Gay Penang: a pink travel guide to the food capital of Asia
Penang in Northeast Malaysia is seen as THE foodie capital of Southeast Asia according to the travel Bible (Lonely Planet). Now, that’s a tall order in a region with a huge array of world star cuisines like Thai and Vietnamese.
But Penang has taken them all, rolled them up into one delicious whole and created it’s own eclectic mix to create this foodie paradise.
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!
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:
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.
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!
- 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…
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
- 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 160 Ringgits (£25/$39) per person.
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.
- We absolutely fell in love with Chef Pearly and had one of our favourite ever cooking experiences with her.
- 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:
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.
- The Khoo Kongsi Clan house is also worth a visit, where our photo got hijacked by this group of very cute school children:
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.
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):
- We also thought “Boy on Chair” (reaching for Stefan’s iPhone) was quite cute:
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.
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!
For more about our adventures through Malaysia, please check out our Malaysia travel video: