Penang Food Courts, Street Food, Hawkers – The Ultimate Melting Pot
Penang Food Courts, street food, and hawkers stalls are the best eats that celebrates the cuisine of cultures in Malaysia.
If you are visiting Asia and love to eat, you must make a trip to George Town in Penang.
Penang hawker food alone is an attraction that draws local visitors and international travelers to this destination.
The secret is this – the best food hawker found in Penang also happens to be the cheapest.
Even as a Penangite, my thought as preoccupied with eating a good meal.
How good the hawker food is and where to find the best is something locals
When I think of Penang, the one thing that’s constantly on my mind.
The locals sometimes disagree about how good the Hawker food is and where to find the best.
When you arrive on the island, you will find the lively Penang’s street food and hawker markets invigorating.
One of the best things to wander around is the exciting food markets.
Street Food consumption forms most people’s diet in Penang as it is cheaper for office workers to eat hawker food than bring packed lunch to work.
Don’t be afraid to try something that takes your fancy, be adventurous when it comes to food, and you will never be bored traveling.
What Makes Penang Hawker Food Great?
The cultural diversity and many varieties of noodles, rice, and local cakes make Penang hawker stalls a great source of delicious meals.
Penang food influences the Malay, Indian, Chinese, and other ex-pat communities that all live as one in George Town.
The melting pot of diverse cultures makes all these food traditions unique and almost impossible to replicate.
Penang is where you get to experience fusion food, and the hawker market is a great place to start enjoying these flavors and experience a slice of local life.
Hawker centers or hawker markets are what Penangites call food courts.
Many local food traders can serve up some high-quality food for affordable prices.
The vibrant tradition says a lot about Malaysia’s locals’ attitude to food and community culture.
While Penang may not boast of any Michelin star-rated hawker, our food is named the best for local and international tourists.
Some visitors make a beeline for weekend eating tours in and around George Town.
For the best stalls in the tourist belt, expect a long line for a bowl or plate of noodles or desserts.
Keng Kwee Street has the two most famous pushcart roadside cendol stalls in Penang on either side of the street.
The long queues spilled out to Penang Road from Thursday to Sunday.
There are two famous Tambun Biscuits manufacturers on Burmah Road.
You can buy these small orbs and one mouthful of biscuits from the famous Him Heang and Ghee Hiang brands.
Incredibly popular with tourists, these are two of the most sought-after items not sold in a hawker center in Penang.
Eating Out in Penang
Malaysia is well known for its Penang Street Stalls, Hawker Centre, and a Food Court that serves fast street food.
Penang has the highest concentration of hawker stalls in and around George Town.
When you eat out in Penang, these are the best places to get authentic local food.
Most of the diners are 95% locals and not international tourists.
So, what’s the difference between Penang Street Food, Hawker Centre, and a Food Court?
The appeal lies in comfort, the variety of food available, and the price.
Some Hawker Centres have a Halal and Non Halal section.
Street Food sold by Chinese Hawkers typically contains either pork or lard.
Penang Food Courts are Halal and do not sell pork on the premises.
Penang Food Court
In the tropical heat, most tourists prefer to dine in the air conditioning comfort of a Food Court.
Most of the famous Food Courts are inside shopping malls.
Food Courts are modern and upmarket in comparison.
Penang Hawker Center or Market Stalls
A hawker center is a large dining area surrounded by independent food vendors.
Sometimes, very friendly vendors may encourage you to order from their stalls. The best advice is to check out what else is available before deciding.
You choose a non-reserved table and remember the table number.
Pro Tip: Have a look at what other diners order and watch out for unfinished plates or bowls of food, which may indicate that it’s not so tasty (or perhaps they overordered)
Dining Areas in Hawker Centres
Hawker Centres often have two dining areas.
One area is under a sheltered roof with ceiling fans to cool visitors.
There is an alfresco area.
Some of the older Hawker Stall by the road have foldable tables and plastic stools in the evening outside shops.
Penang hawker food is a source of cheap and delicious eats in the city and a part of the vibrant Penang eating culture.
Many traditional cooking methods like charcoal stoves have been replaced by gas.
Dining Areas in Food Court
In a shopping mall, there are several restaurants and a general eating area for A Food Court (or Food Hall) with counters of multiple food vendors.
The common area is a self-serve diner where the customer places an order before collecting the food using a tray.
Some Food Vendors hand a Buzzer Pager for you to take to your table and wait for the food.
It buzzes when it is ready, and you return the Buzzer Pager as you collect your food.
How To Order Food From Penang Food Courts Stall?
There are menus at the stalls, and portion size indicates food prices: Small, Medium, or Large.
If you don’t want spicy, please remember to indicate that when ordering.
Some food contains Pork, Pork Oil (Lard), Peanut, and Shellfish (Prawns, Squid, Clams, and Cockles) – best to ask for this to be omitted if you have an allergy.
If you are a vegan, you need to check with the stalls. Some food like Nasi Lemak, Nasi Ulam, and Penang Assam Laksa contains Ikan Bilis (Anchovies), Salted Fish, Belacan (Shrimp Paste), or Heko (Shrimp Sauce).
How to Pay For Food at Penang Food Courts Stall?
It depends on the system used by the vendors.
At Food Courts, you pay first (self-service) before waiting to collect your food yourself.
For Hawker Centre, order at any food vendor, tell them your table number, go back to your table, and wait for the vendor to bring your food.
You only pay when your food arrives at the table.
Pro Tip: Penang Hawker Centre are cash-only places, and you must pay with cash. For Food Courts, some have a payment gateway set up so that you can do a cashless transfer. Generally, credit cards are rarely accepted. So remember to visit the ATM. Before you arrive, bring lots of cash! You must pay for your food once you’ve ordered.
Pro Tip: Some prominent Hawker Centres have live music and other entertainment for diners. It’s the best way to try the more authentic local foods without the fanfare.
Penang Street Food And Hawker Center Food Safety & Cleanliness
Malaysians generally eat at hawker food stalls their whole lives and seldom have issues with food hygiene.
Penang Hawker Street Food is cooked in mobile kitchens.
Some stalls prepare the soup stock ahead of time and blanch the noodle on the spot to prepare food for customers.
Most hawkers keep the stove hot and water in a rolling bowl.
For stir-fries, the food is cooked in smoking hot woks.
Generally, these foods are safe to eat for foreigners.
For precooked dishes and other food, try to go during mealtimes when these are freshly cooked and hot.
It’s always good to ensure you’re eating at a popular eatery.
Popular places mean that outlets are less likely to have food safety issues.
Hawker centers start getting busy around breakfast, lunch, and dinner times.
Street Food Vendors
Penang has pushcarts, vans, and food trucks that set up tables on the side of the streets around dinner time.
If it is your first time in Aisa as an international tourist, you may want to refrain from eating at roadside eateries.
In some places, the hawker food is still good, but hygiene is deplorable (full of flies)
Food Hygiene at Food Court and Hawker Centre
The food at Food Courts is more hygienic as the grading system makes it easy for consumers to see an A, B, or C Grade on the walls of F&B stores.
Points for the Grading System
Grade A – must score 86 to 100 points
Grade B – score 71 to 85 points
Grade C – scores of 51 to 70 points.
F&B outlets and restaurants that score under 50 points are immediately shut down.
The Health authorities inspect the F&B establishments, and points are based on
- Food handling methods
- Food handlers (must undergo compulsory training)
- Equipment and utensils sanitation
- Amount of water supply
- Drainage (grease traps)
- Toilet facilities
- Waste Disposal
- Floors, walls, ceilings, and ventilation.
Roadside food stalls usually serve the poorer population, so quality and food safety are not top priorities.
Pro Tip: All food court hawkers stalls have individual hygiene ratings (Standard A, B, C). Make sure you learn how to recognize the rating system to avoid ordering from stalls flagged with a low rating.
Pro Tip: Exercise caution when eating out in Malaysia. If this is your first time in Asia, please check that you are fully vaccinated.
What Vaccines Do I Need for Southeast Asia?
The CDC and WHO recommended vaccinations for travelers to Southeast Asia are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, and polio.
Some routine recommended vaccinations also include: measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap), influenza, chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia, and meningitis.
Where to Find The Best Hawker Food In Penang?
Travel Stylus’s list of Best Hawker Food In Penang comprises Food Courts, Hawker Centres, and Street Food, offering some of the best cheap eat on the island.
Some food stalls are in Chinese Kopitiam (coffee shops)
Many roadside open-air eateries with several hawker stalls sell snacks, noodles, and Satay (grilled meat) with makeshift seating.
Penang Hawker Centres operates at all hours of the day and night.
The food is often affordable and flavourful Malaysian dishes.
Some vendors are third-generation hawkers with age-old family recipes and old-fashioned cooking methods. Few still use a charcoal stove.
Food presentation is never a priority, but the stall with the longest queues is always top-notch for the freshness of quality ingredients.
Regular patrons and travelers help keep meal costs down.
If you must only eat food prepared in a proper kitchen, head to the Penang hotels, where several ala carte hawker dishes are usually featured on their casual dining menu.
Popular Hawker Centres in Penang
Gurney Drive Hawker Centre (Hawker Centre)
Persiaran Gurney’s iconic Gurney Drive Hawker Centre is where tourists head by the busloads.
The area beside Gurney Plaza Mall is a great place to sample some of the best local dishes in Penang.
Most locals prefer to eat at other Hawker Centres on the island.
The hawkers operate from vans or food trucks, and the hawker center has many stalls selling similar dishes like Penang Asam Laksa, Sotong Bakar, Rojak, and Jiu Hu Eng Chai.
The cafeteria-style seating on plastic tables and stools is a little cramped.
Pro Tip: As there is no central drinks area before you order, find out if the tables are “controlled” by the drinks operator to avoid misunderstandings.
Survey the site first before you order.
Most of the food sold is snacks, so expect to order more than a dish for your dinner.
Some stalls sell more substantial meals like Chicken Rice, so look out for it.
Most people will copy the locals by standing behind diners who seem to be near finishing, then be ready to grab their soon-to-be-vacant seat.
Location: 172, Solok Gurney 1, Pulau Tikus, 10250 Penang, Malaysia.
Open: Daily from 6 PM to midnight
Northam Beach Café (Hawker Centre)
Northam Beach Café is another hawker center to try other than Gurney Drive if you want a beachfront.
Most diners love the atmosphere of eating by the seaside.
Go early for a seaside table.
There is a good variety of great-tasting food local and international cuisines to try.
You can join the locals to try various Seafood dishes, Penang hawker favorites, and international cuisines – German, Italian, and even Syrian food.
The hawker center has an outside and a covered seating area.
Location: Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, 10050 George Town, Penang, MALAYSIA
Open: Daily from 5.00 PM to 1.00 AM
Long Beach Food Court (Hawker Centre)
The Long Beach Food Court is the closest you can get to a Hawker Centre by walking along Batu Ferringhi.
Several businesses in the lively square near the hotel sell souvenirs and food.
You can also walk straight to the beach.
At the Hawker Centre, there are large round tables for groups, and you can order a table full of dishes to share.
Most tourists love the grilled Satay skewers, Grilled chicken wings, and seafood dishes like Fried Squid and Grilled Shrimp.
You can go to various stalls to choose what you like – Cendol, Char Kway Teow, roasted chicken wings, Fried Oyster Omelette, Pancakes, and different noodles.
The wontons and Wantan Noodles are springy and flavourful.
The Nasi Goreng Kampong (Malay fried rice) has plenty of salty, crispy anchovies.
You may want to try the spicy Curry Chee Cheong Fun, a twist of the traditional dish coats rice noodle rolls in a creamy coconut and chili gravy with potatoes and chicken chunks.
Location: Jalan Batu Ferringhi, Batu Ferringhi, Penang, Malaysia
Open: Daily from 6.00 PM to 11.00 PM
New World Park (Hawker Centre)
New World Food Centre is a famous food court in George Town.
There are many flavors of food stalls, and you can eat a lot of local delicacies.
You can taste Penang snacks and noodles like Penang Hokkien Mee, Assam Laksa, Char Kway Teow, Wanton Mee, Curry Mee, Cendol, Ais Kacang, Chee Cheong Fun, crepes, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Braised Pork, Kway Teow Thng, and many other delicacies.
You may be tempted to order everything you see.
Location: Jalan Burma, Penang, Malaysia
Open: Daily 10.00 AM to 10.00 PM
Popular Hawker Roadside Stalls in Penang
Street Food Stalls in Penang are an area where pushcarts or vans are set up temporarily as hawker centers for a few hours at night.
Some famous stalls have a long line of people queuing to order their food – these are safe bets if you don’t know what to order.
Generally, Penangites are friendly, and if you want to know about the dish, you can strike up a conversation and ask in English.
Pulau Tikus Night Market (Roadside Stalls)
In the evening, the area in front of the Pulau Tikus wet market building is transformed into a hawker paradise, with various good food options.
The Koay Teow Thng has a duck soup rendition with a garnish of fishballs, sliced fishcakes, duck meat topped with golden-fried lard, and chopped scallions.
A notable item is the Hainanese Satay which has a dipping sauce that is sweet potato-based, similar to that for “Cheh hu” (Chinese “Pasembor”). Other worthy items include the Penang Assam Laksa, Char Hor Fun, and Char Koay Teow.
Lok Lok is the top must-have item visiting Pulau Tikus’ night food stalls.
Location: Jalan Pasar, Pulau Tikus, Penang, Malaysia
Open: Daily 4.00 PM to 9.30 PM
New Lane Hawker Centre (Roadside Stalls)
New Lane Hawker Centre opens at 4 PM every day.
New Lane (Lorong Baru) is closed to vehicular traffic, and pushcart hawkers set up stalls on the roadside.
Cars must find alternate routes to their destination because the street morphs into a thriving outdoor hawker food center.
Here you will find a variety of porky hawker specialties not found in Penang Food Courts.
Notable items include Char Kway Teow (flat rice noodles with cockles, prawns, chili, and bean sprouts) and Chee Cheong Fun (rice noodle rolls) and Penang Curry Mee.
The seating is outside under the stars on colourful plastic tables and chairs on the roadside.
Location: Lorong Baru, 10450 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Open: Daily from 4.00 PM to 2.00 AM
Presgrave Street Hawker Centre (Roadside Stalls)
Presgrave Street Hawker Centre is a local eats and very popular with the people in the vicinity for its cheap, delicious food.
The place is excellent for a quick hearty meal in Penang.
If you want a long, drawn-out meal, there is a fine dining restaurant that you can try.
Must order is the Penang Hokkien Mee noodles from a stall called 888 Hokkien Mee. The prawn noodle soup is famous for its light yet savory broth, and diners can add on extras to flavor their soup.
Expect to see ingredients like Roasted Pork (recommended), Pork Ribs, Fish Balls, Chicken Feet, Pig’s Skin, and Braised Eggs on the menu.
The food court’s Wan Tan Mee, BBQ Chicken Wings, Fried Oysters, Satay, and Lor Bak deserve a special mention.
Pro Tip: Order the 888 Hokkien Mee and Chendol for a light meal and order everything else if you want to indulge.
Location: 67D, Lebuh Presgrave, 10300 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Open: 4.00 PM to 8.00 PM (closed on Mondays)
Kimberley Street Food Night Market (Roadside Stalls & Kopitiam)
In the middle of George Town, the areas have a combination of pushcart stalls serving kopitiam where you dine.
The Char Koay Teow, Duck Kway Chap, and traditional Chinese signature dessert Almond Soup Tong Sui are notable items.
You can get breakfast type Economy, Char Bee Hoon, here for your supper treats.
Location: Jalan Sungai Ujong, 10100 George Town, Penang, MALAYSIA
Hours: 5.00 PM to 11.00 PM (Closed Wednesdays)
Chulia Street Night Hawker Stalls (Roadside Stalls)
If you haven’t tried sitting along darkened five-footways and by the roadside with the Rapid busses rumbling by – you haven’t experienced eating out in George Town.
The Chulia Street Night Hawker Stalls are the pop-up stalls once evening falls.
Notable stalls (not necessarily in the pecking order) are
Wantan Mee, Curry Mee, Char Hor Fun, Lor Bak, Muah Chee, Mixed Fruit Juice, Lok Lok!
Location: Jalan Chulia, 10100 George Town, Penang, MALAYSIA
Hours: 4.00 PM to 12.00 AM
Popular Penang Food Courts
Penang Food Court is an air-conditioned public eatery in a shopping mall for ease of reference.
Gurney Food Hall (Gurney Plaza Food Court)
Gurney Food Hall is the newest Food Court in a shopping mall.
The largest upscale food court on a Gurney Drive stretch. The Gurney Food Hall has a fresh, modern, and cozy interior.
They are 25 stalls with an average of 5 dishes, each with a reasonable starting average of RM7 or RM8 for decent portion size.
The environment is hygienic, clean, and pleasant without being too noisy or smelling food.
Location: Level 4, Gurney Plaza, Persiaran Gurney, Penang
Open: Daily from 10.00 AM to 10.00 PM
Just Food (Gurney Paragon Food Court)
Just Food is Gurney Paragon Mall is fully air-conditioned, making it an excellent place for tourists and locals who want to dine in comfort.
The most popular stalls are Mr. Shawerma, serving Syrian cuisine with a Doner kebab (rotating kebab) great for wraps, salads, hummus, and Chilli Pan Mee.
Location: Level 5, Gurney Paragon, Persiaran Gurney, Penang
Open: Daily from 10.00 AM to 10.00 PM
Hawker Centre Rules
Insider Tips for the best eating experience at a Hawker Centre.
Here are some unwritten rules that the locals follow.
It is always good to observe and do as the locals do when in doubt.
It is okay if you can’t order in Penang Hokkien dialect or Malay; most hawkers can converse in English.
It’s always good to do as the locals, but sometimes as travelers, we also have to take extra hygiene precautions to protect ourselves.
In Summary, What To Do At Penang Food Courts
- Remember to bring a packet of tissues and hand sanitizer.
- All food court hawkers have hygiene ratings (Standard A, B, C), so make sure you learn how to recognize the rating system and avoid anywhere that has been flagged up with a low rating.
- Some Food Courts require you to return your food tray.
What To Do At Penang Hawker Centre and Roadside Stalls
- Hawker centers are only cash, so make sure you visit the ATM before arriving. You pay for your food once you’ve ordered.
- Remember your table number as some dishes might take some time to cook.
- Penangites call all vendors “Auntie” or “Uncle.”
- You can leave your plate on the table once you’ve finished.
- It’s OK to order multiple dishes from different vendors at the Hawker Centre.
- If you see a line, join it. Usually, it’s a good dish worth waiting for.
- Some places which do not have a central drinks station have groups of the table “belonging to” a drink stall.
Penang Food Courts Prices
Most hawker food costs between RM6 to RM7 if you order noodles or snacks without various ingredients.
Food items recommended for tourists are
- Char Kway Teow
- Koay Teow Thing
- Wantan Mee
- Penang Asam Laksa
- Roti Canai
- Mee Mamak
- Honey BBQ Pork and Rice
- Nasi Lemak
What Drinks To Order at Penang Food Court?
For refreshing drinks, try the variety of tasty fresh fruit juices or Soya Milk.
Every Hawker Centre has a drink stand; if you are worried about hygiene, you can order bottled water or canned drinks.
Try the sugar cane juice, lime juice, and Coconut Water.
These drinks are natural thirst quenchers and go down well after a hot day.
Try the classic Penang Kopi with condensed milk for hot drinks to add a sweet taste.
Teh Tarik (pulled tea) is a frothy tea with milk that is tasty and addictive.
Did you find this article helpful?
Share it so we can help others travelers who may be looking for places to eat in Penang.