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Penang: Why You Must Visit this Island

Penang Island is part of the state of Penang, located off the north western coast of Malaysia. I was first travelled to the island a few years ago and it captured my imagination from the first moment I set foot on it.  We choose Penang for its mix of old and new, town and beach, and its reputation for amazing food from around the region. If you want to experience the best Malaysia has to offer, in one place, then you can’t go wrong with Penang.

Georgetown Food Court

Georgetown Food Court – Photo Credit: Loozrboy (Flickr)

Where to Find the Best Food in Penang

One of the best reasons to visit this island is the myriad dishes on offer, which for the most part all taste great and are almost always very affordable. Due to the cultural diversity of Malaysia itself, not to mention the wealth of culinary influences that have made their mark on the island over the years, there are a great many styles of food to dine on in Penang.

Fresh Rotis 24 Hours a Day

Kapitan Penang – Photo Credit: Joe Fylan

No matter where you turn you will be faced with numerous options for stopping for something to eat. Traditional Malaysian food, as you would expect is very popular, as are Indian dishes, with food from neighbouring countries such as Thailand and China well represented. If you only stopped to eat in one place in Southeast Asia, Penang would be the place!

On our trip, we spent the first part of our stay in Georgetown, the capital of the state as well as the island, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. As it turns out, this is the best place to find delicious food on the island and we were not disappointed! From day one we were spoilt for choice.  Our first port of call was an Indian restaurant on Jalan Penang, the main street leading out from out hotel, called Kashmir. The food was traditional Indian fare, but all served up fresh, in pleasant surroundings and at a great price: what more could you ask for?

Fresh Murtabak in Penang

Fresh Murtabak – Photo Credit: Greggman (Flickr)

Restoran Jaya

The following day, we were even luckier when we stumbled upon a busy spot on the same road called Jaya. This place had a wide front that was completely open with no windows and doors. Inside it had the feel of a food court, with basic tables and chairs with food made to order or served up straight from the canteen style trays on display. Jaya looked rough and ready, but the large amount of locals eating here gave a good indication as to the quality of the food available here. What’s more they are open 24 hours a day. Imagine having Restoran Jaya on your way home from the pub each night!

The food was all Indian but the menus were huge with many different styles of food from this region well-represented. The prices were so cheap here, that even the most miserly of backpackers could afford to try out a wide selection of dishes with prices ranging from $1 to $3. The roti, mataba and murtabak selection here was unparalleled, and all tasted amazing, served up with flavoursome sauces and side dishes. The total price for a whole table of food for three and a half people came to less than I’ve ever seen for such high quality food. Just writing about this place makes me want to book another trip to Penang!

Penang Hill Train

Penang Hill – Photo Credit: Obskura (Flickr)

What to See in Penang

Despite the beaches of Penang being a big draw for tourists, the main town or Georgetown was the highlight for me. The town is in fact a city, and with a population of 600,000, it is surprisingly one of Malaysia’s biggest. After experiencing KL and Bangkok, the capitals of Malaysia and Thailand, it thankfully didn’t feel like a city. Due to the relative lack of high rises and skyscrapers, plus the fact it has managed to keep its colonial centre in good condition, it has a much more relaxed feel than other towns in Southeast Asia. If you want a city break in the region, without the noise, chaos and pollution, come to Georgetown, you won’t be disappointed!

If you want a bit of history with your travels then Georgetown can fulfil your needs in that department too. Since being founded by British trader Francis Light in 1786, becoming the first British outpost in the Southeast Asia, the island has been a popular destination for travellers from all over the world. With many choosing to make this island their home, their influences and impact can be seen all over the island, and Georgetown in particular, in the form of architecture, food, religion, art and culture.

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