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Background on Penang Food

(Jump to the eating list!)

A little bit of knowledge always makes your food taste better…

1. As a much celebrated food capital in Asia, Penang earned Best Street Food mention by Time Asia’s Best of Asia, and one of the Best Places to Go in 2009 by The New York Times.

2. Our Nasi Goreng (fried rice) made it to Lonely Planet’s top 10 Foodie Holidays’ iconic national dish. Gasp! No kidding, nasi goreng. Penang has some delicious nasi goreng, but nasi goreng as our iconic dish? I am like you - wide eyed. Can someone tell Lonely Planet that there are 50 other iconic Penang dishes before even a mention of nasi goreng?

3. What defines Penang street food scene is its mix-mash of culture, thick layers of history and traditions, and an almost cult-like following for specific dishes and stalls.  

4. The serving portion tends to be smaller - a good excuse to try two or three dishes every meal!

5. The origin of Penang street food came from the laborers in the 19th & early 20th century. These low-cost, tasty foods were prepared to give the workers enough substance (salt and carbs) to keep them going all day in the tin mines, plantations, and other hard labor jobs. Street foods are delicious, but throw your diet out the window.

6. Some stalls or shops have no names. The theory goes - why bother naming your stall when you have a throng of regulars supporting your business every day?

7. Most of the food owners here have dedicated their lives to preparing and selling food. Many stalls have been passed down within the family for many generations, which has ensured the authenticity of the dishes.(In Singapore, this practice is coming to an end, which is the reason why many Singaporeans will visit Penang a few times a year for Makan [eating] trips) 

If you are still hungry for more Penang food information, be sure to check out the following:
  • “Penang Food Trail” map: grab one at any tourist information counter on the island. It gives a comprehensive list of where you can try all the famous dishes.
  • Rasa Malaysia: One of the most successful Asian recipe sites on the Internet run by our local food evangelist, Bee.
  • Eating Asia: Two Americans living in Kuala Lumpur, exploring food all over Asia, who have a great appreciation for Penang food. You'll learn a great deal of culture through their eating adventure.
  • Rasa-Rasa.net: A website covering the best eating places in Malaysia.