street food

Forget gourmet dining and expensive white tablecloth dinners. In Georgetown, Penang, an island on the Northwestern coast of Malaysia, street food reigns supreme. 

For many of us, street food conjures ideas of deep-fried, cheap, greasy food, better suited for a snack on the way home from the bar than health food. 

Yet, in Georgetown, street food is a culinary experience. 

Easy on your wallet and easy on your body, these street food dishes will not only taste amazing, but will also help you feel energized for your day to explore Georgetown’s markets, floating houses and famous street art. 

Nasi Lamak 

This classic Malaysian dish is a delight for your taste buds and your energy levels. Wrapped in a bright green Pandan leaf, the coconut milk-soaked rice is steamed and served with a fried or boiled egg, anchovies, spicy sauce, peanuts, and sometimes a slice of chicken or fish. High in protein and healthy fats, you’ll see chefs steaming this dish at street stalls around the city. Because it’s wrapped in the Pandan leaf, this energy-fueling dish is a favorite for farmers and physical laborers for lunch!   

Curry Laksa

The culinary magic of Georgetown is in part because of the clash of three cultures—Malay, Indian and Chinese—who brought their cooking here. Curry Laksa is the perfect example of how those dishes can magically collide. Traditional Malay Assam Laska is a spicy fish broth soup served with flat wheat or thin rice noodles, vegetables and tofu, chicken or shrimp. The curry version has a thicker broth made with coconut milk and curry spices, like ginger and turmeric, which reduce inflammation. The result is a flavorful and creamy soup bursting with flavor (and antioxidants).  

Oyster Omelette

Popular at hawker markets all over Southeast Asia, the oyster omelette may sound strange to Western travelers. Oysters are a delicacy and omelettes are … served in diners everywhere. But you won’t regret trying this at a food stall in Georgetown. Packed with lean protein and garnished with fresh herbs, the oyster omelette is savory goodness.

Protip: some places add crispy batter to the omelette, which makes it a less healthy option. You can try asking for it with less batter, or finding a stall that doesn’t use batter at all! 

Nasi Kandar

This is one of my favorite dishes due to the diversity of options and flavors available. Popularized in the region by wealthy Indian merchants, Nasi Kandar includes a plate of steamed rice with various curries. There was a lovely Nasi Kandar stall near my guesthouse in Georgetown and I had breakfast there nearly every day. Because of its Indian origins, many of the curries are vegetarian, making this a healthy and flavorful snack for any meal. To have this the traditional way, make sure you get all your curries served on the same plate with the rice so that you’re flooding (banjir in Malay) it with flavor. 

Dim Sum 

Famed for having the best Dim Sum outside of Hong Kong, these Chinese-inspired dishes make great meals or snacks. While eating too much Dim Sum can result in carbo-overload (hello sugar crash), in moderation these steamed dishes provide healthy sources of lean protein, carbs, and vegetables. Various kinds of Bao (steamed buns) are served all over the city as snacks (look for a taro bun for a unique treat!), and varieties of steamed dumplings can be found at stalls in the hawker markets. Har-Gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) and Cheung Fun (long rice noodles often filled with steamed shrimp) are some of the healthier (and tastiest) options. 

Fresh Fruit 

While the above will make for delicious meals and snacks, I’d be remiss to end this article without mentioning the fruit. Mangoes, jack fruit, papaya, durian, coconut. Sliced and served at food stalls or picked up whole in a market, fresh fruit makes a perfect healthy snack or breakfast and is refreshing in the Malaysian heat. 

Wandering through hawker stalls and food markets in Georgetown is an immersion for all of your senses. Luckily, you won’t get far without stumbling upon a healthy tasty dish to try. 

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About The Author

Kayla Kurin is a health, travel and fiction writer from Toronto. She has traveled, lived and worked in over 50 countries and loves writing about her adventures in real and made-up worlds. You can follow her adventures at arogayoga.com/newsletter.

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