Gay Penang: a pink travel guide to the food capital of Asia

Gay Penang: a pink travel guide to the food capital of Asia

Georgetown in Penang is often regarded as one of the best foodie capitals of Asia.

This city in Northwest Malaysia has taken the best from all the Asian cuisines, created it’s own eclectic mix, to produce this foodie paradise.

Sebastien eating popiah

Sebastien about to devour this plate of popiah in Penang

Naturally, we were dead excited to go face down in the many food offerings, so we couldn’t wait to set foot here.

We pulled together our favourite places to eat, activities to do, gay friendly places to stay and gay hang outs, and put together our very own gay friendly travel guide to Penang.

But first, a little bit more about all that amazing food that got us all so very excited!

Sebastien trying chendul in Penang

Sebastien about to enjoy this bowl of delicious chendul in the streets of Penang

FOOD, FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD OF PENANG!

Penang used to be a major trading port during the British colonial times, which brought significant Thai, Indian and Chinese influences.

There are so many great places to eat in central Penang, so we’ve limited this to our favourites:

Stefan trying Indian apom

Stefan trying apom (Indian crepe) at this hawker stall in Penang

1. RED MARKET

  • Red Market at 20 Leigh Street is a busy hawker centre selling everything from satay, laksa, dim sum, noodles of all sorts and many many more.
  • A mix of locals and tourists gather in the communal seating, ordering food from the surrounding stalls, creating an exciting atmosphere.
Red Market hawker stall heaven

The exciting, buzzy atmosphere at Penang’s Red Market in Penang

2. TAI TONG RESTAURANT

  • Tai Tong restaurant is located on 45 Lebuh Cintra, famous for its dim sum and the very cute old ladies (aka “aunties”) wheeling around a trolley of these little Cantonese prizes.
  • You pick which dim sum you want from their trolleys and bon appetit!
Sebastien and Tai Tong old lady

Sebastien choosing his dim sum dinner from the trolley of one of the old ladies at Tai Tong restaurant in Penang

3. HAMEEDIYAH

  • Hameediyah at 164a Campbell Street is a family run institution, famous for its murtabak, or Indian pizza. It’s been going strong for over 100 years.
  • Stefan tried to play head Chef at Hameediyah with some mixed results…
Stefan making murtabak Indian pizza

Stefan trying to make an Indian pizza (murtabak) at the famous family run Hameediyah restaurant in Penang

4. TEOCHEW CHENDUL

  • Teochew chendul at 27 & 29 Lebuh Keng Kwee street was highly recommended to us for Malaysian chendul.
  • Chendul is a popular dessert of rice flour noodles made green from pandan leaves, coconut milk, shaved ice and red beans. It reminded us a bit of the halo halo dessert we tried in the Philippines.
  • Sebastien just couldn’t help himself and terrorised the poor staff at Teochew until they gave him his chendul:
Sebastien getting ready to devour his chendul at the famous Teochew Chendul stall

Sebastien getting ready to devour lots of yummy chendul at the famous Teochew chendul stall in Penang

5. KAPITAN RESTAURANT

  • Kapitan restaurant at 93 Lebuh Chulia street is a 24/7 Indian heaven selling Indian classics, like tandoori and naan bread all hours of the day.
Sebastien with tandoori at Kapitan

Sebastien winning with a tray of naan and tandoori chicken at Kapitan restaurant inPenang

6. IL BACARO RESTAURANT

  • Il Bacaro restaurant at 106 Lebuh Campbell street is the in-house restaurant of the excellent boutique hotel Campbell House. It is great if you want a break from local food and crave something Western.
  • This was some of the best Italian food we’ve ever had, rivalling some of the highly rated restaurants back home in London.
Bacaro restaurant in campbell house in Penang

Il Bacaro restaurant in Penang serves authentic Italian dishes

GAY FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATION IN PENANG

We stayed in a variety of places in Penang, each catering to a different budget. These were the three we found to be the most accepting, welcoming and open to us as a gay couple, which we highly recommend. All of these places are located in George Town, the heart of Penang.

1. THE TIME CAPSULE HOTEL   Book online

  • Very cool budget option in which you stay in a pod for around 70 Ringgits (£11/$17) a night.
  • The pods are split into rows of 2, 4 or 8 and each one is equipped with a TV, mirror, cool purple lights, air con, safe, coat hanger, USB and many more. It’s like you’ve travelled into the future…check out the purple lighting!
Time Capsule Hotel pod Stef

Stefan inside his pod at the Time Capsule Hotel

2. CAMPBELL HOUSE   Book online

  • Stylish boutique hotel centrally located and surrounded by food wonders. It is perfect for a romantic stay in Penang.
  • The service was incredible and the little touches made our stay very special. For instance, every room was equipped with a Nespresso coffee machine and each afternoon, fresh iced tea with home made cake was placed in our fridge.
  • The cost of staying in one of the 11 suites at Campbell House starts from 350 Ringgits (£55/$84) a night.
The colonial suite at Campbell house in Penang

The Colonial Suite at Campbell House in Penang: “more tea Aunt Emilia?”

3. SEVEN TERRACES   Book online

  • Gayy friendly luxury boutique hotel, right in the heart of George Town.
  • Each suite is grandiose and furnished with very expensive and beautiful Peranakan furniture. The staff are super cute and very friendly, and as an added bonus, they have a great outdoor pool, where we tried to re-enact Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” fresco.
  • The cost of staying in one of the suites at Seven Terraces starts from 550 Ringgits (£86/$132) a night.
Fresco painting fun at Seven Terraces pool

Trying to recreate The Creation of Adam Michelangelo fresco at the Seven Terraces pool in Penang

THE GAY SCENE OF PENANG

We did in fact manage to find a small but vibrant gay scene in Penang. Although there is no official gay bar or club (homosexuality is technically illegal in Malaysia), we discovered a few popular hang outs for the LGBT community:

1. Café Seventy7

  • Cafe Seventy7 is well known as the (un)official gay bar of Penang. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest evenings, attracting a mix of both locals and expats.
  • Seventy7 is located at 34 Jalan Nagor in George Town and we had some good fun nights out here.
Nomadic Boys with friends at Seventy7 in Penang

Hanging out with a few friends at one Seventy7 in Penang

2. China House

  • China House is an institution in Penang, located in the heart of George Town at 153 Lebuh Pantai street.
  • It’s great for coffee and cakes during the day and becomes a cool hipster and gay friendly hangout later in the day.
  • It even has a pink tank outside!
Pink Tank outside China House

The pink tank proudly displayed outside China House in Penang

3. That Little Wine Bar

  • That Little Wine Bar is another gay friendly hangout, great for both food and drinks, located at 54 Jalan Chow Thye.
  • It is tucked down a side street, a little way out from George Town and attracts a mixed crowd.

GAY FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES TO DO IN PENANG

Well if you haven’t booked a foodie tour or a cooking course, what the hell are you waiting for? Penang is THE place for it!

1. Learn about the food of Penang on a food tour 

  • Food Tour Penang is a company offering excellent food tours taking you to the popular restaurants and hawker stalls in the city.
  • Our guide was Junie, who drove us around to try Penang’s classics like assam laksa (rice noodles with fish broth, soured with tamarind), chendul dessert, ban chan kuih (Chinese crepes), hokkien mee (shrimp broth with yellow noodles, popiah (similar to fresh spring rolls), murtabak and many more.
Sebastien trying laksa during our food tour

Sebastien and our guide Junie tucking into a bowl of laksa on our food tour in Penang

  • We loved our food tour and were particularly impressed by the way the 3 dominant cultures in Penang (Malay, Chinese and Indian) are so well integrated together, united by food.
  • A tour with Food Tour Penang cost 275 Ringgits (£50/$62) per person.
Stefan trying tose tisu

Stefan and our guide Junie about to tuck into some Indian tose tisu fermented rice flour

2. Do a cooking course

  • We did a cooking course with the adorable Pearly Kee, who is world famous for her Nonya style cooking (Chinese influenced).
  • Pearly is funny, sharp, sassy and very cheeky.
Pearly and Seb cooking Malaysian beef rendang

Pearly trying to show Sebastien how to cook Malaysian beef rendang at her cooking school in Penang

  • We absolutely fell in love with Chef Pearly and had one of our favourite ever cooking experiences with her.
Recipe for Malaysian beef rendang with Pearly

Learning to make Malaysian beef rendang with Pearly Kee in Penang

  • Pearly taught us to make beef rendang (a coconut milk based curry, cooked until it’s dried) and Curry Kapitan (a coconut based curry soured with tamarind and lime juice).
  • Our class with Pearly included a very interesting tour at the local market where Stefan made a new fishy friend:
Stefan with his new fishy friend

Stefan with his new fishy friend at a local market in Penang during our cooking class with Pearly Kee

3. Visit the UNESCO buildings and clan temples of Penang

  • Penang does of course have a great deal more to offer then its impressive mix of food.
  • The central George Town area itself is UNESCO protected, with a variety of beautiful cathedrals, temples and mosques to visit.
Temple in Georgetown, Penang

One of the many beautiful temples in George Town, central Penang

  • The Khoo Kongsi Clan house is also worth a visit, where our photo got hijacked by this group of very cute school children:
Stefan at the Khoo Kongsi temple in Penang

Can you spot Stefan at the Khoo Kongsi Chinese clan house in Penang?

4. The pretty jetties of Penang

  • The jetties are also popular to visit, forming a mini waterfront society, home to houses on stilts.
  • The remaining 6 jetties in Penang are over a century old and each named after a Chinese clan (like Yeoh, Chew and Lim). The wooden houses on stilts were literally built on water (ie not on land) so the residents could avoid paying any tax.
Jetty in Georgetown, Penang

The houses at the Penang jetties are built on stilts in the water

5. The famous street art of Penang

  • As part of the campaign to obtain the UNESCO status in 2008, the Penang State Government started a competition to install street art around George Town, with a full brochure explaining each one and where they can be found.
  • Our favourite was “Kids on a Bicycle” (being told off for their recklessness by Mummy Seby):
Sebastien and Kids on Bicycle street art in Penang

Sebastien telling off these naughty children for their reckless cycling

  • We also thought “Boy on Chair” (reaching for Stefan’s iPhone) was quite cute:
Boy on Chair street art in Penang

Boy on Chair reaching for Stefan’s iPhone was one of our favourite street arts in Penang

6. Keep fit in Penang

  • You may want to consider it after taking in all those calories. The newly opened 24 M1 Fitness Club at 12/13/14 Komtar Walk just off Penang Road, is a great place for it.
  • We each paid 90 Ringgits (£14/$22) for a weekly pass or 18 Ringgit (£3/$5) for a daily pass.
Sebastien discovering Gym 24-M1 in Penang

Sebastien posing at our 24-M1 gym in Penang

But look let’s face it, at the end of the day, as foodie travellers, Penang is THE place you come to for some of the best food…and boy did we go crazy discovering it!

Sebastien trying a Chinese crepe in Penang

Sebastien trying a Chinese crepe during our food tour in Penang

Sebastien trying char kaoy Yeow noodles

Sebastien trying a plate of delicious char kaoy Yeow noodles

For more about our adventures through Malaysia, please check out our Malaysia travel video:

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36 Comments

  1. vanessa workman

    Thanks for the tips and great write up! I didn’t know about the ‘food tour’, I’m definitely taking that now. And maybe pop into the fish market to look for a #youknowwho. 😀

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for the comment aunty V. Fish market’s always the best place for a #sexyuncle ???

      Reply
  2. noel

    It’s been too long since I’ve visited Penang and yes the food is pretty amazing there especially love the Indian food, soooooo delicious!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      A visit is overdue for you Noel? LOVE all the food there – ha ha ha!

      Reply
  3. Sabine

    It seems like Penang is not only great for food, but for a lot of other things as well. I’d love to stay in that time capsule hotel, seems so cool (for a night or so, too much purple light 🙂 ).
    And the food, it seems that the food is just everywhere and all around! Definitely a place to visit, since I looooove, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamse food. Great read!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ha ha ha very true 🙂 A foodie’s paradise!

      Reply
  4. Rebecca Bryant

    Okay this fat chic is so starving now after reading this. What fabulous food you had and so many amazing adventure. I am so tripping over that sleep pod thing. Way cool. My son wants to go to Japan soon and I am now even more excited to plan a trip.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Rebecca – Japan also truly amazing too!

      Reply
  5. Jackie

    I always look forward to reading your guides! They are so detailed and full of fun! Your food photos literally have left me drooling on my couch perusing every Asian take out menu I have here. I’d love to do a food tour in Penang and sample the confluence of Thai, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. The cooking class is such a great way to bring food experiences back home. Thanks for sharing. Will definitely be using this guide when I travel to Malaysia! P.S. Those pods are fascinating!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      He he he thanks Jackie 🙂

      Reply
  6. Bell | Wanderlust Marriage

    Wow, amazing food! We missed Penang unfortunately on our trip to Malaysia, but we really hope to get back there one day and plan to visit Penang. The cooking course would be great, or the tour or both 🙂 And it looks like you really enjoyed your time there!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thx guys – it’s an awesome city.

      Reply
  7. Uncover Your Caribbean

    All that food just makes us wanna eat the screen!
    This is awesome stuff. Asia is very exploratory with food (which we love!), so it’s on the list for a foodcation! Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Oh yes yes – the best foodcation there is 🙂

      Reply
  8. Laura

    Haha, Stefan playing chef is awesome! How did you get them to let you do that? I think you saved the best for last on this list, because those char kaoy Yeow noodles look amazing. I’d love a plate of those right now! Fantastic food guide to Penang!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ha ha ha thanks Laura. Any excuse for a photo and most people will oblige 😉

      Reply
  9. Jolanta | Casual Travelers

    I can’t decide whether I like your photos of food, the photos of street art, or the photos of the two of you the most 🙂 The street art is so whimsical… Thank you for capturing it and sharing with your readers. But the food photos… Hm, yum… I ‘m getting hungry!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ha ha ha thanks Jolanta 🙂

      Reply
  10. fadi

    Wow it’s long post, great one with lots of adventure.
    I guide at my home town food & culture tour 🙂 put it in ur mind !!!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Fadi

      Reply
  11. melody pittman

    Always full of fun and adventure, you guys are so entertaining! That Time Capsule Hotel is just adorable. I think I would be perfectly fine staying in that nice space that has everything you need. (besides a Macbook, do I really need anything else except maybe a sheet??) Keep on traveling and sharing your thrills with all of us. I’m learning so much about the world through your eyes. 😉

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Melody 🙂

      Reply
  12. Lesley

    I’m not a very adventurous eater so markets like the Red Market are a great place for me. I can usually find something if I have more options. I think I would like the Chinese crepe and the char kaoy Yeow noodles.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Awwwww – LOVE the Chinese Malaysian food 🙂

      Reply
  13. Megan | Traveling Nine to Fiver

    The food looks amazing! I’d love to get out there and give it a try. Looks like some unique things to try and other classics like good Indian food. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      🙂

      Reply
  14. Kinga

    I never know where to eat when I travel and often end up eating just “anywhere” especially on the first day. So if I ever go to Penang, your post might be super useful. 😉 Ps. I wouldn’t call Lonely Planet the travel bible.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ha ha ha thanks Kinga! Well LP was the default bible for Penang in the absence of a Floating My Boat post about it right? 🙂

      Reply
  15. Brenda Tolentino

    This post makes me hungry and miss char kaoy teow! I loved the food of Penang and the people because my family is of Chinese blood and many of the food in Penang is what we ate growing up in Manila and NYC! I didn’t do a cooking class but it looks like a great activity for all!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Brenda I didn’t know your heritage was Chinese. Awesome 🙂

      Reply
  16. Mags

    OMG that food looks amazing! I haven’t been to any part of Asia, but the cuisine is my favorite (I know that statement sounds like I’m lumping the whole continent together, but literally all of their regional cuisine is the best!). I should not have read this before dinner.

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ha ha ha 🙂 You are right though and it was mainly the reason we wanted to spend a few years travelling there!

      Reply
  17. antonette

    I just came home from the gym and keep telling myself not to eat any more …. your pics really make me crave for food NOW! 🙂

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Ahahahahahaha!! Thanks Antonette – made us piss ourselves laughing!

      Reply
  18. Vanessa

    Every time I read one of your posts I want to simultaneously fix a snack and book some plane tickets. The food scene in Penang looks amazing and I would go nuts at Kapitan – that naan bread looks irresistible!

    Reply
    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Vanessa 🙂

      Reply

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