When some of my students asked me why I was going to Malaysia for vacation, I told them I was going there to eat. I was half-joking, of course - there is plenty to do and see in Malaysia besides the food. But I was also half-serious. With a multiethnic population largely split between Malays, Chinese and Indians, I knew amazing, diverse food would be waiting for me.
And I was not disappointed.
In the whole week I was in Malaysia, I didn’t eat a single thing that wasn’t good (and I had quite a few things that were quite a ways above good). But I have a few tips that tended to bring us particularly delicious meals.
1. Food Courts
When we first arrived on Penang, the woman who owned the hostel we stayed at recommended that we try the local food court rather than paying more for a restaurant. Now, when I think of a food court, I think of Panda Express and Sbarro - not the quality of food I was hoping for. But my expectations were shattered when we tried the Malaysian version of quick and easy food.
Set up similar to the mall food courts I’m used to, with various stands ringing a sea of plastic tables and chairs. But despite the low cost (only about $1-$3 per plate depending) this food was not cheap. And it was incredibly quick and easy too. Just go to a stand and tell the attendant your order and table number (be sure to grab a table first and make a note of the number on the corner). A few minutes later a server will bring your food to you and you pay right there at your table.
Nearly every night while we were on the island, the four of us would each order something different - naan, chapati, satay, noodles - and pile it all in the middle of the table to share.
2. Outdoor Buffet Restaurants
You can usually find these at food courts as well, but we found a great outdoor restaurant near our hostel that served Indian food buffet style. You don’t pay once for unlimited plates or by weight - instead the price is set per dish. Vegetables might cost a few cents, while chicken runs a dollar per piece. Basically you load your plate up (be sure to get a lot of each vegetable you want since they charge per separate dish) and then the attendant ballparks how much you owe based on what you’ve taken. This usually cost us around $3-$4 a meal. And man it was good. I recommend ladling up extra sauce from a few different dishes and adding them together on your rice for an extra tasty mix.