Penang Food is awesome: from Penang Laksa to Nasi Kandar and Curry Mee, food critics the caliber of Anthony Bourdain, David Rocco, and Lonely Planet have all sung the praises of the Malaysian island’s multi-ethnic cuisine.
But since there are so many choices, it can get difficult to choose for first-timers. And to be fair, there’s nothing like starting the day with the right food: trust us, with these suggestions to the best breakfast in Penang, you’ll start your day definitely right.
We think the best is to ditch your hotel buffet — check out our recommendations for some of Penang Best boutique hotels, Penang 5 star hotels, and Penang budget hotels— or guest house — check our guide to backpacking Penang — and get out on the streets of George Town to try some of its best breakfast.
In this article you’ll learn:
- What are Penang iconic breakfast options
- Some of the best places for breakfast in Penang
- Where to get your comfort food – Western breakfast in Penang
We’ll start from our favourite: Penang local breakfast options.
Best Breakfast in Penang: 10 Iconic Local Foods
Penang’s multicultural society remains quite distinct in its food traditions and choices — meaning, you’ll find Malay, Chinese, Indian food everywhere in Penang. But breakfast is possibly the meal where “food borders” become less obvious, and contamination has created some amazing local Penang breakfast options.
Here we review the most common and scrumptious. Take a morning stroll in george Town, especially along the streets of Penang Little India where eateries and their tables that spill kerbside literally rub elbow with each other.
If there’s one representative Malaysian breakfast, that is roti canai: a hand-rolled, fluffy, round pancake fried over a hot grill. If you have been to India before, roti canai reminds of paratha, but it’s usually less oily.
Served with dhaal and curry, it’s a real Malaysian breakfast experience, and can be found easily in Penang. The simplest roti canai — just the fried dough and curry — is called kosong (”zero”, meaning with no toppings), but there are many other yummy options.
Some of our favorites are roti kaya, smeared with coconut jam, roti telur, which is a roti canai cooked with eggs, and roti planta — which adds margarine to the bread.
Some great places to have roti canai in Penang:
- Transfer Road Roti Canai has been dishing up roti canai for more than 80 years and is one of the best in George Town.
- Gemas Road Sabar Menanti is one of the best kept Penang secrets for roti canai, which comes in a thick tomato-based gravy.
- Maansorali Khan Roti Canai & Murtabak is another staple roti canai seller in Jelutong
Literally meaning burnt bread, roti bakar may be the best leftover of the British Empire: the English brought a taste for bread, coffee, and sweet tooth breakfasts. And roti bakar perfectly follows in that legacy: it’s a mean, thick slice of white bread that gets toasted to perfection — traditionally over burning hot charcoals. Two slices of bread are placed on top of each other, “cemented” together with a layer of creamy coconut jam (kaya) and margarine or butter.
It’s certainly one of Penang famous breakfast choices, and one that binds the nation: Chinese, Indians and Malays all make, and love, this simple yet delicious crunchy bread.
Check out our list of the 6 best places for roti bakar in Penang
A Malay dish in spirit, nasi lemak is truly universal and loved by all the ethnic groups that co-habit the country. To make you understand how important nasi lemak is, think that in 2007, Malaysia sent this pyramid-shaped breakfast package – a base of coconut milk-soaked rice with spicy sauce – in space with the first Malaysian astronaut, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar.
Nasi lemak – translated in English as “fat rice” – is the undisputed heavyweight champion of Malaysian breakfast, and is served relentlessly everywhere, regardless of the quality of the establishments. A blend of coconut milk-soaked white rice, dried anchovies, sliced raw cucumber, roasted peanuts and spicy belacan sauce, nasi lemak is rolled over a banana leaf and wrapped in a brown paper package that resembles a pyramid.
It is damn good and extremely cheap: one packet bought at a street-side stall can cost as low as RM1 (US$ 0.30). When consumed at the other end of the restaurant spectrum, it rarely costs more than RM 12 (US$ 3) per serving.
If packages are marked with capital letters, it means they have extra ingredients. For example, a “T” means that the base nasi lemak has an extra half-boiled egg (telur). “I”, instead, means fried anchovy-like fish (ikan).
Some great places to have nasi lemak in Penang:
- Nasi Lemak Liverpool may be a bit off the grid, but it’s a real immersion in the local lifestyle… and a most scrumptious fat rice
- Nasi Lemak Pendekar Mustar is central in Lebuh Campbell and focuses on this breakfast dish.
- Ali Nasi Lemak is a quintessential stall in George Town.
- Jin Hoe Cafe dishes up Nyonya-style nasi lemak, with bitter-hot sambal sauce.
- Paya Terubong Nasi Lemak is another famous Chinese-style nasi lemak tucked in the very local neighbourhood of Paya Terubong.
4Ban Chan Kuih (Gas Pan Cake)
Ban Chan Kuih is one of Penang’s simplest and yummiest breakfasts: a pancake filled with toppings such as grounded peanut, sweet corn, and so on.
It takes its name from its peculiar cooking method: the flour mix is poured directly into round metal circles that are put to cook over stovetop burners connected to a gas tank — that’s where the term “Gas Pan Cake” comes from.
When ready, it’s scratched off the metal plate, folded into two, and served hot and crunchy. It’s perfect with some black coffee.
Some great places to have Ban Chan Kuih in Penang:
- Taman Free School Morning Market has an amazing uncle who dishes up some of the best island-wide. Unmissable!
- Supertanker Food Court also has a dedicated Ban Chan Kuih stall manned by a heavily tattooed Chinese couple. They offer a large variety of toppings, including chocolate and other sweet-tooth treats.
5Chee Chong Fun
This rice noodle roll is a typical Cantonese dish coming from Guandong in China and Hong Kong. It’s been adopted and perfected by Chinese immigrants to Malaya, and in Penang, it usually comes plain, without any filling.
It’s a substitute for Chinese dim sum, and it’s made by mixing rice flour and tapioca to create glutinous, noodle-like rolls that are sliced into pieces and served with a thick sauce. In Penang, it’s a red shrimp paste called hae ko in the Hokkien dialect and petis udang in the Malay language.
Some great places to have Chee Chong Fun in Penang:
- Genting Cafe is touted by locals as THE place for Penang chee chong fun.
- Taman Free School Morning Market has an amazing auntie who dishes up some mean chee chong fun.
- To eat at Seow Fong Lye Cafe, you’ll have to queue up… but the wait is well-worth.
- Sin Guat Keong kopitiam is another favourite, famous for its fried shallot and sesame toppings to the sauce.
South India’s typical breakfast — and all-round fast food snack — is a very popular Penang breakfast. At its simplest form, dosai is a round-shaped semolina flour disk the size of a vinyl record that’s cooked until crispy, and then folded into two and served with a side of dhaal, chutney, and curries.
If that’s not enough for breakfast, you should try the masala dosai which has a filling of mashed potatoes, green peas, and other veggies, mixed into a paste.
Some great places to have Dosai in Penang Little India:
- Veloo Villas is a well-known place to have dosai for very cheap.
- Subham has a lot of diverse South Indian food, and their dosai is pretty good.
- Krsna must be Little India’s best place for all kinds of dosai, so make sure you try.
Idli is another staple South Indian breakfast that’s largely available in Penang. It’s a savory rice cake made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils and rice.
One idly set usually comes with two pieces and a selection of curry, dhaal, and chutney to dunk and add flavor to your bites. Considered as a breakfast starter, more than a full meal, you’ll probably have to get at least four pieces to be full.
Some great places to have Idly in Penang:
- Woodlands is a well-known place to have idli in an air-conditioned restaurant atmosphere.
- Sri Ananda Bahwan has a lot of diverse South Indian food, and their idli set is pretty good.
- Krsna must be Little India’s best place for all kinds of South Indian breakfast, so make sure you try.
8Koay Teow Th’ng
Kuey Teow th’ng is a popular Chinese dish in both Malaysia and Singapore, and it’s found all over Penang. It’s a broth soup with flat rice noodles garnished with many other ingredients such as chicken or duck meat, pork, fishballs, green vegetables, and chopped spring onions.
Kuey Teow th’ng is silky and smooth, with a savory broth that suits everyone, from children to the sick who eat it to have a nourishing bowl of hot soup. It can definitely be had for breakfast as many other Penang people do.
Some great places to have Koay Teow Th’ng in Penang:
- Lebuh Melayu Koay Teow Th’ng is a simple street-side stall, but it dishes up a mean version of this popular Chinese soup.
- Ah Boy Koay Teow Th’ng in Lebuh Clarke, George Town, is loved by many also for its bean sprout chicken.
- Cecil Street Market has delicious duck meat koay teow th’ng
- Pitt Street Koay Teow Th’ng is famous for its peculiar eel fish balls, a must-try.
9Apam Balik (Peanut pancake)
Also known as terang bulan, Apom Balik is a delicious pancake served at roadsides and food courts all over Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore.
The version we recommend is the Nyonya: eggy and soft, this sweet treat is like a soft fried pancake, folded into two and filled with a range of ingredients, from the simplest sugar and ground peanuts, to sliced bananas, sweet corn, and can even be found with “modern” touches like Nutella and jam. The taste and texture are completely different from the original Indian apom – a staple of breakfast in Penang Little India.
Pack a few slices and order a kopi, and you’ll be dunking hard in seconds. A perfect sweet tooth treat for any Penang breakfast.
Some great places to have Apom Balik in Penang:
- Apom Chooi in Burmah Road is the older sibling of the famous Apom Guan, but the family recipe’s the same.
- Ah Hui Pancake Jelutong uses a traditional charcoal stove and clay pots instead of gas heaters. Not only great tasting but unique to watch, too.
Dim Sum are the kingdom of Chinese-style breakfast in Penang, meaning that this is not a dish — this is a real culture.
In essence, dim sum is small dishes of steamed or fried dumplings containing a variety of fillings, from meat to prawn and crab, egg and an assortment of vegetables. Siu Mai, made of pork meat, are some of the more renowned and appreciated.
Meaning literally “very close to the heart”, to Cantonese people, dim sum are usually enjoyd at restaurants for breakfast and lunch, washed down with tea. Penang has a long tradition and delicious selection of these savoury tidbits.
Some great places to have Dim Sum in Penang:
- Tai Tong restaurant in Cintra street is well-known to both locals and tourists and has a wide selection of fresh dim sum that any foodie in Penang should try at least once.
- Yong Ping Dim Sum in Jalan Sungai Ujong is another solid choice for giant Baos, wantan fritters, glutinous meat rice, and other small treats.
- Restoran Zim Sum is popular and has a wide variety of tidbits.
- Fu Er Dai is another established dim sum spot, most famous for its exploding salted egg yolk custard bao.
Best Spots for Western Breakfast in Penang
To be fair to those who want a break from local Penang food, especially first-time tourists — read about the 60 best things to do in Penang — the island has a wide variety of Asian and international cuisines, and also some interesting Western restaurants in George Town.
Here’s a selection of restaurants and famous Penang cafes that focus on Western-style sweet tooth breakfast like croissants and bakery, or that offer scrumptious breakfast platters.
11Yin’s Sourdough Bakery And Café
Humble from its beginnings in Balik Pulau years ago, Yin’s Sourdough Bakery moved to George Town during the days of noticeable gentrification of the old town. The sourdough bread comes in a wide variety and is made, by hand, with a great deal of love and care.
The menu is simple, as it should be: besides classic sweet breakfast items like croissants and cakes, a favorite is their Focaccia with Scrambled egg but you should also not miss their Luncheon Meat Sandwich. They’re doing a great Mango Kefir drink too, making you eventually leave nourished and happy.
Popular for its wide selection of strong coffee and western-style bagels, Mugshot is a long-standing option in backpacker-centric Chulia Street.
The bagels are simple, served with a dash of cream and cheese (RM 7.40), or with more expensive fillings such as smoked salmon, turkey ham, bacon and egg, or the sweet-tooth Nutella and Banana concoction (RM 13.80) that’s great for breakfast.
Don’t leave without trying one of their mean espressos, possibly a double-shot, and the health-obsessed may make do with one of their healthy yogurts with fruit.
Oh, the fresh croissants, pastries, espressos, and loaves of bread here… so talked about and delicious. But digressing over the zesty selection of Western-inspired mains on offer at this hip eatery would be a big understatement. When they added a Michelin-trained chef in 2019, their menu spruced up with treats like baby octopus and angel hair pasta and creamy mushroom soup — shitake, Abalone, and Button fungi galore. Still, breakfast platters here are a tradition, and their eggs and bacon, plus egg sandwiches and filled omelets are some of the best in central George Town.
Smacked center in Love Lane, Wheeler’s was popular with tourists before coronavirus halted travel. Besides tasty South American coffee which is also served in the ubiquitous Mocha and Affogato varieties, their all-day breakfast and brunch explore all the shades of Western, from classic scrambled eggs, bacon and beans, to spicy omelets on pot, and healthy yogurt and granola.
Their sandwich platters and chicken fajitas are another filling option to start a lazy day… you’ll need some shade and a chair afterward.
15Urban Daybreak (Penang’s Australian-style breakfast specialists)
Urban Daybreak is one of the most popular hip George Town cafes. Founded by a group of friends with a passion for soul food, the concept here is Australian Breakfast and brunch. The former is particularly appreciated by expatriates on the island and tourists alike. Stout Pulled Pork, Fried Chicken Waffle, and Avocado Smash are the popular options.
Their forte, however, is also French Toasts and Waffles, which include brunch-like options like the zesty Fried Chicken Waffle (RM25). Their Cinnamon French Toast, which is 100% vegetarian, topped with strawberries, and grilled to crunchy delight, is one to try.
If you feel like having brunch, the Urban’s Baked Eggs, runny and floating over a bed of pork tomato stew and served in cast-iron pans, is another solid choice.
16Breakfast from The Barn
The Barn in Bangkok Lane is another well-known place for a Western breakfast treat. English in concept, the Barn plays around with the staple egg, bacon, sausage, and beans platters, sprucing up the lunch selection with cheesy pastas, sandwiches and other finger bites.
If you are thinking of an early breakfast, pick from their pancakes, waffle and nuggets, stuffed croissants, and of course, a mean coffee.