it’s okay.


Anil, below are the missing (from your list) Penang street hawker food with the soul: Cengdol, Char Hor Fun, Hokkien Char, Wantan Mee, Kway Teow Th’ng, Loh Mee, Mee Goreng / Mee Rebus, Lok Lok, Lam Mee, Nyonya Kari Kapitan, Singapore Bee Hoon, Soup Kambing, Mauh Chee, Rojak, Taugeh Chicken Rice, Duck Rice, Fried Popiah, Ban Chean Kuih, Chee Cheong Fun, Char Kway Kak, Fried Pisang, Jiu Hoo Char, Kerabu Bee Hoon … There are just too many street hawker food in Penang that are now driving me crazy as I type, making my mouth salivate uncontrollably on to my… Read more »


1. Air Itam’s laksa (opposite pasar one)

2. Char Koay Teow..

I like supertanker. Most of the foods there are good!

Uncle LBK

Coconut Tarts (Mr Leong)
People’s Court off Lebuh Cintra (10am – 6pm)

‘Yu Char Kuih’
76 Lebuh Cintra (2pm – 6pm)

Roti Benggali (with kaya/egg jam)
114 Jalan Transfer (8am – 6pm)

Kuih Tayap / Local Crepes (Mr Lok)
Stall in front of 3 Jalan Kuala Kangsar (8am -11 am)

Line Clear Nasi Kandar (24 hrs)
(Pak Osman Mydin)
Behind 177
Penang Road Tel : 04 261 4440


I think this poll will not achieve anything.
There are a variety of good food in Penang and everyone has his/her own favourite.
Nothing conclusive will ever be achieved.

It is better to eat and talk about food, but not to rank them in a meaningless poll.

Charlie Oscar

Agree with you.
Michiko do not understand!!!
It may be true that One Man’s Meat is another’s Poison!!!
This poll is only recommendations and suggestions.
You will never know until you have tasted it.
Your intention is noble!!!

Bigger Mouth

Aiya, KL people are all soh chai one.

How can they begin to compare with us in term of food?




Penang chee cheong fan with shrimp paste and loh meen. And the laksa should be called asam laksa as opposed to curry mee as the KL-ites call everything laksa!


Muar Chee(at Genting coffee shop – Island Glades)?

najib manaukau

May be someone can tell where is the stall holder who used to sell chili crabs and many other types of sea foods at the Phoenix Restaurant along the Gurney Drive before it was taken down to make way for the present development.
There is no better chili crabs dish elsewhere that I am aware of ? Anil please help to locate the stall holder or the descendants.

Big Mouth

Fifth item: Nasi Kandar.

The only place that I can recommend is the one in Kampung Melayu.

They still retain the distinctive “Northern Malaya ” Nasi Kandar taste.

The others? Unfortunately, they put too much cinnamon and become way too bland – taste just like most other Nasi Kandar chain-stores nationwide.

Big Mouth

Fourth item: Laksa

A stall in Farlim, inside a kopitiam located behind the “KFC”.

They serve very delicious asam laksa.

I used to go to Balik Pulau for a Thai style santan-based laksa. The stall used to located beside the old wet market, but since the old wet market has been closed down I couldn’t find that stall anymore.