Produced by SilverKris for Penang Global Tourism
Penang has always been known as Malaysia’s food capital, drawing visitors across the country, region and world to explore its rich, exciting food scene. From traditional, authentic eateries to hawker stalls that attract hour-long queues to innovative new restaurants that push the boundaries with local flavours and produce, there’s never been a more interesting time to eat your way through Penang. And though best known for its authentic local dishes, Penang’s food is ever-evolving and encompasses a multitude of cultural influences and cuisines. The recent arrival of the Michelin Guide confirms what foodies around the world already knew – that the city is a star.
In December, the international food awards debuted in Malaysia, recognising restaurants across the spectrum, from kopitiams to fine dining establishments. The Michelin Guide landed in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, with Penang scooping up just as many [stars] as the capital city.
The Michelin Guide landed in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, with Penang scooping up just as many [stars] as the capital city
“This indeed is a stepping stone and a badge of honour in the gastronomy industry,” said YB Yeoh Soon Hin, the Penang State Exco for Tourism and Creative Economy. “The Michelin Guide Kuala Lumpur and Penang will be the first in Asia after the pandemic. To date, it has a presence in 37 countries and we are proud to announce that we are one of them.”
The big winners in Penang were Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery and Restaurant Au Jardin, each receiving one coveted Michelin star. These are two favourites of the foodie scene that have incited lines of local tourists and bursts of Instagram photography for years.
Familiar Peranakan favourites
Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery is a masterclass in family-style restaurants, from the welcoming, unpretentious decor to the extensive menu of Peranakan favourites. The Bishop Street restaurant is right in the heart of Georgetown’s historic cluster of streets, well-known to anyone who’s explored the city’s famous street art scene by foot. Auntie Gaik Lean’s kitchen is run by Chef Gaik Lean herself, drawing from her collection of authentic family recipes, passed down over the years from matriarchs of the chef’s family.
Chef Gaik Lean learned many of these signature recipes from her mother as a child, and has kept them well-guarded since. It’s these recipes that keep Auntie Gaik Lean’s dishes so distinctive and unmistakably authentic, drawing on traditional techniques and the freshest local produce, herbs and spices.
It’s hard to go wrong with a menu this beloved, but start with a classic: the most famous of all Peranakan dishes. Curry kapitan is an excellent marker of what sets Auntie Gaik Lean’s dishes apart, a familiar favourite that still manages to surprise with its punchy, fragrant flavours. The chef herself has always maintained this is down to the freshness and balance of the all-important spices and herbs – and of course, the curry paste is always made from scratch. Pair it with a perfectly sweet-spicy sambal brinjal, fish curry tumis loaded with tangy tamarind and aromatic nasi ulam.
New stories told with Penang produce
Across town you’ll find Restaurant Au Jardin, an intimate 18-seater restaurant tucked inside the converted Hin Bus Depot. This fine dining establishment offers up thoughtful, inventive takes on modern European cuisine – while staying true to local Penang produce. Owner and chef Kim Hock prioritises working with local farmers and suppliers to celebrate the freshest seasonal produce.
This focus on working with food that’s in season means Restaurant Au Jardin’s menu is regularly changing, but you’ll always find their signature inventive twist on classic flavours and pairings. Dishes from their most recent menus include a playful mussel & fennel curry served with smoked mussels custard, mango gel and steamed brioche; or a Sardine Parfait that combines a delicate squid ink and anchovy sable with pickled shallots and sardine jam. And always look out for their signature palate cleansers between courses – refreshing vegetable and herbal sorbets served in the form of mini Magnum ice creams.
44 other beloved eateries get Michelin nods
Aside from the Michelin star-awarded restaurants, 17 more Penang institutions were honoured with the Michelin Bib Gourmand, a recognition of excellent food served at moderate prices. You’ll find these all around Penang, from local hawker favourites such as Bridge Street Prawn Noodle and Penang Road Famous Laksa to modern eateries like Communal Table by Gēn and Neighbourwood. Finally, the Guide also recognized 27 additional Penang culinary treasures with a “Michelin Selected” citation. These included the must-visit Air Itam Sisters Curry Mee, Georgetown’s fine-dining specialists Kebaya and Sri Weld Food Court favourite Ali Nasi Lemak Daun Pisang.
And though Georgetown gets the most attention in the guidebooks, Penang has much to offer an adventurous foodie outside the capital. Plan a route through coastal city Butterworth or Bukit Mertajam and work your way through nasi kandar, Hokkien mee, Mee Jawa and more.
“The vitality of a city such as Penang, which includes as many Bib Gourmand restaurants as the capital city, is pleasing and very encouraging for our inspection team, who is looking forward to exploring a lot more of Malaysia, and to tasting the diverse offerings of local culinary talents,” said Gwendal Poullennec, International Director of the MICHELIN Guide.
A table at Penang’s best-loved eateries has always been a hotly contested prize, and with its new stars, honours and all-round well-deserved recognition, Penang’s food scene has never been so internationally beloved. Now’s the time for a foodie trip to the city – just be sure to plan your route well in advance, generously account for waiting times and call ahead whenever possible. Happy eating!
Featured image by Restaurant Au Jardin Instagram
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