Ahh, Malaysia. A breath of fresh air after three rainy weeks in the Philippines. As soon as I landed I had a good feeling, mainly because of the good things I’d heard from family and friends. But, with so much on my travel agenda my time was fairly limited. From 18th January to the 2nd February I visited Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Langkawi.
George Town is the state capital of Penang, but feels in many parts like a large town, not a capital city. It’s buildings are cute and rustic with shutters, and the place is scattered with stunning street art and local street vendors.
It was named one of the ‘street food capitals of the world’ by Forbes and praised as a foodie destination by Lonely Planet, so I guess you’d arrive hungry and with high expectations.
Judging by the food I ate, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. And with George Town’s vibrancy and multicultural nature there’s plenty to see, do and of course EAT. Here, I’ve tried to capture the essence of this stunning place by sharing the twelve favourite snaps I took whilst there.
So if George Town is on your foodie travel bucket list (which it should be!) here’s some tips for getting the best out of your visit:
Don’t over plan it, I’d say having a plan for half your time, then leaving the rest to follow your nose is the best way to explore the food in this colourful, super-cool capital.
Get up early if you want to get the best street food on offer. Street vendors are out from 7am and sometimes are packed up and finished by 11am, so get out and explore areas like Campbell Street (for the best roti canai of your life!) EARLY so you don’t miss out.
Book on a market tour with a local guide to really see the ins-and-outs of every foodie corner of the city, from a local’s perspective!
So here’s my twelve *visual* reasons you should visit George Town:
Eat the BEST roti canai on Campbell Street
This stuff is incredible, but you must get there early. It’s served on the corner or Campbell Street opposite the entrance of the wholesale foodie market. I ate this at 7.30am as part of a cookery class and market tour I booked with Nazlina’s cookery school. Her husband runs the market tour and really knows his stuff.
Find yourself some peanut sugar pancakes
These bad boys are delicious. The combination of hot fluffy pancakes smothered with the sweet and crunchiness of sugar and peanuts works a dream. They’re filling though, so perhaps share one first before you order one each – they’re huge!
Expand your noodle dish knowledge with ‘Bihun Singapore’
At the top of Love Lane there’s a row of shops that serve as restaurants to street food vendors at night time. This guy is outside a place that serve Indian food but they share the same ‘restaurant’ and table service, so look for the ‘Bihun’ noodle guy, tell him what you want and take a seat… Then enjoy this simple, spicy noodle feast. Add crispy chicken for extra bite!
Hunt down the street art of the Asian ladies
It’s only small – but it’s my favourite piece of street art in the whole city! It perfectly showcases the mix of Malay, India and Chinese culture that gathers in this vibrant place. Make sure you visit ‘Little India’ for street samosas and ‘bang bang chicken’ and you’ll find great, Chinese-influenced eateries to enjoy everywhere.
Try the traditional, gooey fried oyster dish
Known by locals as ‘Oh Cien’ this is popular across Penang and cooked by MANY street food hawkers. It’s an omelette made from eggs, rice flour batter, chives and starch to give it an extra gooey consistency, and (of course!) local fresh oysters. Garnished with coriander and served with chilli sauce, it really is delicious. This one was from Red Garden food court.
Give the Western food a whirl too
Now you’ve tried a local delicacy, get stuck into some of the Western food on offer – there’s plenty of good stuff. This burger chap is located at the top of Love Lane, on the main road opposite the mini mart. He makes beef, chicken and fish burgers and trust me, they are fantastic! His stall is called ‘Old Trafford Burgers’ -no joke- so look out for the famous red and yellow Manchester United emblem, and you’ll find him! He’s only open in the evenings, so these are perfect after a few beers 😉
Try the best coconut ice cream of your life
In the thick of the craft shops and street art hunt, we came across two young guys running a coconut ice cream stall. They were next to the ‘Asian ladies’ street art – so if you find that, PLEASE reward yourself with an ice cream or milkshake from ‘Coconut Man – Best In Town’. I’ve tried many coconut shakes in Southeast Asia and these guys -by far- serve the best. Thick, fresh, creamy and not too sweet. They add no ‘creamed coconut’ and let the natural coconut flavour shine through. Deeeeeeeelicious!
Learn to make the speedy Char Kaow Teow
Nazlina’s cookery school is great, particularly the market and street food tour beforehand. Char Kaow Teow is stir-fried, flat rice noodles and is another Penang speciality. The noodles are stir-fried with shrimps, cockles, eggs, bean sprouts and chives in a secret soy sauce mix. To make the dish come together, you have to be quick. Nazlina takes you through step-by-step so you can learn the dish yourself, but if that sounds like too much hard work you can eat it at many hawker stalls throughout the city. It’s so damn tasty!
Find all the kitty cat street art
OK, not everyone’s a fan of cats, -but trust me- they play a prominent part in George Town’s street art scene. Just as you think you’ve seen all the cat-art possible, more pops up around the corner, and it’s all adorable!
Try a local, healthy street food snack: ‘popiah’
It’s a treat just to watch the lady prepare this, she’s so efficient and they look perfect every time. Popiah are light, fresh spring rolls – the pancake is super thin and the intricate sauce mix is spread on first: sweet bean sauce, hoisin sauce, shrimp paste, and hot chilli sauce. The lady then fills it with an expert mix of stir fried turnips, bean sprouts, French beans, grated carrots, sliced tofu, chopped peanuts, shallots and shredded omelette. Healthy, light, delicious fast-food, make sure you give this a try!
Try the ultimate fusion food with a ‘Euroasian’ feast
And you though the food on offer in George Town couldn’t get any more exotic? Think again. Showcasing dishes influenced by the Spanish, Dutch, German and Portuguese settlers in Malaysia – this dish was ‘Portuguese chicken’ a warm and spicy stew served with rice and salad. A must try if you’re in George Town, ‘F&B Corner’ (which stands for Francis and Bernie) are at the Hin Bus Depot market every week.
Get interactive with the artwork
Unlike most street art, George Town’s investment in such has meant that it’s even more creative than usual. Often using real-life items as props (like these swings), it really does bring the street art to life. Look out for the big ginger cat peering out of the blue window shutters, the little boy riding an actual motorcycle or the child reaching up to a window ledge. It’s all stunning and the full (and free!) street art tour takes about 6 hours – so plenty of excuse to eat and drink along the way too!
I hope you enjoyed my ’12 reasons to visit George Town’! Have you ever been? Do you want to go? Leave me a note in the comments, I’d love to hear from you 🙂