May 27, 2015

The Food Mecca of Asia – Penang, Malaysia

Assam Laksa in Penang, Malaysia. Anna Johnston -

We disembarked the serenity & order of the ship to a buzzing, noisy, sweat fuelled bustling city of Penang, Malaysia. Motor bikes, small cars and flower laden trikes lined the streets with tour guides selling their wares, all respectfully yelling, ‘Lady… Lady…. Lady, this way. You want taxi? 50 dollar! I take you on 1hr ride in my car, you see things you not see any other way’.  

Street Corner Bustling With Cars

Not up for the bargaining challenge, we side step the drivers and set out to experience Penang, Malaysia on foot, the traffic was a maze of cars, motorbikes, flower laden trikes and bikes packed to the hilt with cargo, crossing the roads was challenging. We tempted the fates and our own mortality as Queen Suebah (Mom) grabs my hand and boldly challenges the locals to a cheeky game of Russian roulette, as we navigate across 5 lanes (designed for 2) of traffic. 


The sidewalks are jammed with street hawkers, sacks of spices, nuts, fruit, dried meats and fish too. This multi-cultural city is absolutely living up to the title of ‘Best food mecca in South East Asia’, and I hadn’t even had a bite to eat yet. There is a huge variety of foods available in Penang including Indian, Malay, Chinese, European and even Thai. Aware that tummy space is limited, I hoped my day of eating in this foodie paradise would include many of the foods Penang is famed for.

Making Nasi Lambek

First stop is a traditional breakfast feast of Nasi Lemak – Anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg, lamb curry, cucumber and a chilli paste. The sweetness of the coconut rice balances the spice of the chilli perfectly.  

Nasi Lemak in Penang, Malaysia. Anna Johnston -

Happily fed, we stroll towards Little India, a vibrant haven that easily could be mistaken for India itself. Bright colours, strong smells, loud music, and an array of shops selling anything from spices, traditional costumes, jewellery to tasty fried goodies. I wish my photos were scratch and sniff for you to get a real sense of this part of the world, as incense coils burned at every shop front where women whispered prayers for wealth, riches and good fortune. Bollywood style tunes blared and store owners stood out front encouraging us to come inside and buy. And buy (food) we did. 

We gorge ourselves silly on Assam Laksa, a spicy noodle soup that is tangy, savoury, sweet and spicy altogether. There is poached mackerel that simmers in tamarind, lemongrass, chilli and shrimp paste, topped with a big blob of rice vermicelli. Holy Guacamole it was superb!

Assam Laksa in Penang, Malaysia. Anna Johnston -

With heavy tummies, despite the fact that our FitBits told us we’d walked 9 kms, we looped back through the amazing architecture of Georgetown with it’s wonderfully British buildings from a colonial era mingling next to the traditional peaked red roofs with decorative Chinese dragons.

Street Art in Penang, Malaysia. Anna Johnston -

We took in some amazing street art, had a look at a temple and then off to search for caffeine. Google told us there was a coffee joint owned by an Australian woman who had much love for the bean, but sadly we didn’t find her. We finished the day with a cheeky catnap in the sun on the lawns of the courthouse where there was free Wi-Fi, content to watch the world go by in this bustling multi-cultured city.

Temple Penang, Malaysia. Anna Johnston -

If time wasn’t a constraint, I’m pretty sure I’d still be eating my way through every nook and cranny of Penang, Malaysia it was the sort of place I’d like to go back to one day & explore some more. 

I’d love to know, what’s your favourite type of cuisine? And do you heart Malaysian foods as much as me?

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shenANNAgans is Anna Johnston, a 30 - something Aussie gal with an unwavering passion for the Hospitality industry. I love the quirky and unusual, designing events, travelling far and wide and eating food from all around the world. I am coffee blooded, a craft beer enthusiast, wine drinking yogi who enjoys writing about her adventures.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

A Mini Break and Bliss Ball Croquembouche - February 21, 2016 Reply

[…] three, Queen Suebah and Little Chef, hit the road for a beautiful honest to goodness long weekend off. No work, no […]

Tales of a Confectionist - January 14, 2016 Reply

I love Penang! So delicious!

    Anna - January 14, 2016 Reply

    It was brilliant! I reckon I could spend a week eating my way through Penang. So many happy heart feels. 🙂

Rosemarie of Travel and Beyond - November 13, 2015 Reply

So lovely to see my home country through your lense Anna! You’ve got me craving for some Nasi Lemak now!

    Anna - November 13, 2015 Reply

    Oh yay! I am so pleased you enjoyed the post Rose. It really was a wonderful part of the world to visit. AND…. I can’t wait to visit again.

Severed Sausage Roll Fingers - October 31, 2015 Reply

[…] and food travel make me giddy with excitement, but my love of all things food isn’t the reason you can’t and hopefully won’t (or didn’t by the time this […]

Competition winners | - October 24, 2015 Reply

[…] First prize: Anna Johnston from ‘Shenannagans’ – The food mecca of Asia, Penang, Malaysia […]

Sandra Gay - October 20, 2015 Reply

Love this Anna, a well deserved prize winner at EDB15. Malaysia is amazing, a true cultural melting pot

    Anna - October 22, 2015 Reply

    WOW, thank you so much Sandra. I really appreciate you taking the time to pop in for a visit on my site. Thank you. I am really touched. 🙂
    And… thank you for your lovely comment, I was so blown away and surprised too. So excited to get my cook on with the amazing prizes. Yay!
    Malaysia was wonderful, the plethora of food made for one VERY happy foodie. LOL!

Vijay - June 17, 2015 Reply

Hi mate
Good to see Shenannagans: so beautifully done and vividly written. Lived for a bit in Canberra myself, also in Melaka and Penang but now in KL. Would be happy to meet up the next time you’re down this way / I’m in Canberra.

Keep up the lovely postings,

    Anna - June 17, 2015 Reply

    Vijay my friend! 🙂
    Thank you kindly for your lovely comment, nice to have you here on shenANNAgans.
    That sounds epic re catching up, I didn’t get to spend much time in KL, I hear the food is pretty fabulous, so lock it in!
    Wishing you a super week ahead.
    Cheers! Anna

Ciao Florentina - June 9, 2015 Reply

What a fun adventure and wonderful memories. I love catching a glimpse into other cultures and see how different we are yet how much alike at the sam time.

    Anna - June 9, 2015 Reply

    It was awesome, amazing and super fun. So much so I am planning a trip to Cambodia later this year for delicious Asian eats. 🙂
    I too enjoy immersing myself into other cultures, especially enjoying all the different foods.

Raymund - June 4, 2015 Reply

Wow you made me miss that place, I love the food in there, its so good and really affordable. This post makes me wanna go back there 🙂

    Anna - June 4, 2015 Reply

    Isn’t it an amazing part of the world, Raymund. The food was awesome, could go a big bowl of the laksa right now. Hope you get back to Penang soon. 🙂

Queen Suebah - June 3, 2015 Reply

Now this post is a good memory. Funny you should remember the traffic & “our” fearless adventures crossing the roads….. in my defence I figured many others were surviving so I just copied!!!! I loved the food so much in Penang & wished we could have stayed a few more days. Good times 🙂

    Anna - June 3, 2015 Reply

    Wasn’t it just the best day?! Haha… I know, when I read back through my notes about the day, it was definitely you grabbing my hand and pulling me into the line of fire I wrote a good chunk about. LOL! I like your logic (especially as we made it out of Penang alive). 🙂
    Yeah, the food was amazing, wish I could find a recipe for the laksa, orrrrr…. we could just go back and spend more time there.
    Fabulous times. You are the best travel buddy ever! xo

Shelby @ Go Eat and Repeat - June 3, 2015 Reply

Wow, what cool photos! Malaysia looks gorgeous!

    Anna - June 3, 2015 Reply

    Hey Shelby! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
    Yep, Malaysia was amazing, it was difficult to take a bad photo. I felt like one of those clowns at the circus, head moving left and right, mouth open in awe. LOL!
    It is def worth a visit, especially for the food. So TASTY!!!

Glamorous Glutton - June 2, 2015 Reply

I love the opportunity the wander cities that are so unlike our own. Penang looks amazing and the food wonderful. I bet you had a great time. GG

    Anna - June 2, 2015 Reply

    So do I GG! And yes Penang was a wonderful adventure for the senses. A great time was had indeed, I only wish I could click my toes together and be back in this tasty little city! 🙂

Jean | Holy Smithereens - June 1, 2015 Reply

I love your food exploration in Penang! Penang is my favourite city in Malaysia – so relaxing and so much culture. I love the food there too. My agenda is always non-stop eating when I’m in Malaysia. Zombie (my husband) was born in Malaysia so we go there from time to time to see his family. My favourites are Roti Canai with Dahl and Char Koey Teow (without the oysters). We always say one should go on a diet before heading to Malaysia, to make room! 😉

    Anna - June 1, 2015 Reply

    People would think I was crook if my travel agenda didn’t include non stop eating, especially in Asia. 🙂 Good thing you sweat your body weight as you move from one restaurant/food vendor to the next. Lol! That is awesome you guys get to Malaysia often, I shall add your faves to must eat list. 🙂

Elias - June 1, 2015 Reply

Wonderful review as always Anna! You’ve inspired me to add Penang to my wishlist. I recently spent a week in Jakarta and was blown away by the variety and taste of the food and can imagine Indonesia and Malaysia would share much in the way of cuisine. I’ve also recently discovered yummy beef Nasi Lemak at Petaling St Restaurant in Haymarket and highly recommend it to any Malaysian food lovers.

    Anna - June 1, 2015 Reply

    Why thank ya, Elias. That is very kind of you to say. 🙂

    YES…. Penang should be on every foodies wish list, the variety of tukka available was awesome, and the few meals I ate, mind blowing delicious.

    Cool. I wondered where you had got to, you’ve been quiet on the social media. Indonesian food is so good. I worked with an Indo chef, he used to treat us to the most amazing foods, so fresh and tasty.

    Oooh, thanks for the recommendation, shall add to my list if I am in Sydney. Any restaurants you can recommend in the Berra?

Sue - June 1, 2015 Reply

Your Mom, I mean. Queen Suebah, sounds like my kind of woman. Let’s show them who is in charge!
A fabulous narrative left me with visions of the colourful scene. I put in ear plugs to deal with the noise.
That is quite the breakfast! Makes my oatmeal look rather dull I am afraid.

    Anna - June 1, 2015 Reply

    Yep, Queen Suebah was fearless that day, I read through my notes and crossing the road in that traffic was a super highlight. Mostly because it scared the bajinkas out of me. LOL!

    The sounds really made the experience, it was amazing. Most of south east Asia was noisy and bustling I guess, but I wouldn’t feel safe if I couldn’t hear a motorbike or car coming at me.

    It was a rather different breakfast, super tasty. And know what ya mean about making our breakfasts seem dull. 🙂

Bryneen Gary - May 31, 2015 Reply

Looks and sounds interesting!
Cheers from Pretty Rickey Productions – Katina Networks

    Anna - June 1, 2015 Reply

    It was a wonderful part of the world Bryneen. The food some of the best I have ever experienced. 🙂

Gourmet Getaways - May 31, 2015 Reply

So nice to see the places still looking great and the same as when Alesah came a few years ago. Penang is a special place altogether. It’s like tradition in action. Love the simplicity and richness of history. Enjoy your travels, Anna!!

Julie & Alesah
Gourmet Getaways xx

    Anna - May 31, 2015 Reply

    It seemed that MANY of the places people had posted about years ago, were still around, which totally rocked. I was able to head straight to the source and not feel I was risking my life. LOL!
    A fabulous time was had with my travels, just started planning my next big trip.
    Hope you both had a wicked good weekend.

Elizabeth - May 30, 2015 Reply

Oh… I am so with you… I wouldn’t care if it was just going straight through me! LOL!
Sounds like this has been a wonderful trip!!! Can’t wait for the rest! Liz x

    Anna - May 31, 2015 Reply

    Teehee… Worth the risk totally! 🙂
    And the trip was amazing Liz, we saw so much in the month we were away. Ate so much too. Still got a good many travel blogs to share from my time in South East Asia. xo

Bam's Kitchen - May 30, 2015 Reply

Thanks for sharing your little glimpse of Penang. It is on my bucket list of places to visit. If your feet ever plan to touch down in HK please let me know. Take Care, BAM

    Anna - May 31, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for enjoying Miss Bobbi! 🙂

    And I just know when you get to Penang, you will be in foodie heaven, plan on spending more than a day tho, sooooooo much deliciousness to be eaten.

    As for visiting you in HK, absolutely, definitely, already on the list even. 🙂

    Happy weekend love. xo

Rachel (Rachel's Kitchen NZ) - May 30, 2015 Reply

Favourite cuisine? Depends on the day and hour or even the minute – one minute it’s Indian because I see or remember a great recipe or dish, the next it’s Greek, then it’s Italian – need I go on! I love it all! Especially new flavours. Lovely post Anna and love the revamp of the site.

    Anna - May 30, 2015 Reply

    Oh I hear that Rachel, I am totally the same with my fave foods, it really is mood pending. And well, if it’s food, pretty confident I’ll love it. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post, and appreciate you noticing the tweaks. 🙂

CL (RealGunners) - May 29, 2015 Reply

If you ever come to Penang again, I suspect you are looking for China House, here’s the link for you to get their location and address:

If you walk, look for Beach Street or Armenian Street, it is located on the intersection between these 2 streets. In fact, the place is supposed to be visible from where you took that street art photo. It is quite a lovely place to hangout and have some much needed caffeine. 😉

    Anna - May 30, 2015 Reply

    That’s it CL!!! It was the China House, I can’t believe we were that close to an Aussie coffee. Far out. I remember the intersection you speak of, even looking at Queen Suebah thinking… It’s here, where is it? Ahhhh well. Next time for sure. Thanks heaps for the directions, will let chya know when I get there. 🙂

Erin@WellPlated - May 29, 2015 Reply

Your posts give me the most intense wanderlust and make me hungry in the best possible way!

    Anna - May 30, 2015 Reply

    Haha… They have the same effect on me too, Erin. If only we could tap our toes and be there for a bowl of delicious soup now. 🙂

Baswah - May 29, 2015 Reply

I love Penang, and had the opportunity to work there several times. The night markets on the waterfront in George Town ( the home of laksa? ) the spice farms on the hillside in the far north, over looking the Malacca straights, wish I was there. Cheers Bazwah

    Anna - May 30, 2015 Reply

    BAZ!!! Oh how fantastic, I just know you would have been doing some stella events over there. Easier access to elephants and fabulous jungle settings too, right?! I was only there for a day, and only so much room my tummy has, so will have to go back for laksa at the waterfront, and spice farms…. Woah, that sounds incredible, and the Melacca straights. I wish I was there too. Visiting again will not happen until we chat in detail. Thanks for stopping by Baz, means the world. 🙂

Dedy@Dentist Chef - May 29, 2015 Reply

Hmm, i think i’m not agree to saying Penang as the Food mecca od Asia…
but they serious had a good sour laksa thou

    Anna - May 30, 2015 Reply

    I can certainly appreciate that Dedy, it was Lonely Planet that gave Penang the title. 🙂
    I know you guys have some phenomenal foods, I worked with a Balinese chef for years who taught me some amazing cooking tricks.

Cakelaw - May 29, 2015 Reply

I have never been to Malaysia before, but this food looks good. I do like the Australianised version of Malaysian food and have it often.

    Anna - May 29, 2015 Reply

    Yeah, I like the Australian version of most foods, although when I tasted the real deal, it really was very different. Our meats taste different, guess the water plays a big part in it too. If you happen across an Assam Laksa recipe, please do share. 🙂

Tandy | Lavender and Lime - May 29, 2015 Reply

Can you imagine if you had taken a taxi, you would have missed out on all that scrummy street food 🙂

    Anna - May 29, 2015 Reply

    I know, although we could have hoped one of those trike taxi things, that would have been an even better way to eat all the foods and not have to work it off. LOL! 🙂

Liz - May 29, 2015 Reply

Thanks for taking us on your travels, Anna! The food and city look amazing.

    Anna - May 29, 2015 Reply

    It was a really fabulous little city, super diverse, the food fabulous and everyone was friendly and spoke English too. Will def have to head back to finish the ‘top eats in Penang’ list. 🙂

Lorraine @Not Quite Nigella - May 29, 2015 Reply

I do love Malaysian food although I’ve never been. We have it more through my mum’s link with Singaporean food which has a lot of crossover 🙂

    Anna - May 29, 2015 Reply

    That is rather cool you can enjoy Malaysian/Singaporean foods often, I had never tasted the authentic variety before, soooo different than anything we can get here, I will have to stalk your blog for soup recipes. 🙂

Agness - May 29, 2015 Reply

I am totally in love with street foooood!!

    Anna - May 29, 2015 Reply

    Me too. Totes worth poisoning oneself too. 🙂

Mabel Kwong - May 28, 2015 Reply

Penang! I remember going there once a few years ago. It was around the Christmas period with family and the relatives, and it was soooo hot. 35’C plus humidity each day and not a day where there was rain…which would have made the humidity worse.

Crossing 5 lanes of traffic coming your way? Very brave of you, older sister. A lot of times in Malaysia I never dared to that, at most I’d cross is three lanes. The frustrating thing about Malaysian roads is that you can walk for a few blocks and you still can’t find a pedestrian crossing…so the only option is to risk your life if you want to get to the other side of the road.

Did you manage to eat the chilli paste of sambal that came with the Nasi Lemak? It’s certainly way more spicy than what we have here in Australia but has so much more flavour to it 🙂 As for Assam Laksa, I’m not a huge fan of that since I’m not much of a sour and “assam” flavour person. It really sounded like you were trying to be a true blue Malaysian on this trip, Anna. Love how you wrote it up too 🙂 <3

    Anna - May 29, 2015 Reply

    Miss Mabel! 🙂

    Yeah, we were there just before Christmas. It was sweltering hot, high humidity too. But I love the heat, so it didn’t bother me so much. I think it rained the morning we were there, which did make it a bit stinky until it dried off. BUT… no complaints from me, it just made the experience even more fun.

    I’d still be standing on the side of the road now if Queen Suebah didn’t grab my hand and drag me across the street. It was terrifying, and hard to differentiate between the honking to honk or because they were warning you death was near.

    I tried everything, all the foods that were placed in front of me. And yes, I remember a coughing fit bought on from a spicy paste with the soup. Guess the locals thought that was pretty funny. LOL!

    Yep, when I travel I do try immerse myself into the foodie culture. You wait until I visit Melbourne town. It’ll be epic!!!

Krista - May 28, 2015 Reply

How do you manage to stay so darn cute when it’s sweltering hot?! That soup looks absolutely fantastic. I’ve been craving soup something fierce lately, and I want an extra large bowl of this. 🙂

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    Weeelllll…. that particular photo was taken early in the day, Krista. And moving from one restaurant/bar to the next really isn’t that exhausting. LOL! 🙂

    If you find a good recipe for this soup, hook a sister up.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef - May 28, 2015 Reply

I have such envy, Anna! What a wonderful way to travel, eating from one destination to the next. 🙂

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    Yep, its the only way to do travel. My butt/thighs are a testament to that. 🙂

Liz Posmyk (Good Things) - May 28, 2015 Reply

Wow Anna! Looks so delicious! Asia is on our bucket list, that is for sure. Thanks for sharing these wonderful images with us!

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    Oh it was amazing Lizzy, I dont think we had a bad feed when we were in Asia.
    And…. the risk of food poisoning from eating street food, totes worth it. 🙂
    Thanks for enjoying my post, I appreciate your support, you da gal! xo

Tim UrbanDuniya - May 28, 2015 Reply

Nasi Lemakkkkkkkkk!!! I could eat that stuff for the rest of my life! And your dish looks sooo tasty and authentic – LOVE!

And that temple looks amazing – very ornate. Looks like you really had a great time there!

Hope you’re doing well my friend – keep smiling 🙂

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    Meeeeee too Tim, it was one of the tastiest, most delightful bowls of soup I have ever eaten. If only I could replicate it.
    The temple was really cool, I think it was their ‘show temple’ the temple where all the tourists went. This one was beautifully maintained.
    Doing great mate, hope you are too.
    Happy hugs across the pond. 🙂

hassan - May 28, 2015 Reply

I take my hat off to you… Excuse me … I got panicky. Between you and me… my countenance fell. Very nice post Anna.

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    Why thank ya Hassan! Glad you enjoyed. 🙂
    It was such a fun day of eating and experiencing a whole different culture than my own.
    Why would you get panicky?

Hannah - May 28, 2015 Reply

I LOVE Asian food!!!
Favorites are stir fries and soup.
Thai and Chinese are always my first choice.

As far as favorite cuisine on a whole… Italian!

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    Me too. Its my fave of all the cuisines, especially Japanese and Malaysian. Mmmmm! You’d totes dig the Assam Laksa, its that little bit spicy with noodles in soup. #combinationWOW

Denise Browning@From Brazil To You - May 28, 2015 Reply

I am a fan of both Malaysian and Indian cuisines. Only to look at that breakfast feast table, made my mouth water. Enjoy all your travels, Anna! I wish I could fit in your suitcase. 🙂

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    I really am too, Denise. It was a lot of fun watching as they mass prepared the banana leaf breakfast, and a taste explosion as I ate it. Certainly not your typical brekkie. 🙂

    I’ll be sure to leave room for you on my next adventure. LOL!

Sammie - May 28, 2015 Reply

Penang has really awesome food everywhere you go! Perfect spot for foodies. Glad you got to try the famous Ayer Itam Assam Laksa!

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    It really did, Sammie. Almost every street corner had an amazing feast of food, I was in heaven and only wished my stomach was larger to fit ALL the tastiness in. LOL!
    I have dreams about the Assam Laksa, it was a magical bowl of yum! Trying to find a good recipe to replicate here in Australia. *Hint *Hint 🙂

Cecilia - May 28, 2015 Reply

Great post and awesome pictures. I feel as if I was there. Thanks for sharing.

    Anna - May 28, 2015 Reply

    Why thank ya Cecilia! I am most pleased to hear you enjoyed my post, it really was a super day filled with some of the best eating ever.

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