CBCI Goes to Penang, Malaysia on $10/Day
While everyone else was digging out from the snowstorm in the U.S., I spent a month lounging on a seafront balcony at Straits Quay marina resort in Penang, Malaysia where the temperature hovers around 30°C (86°F) with abundant sunshine every day. That’s right – life on the road scoping out the world’s best food destinations is hard work, but someone (luckily, me) has to do it. And today, we’re going to eat well in Penang for US$10/day.
To most serious foodies, Penang has a long and well-earned reputation derived from its multicultural mix of traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes. Founded as a trading post by Captain Francis Light of the East India Company in 1786, Penang also has its foundations deeply rooted in British colonialism. This social juxtaposition of East and West makes Penang one of the easiest and most welcoming Asian cities for foreigners.
There are four things visitors to Penang notice immediately upon arrival:
- Language is no barrier – you’ll have no trouble getting around or meeting new people as signs are posted in multiple languages and everyone speaks English, especially in waterfront communities like Batu Ferringhi or Georgetown that cater to tourists and retirees.
- Island life is relaxed – Penang is far more laid back than Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur and you’ll never feel rushed. There’s a fair amount of traffic on the road but an efficient network of local buses (Rapid Penang), jetties, taxis and Uber makes it easy to get around. An Uber ride from Straits Quay to Georgetown costs RM4-6 (US$.90-$1.35) and from Straits Quay to Penang International Airport – nearly from one end of the island to the other – costs RM19-26 (US$4.28-$5.86).
- Penang is tropical – you’ll never get used to the intense humidity but there are ways to acclimate to it. Early morning or after sundown are the best times to go for a walk, jog or ride a bike when island breezes take the edge off. During the heat of the day, escape into one of Penang’s many modern, air-conditioned shopping malls.
- Value for the money – Penang is one of the most affordable cities in the world. Housing accommodations, transportation, food and entertainment costs are incredibly low compared to other Asian cities and certainly compared to Western countries. My 30-day budget totaled $1500 including Airbnb monthly condo rental (utilities, cable TV/wifi 30 mbps, cleaning service) @ US$38/nt, local transportation @ US$2/day and food @ US$10/day.
Eating in Penang on $10/day
Breakfast – I’m not a morning person so I tend to eat a leisurely breakfast in, typically making an egg tofu omelet, fresh melon fruit or sliced Japanese cucumber, kaya toast (spread made from coconut milk, eggs and sugar), coffee and juice. To add taste and texture, I like to whisk in a fresh egg with the egg tofu, and toss in oven-roasted garlic oyster mushrooms and crumbled dried seaweed.
In Penang, I shopped at Sam’s Groceria, Tesco, Cold Storage, AEON, Gama and Giant supermarkets which all have a wide selection of international foods and are slightly more expensive than buying food at small local markets. Prices for what I purchased are listed below, with a total estimate of under US$1 for breakfast each day:
Egg Tofu – RM2.10 (US$.47) for 3 rolls
Fresh Cut Fruit (cantaloupe, honeydew or watermelon) – RM 2.5 (US$.56) per pint
Japanese Cucumber – RM1 (US$.22 per piece)
Kaya – (homemade) but a store-bought jar usually costs RM20 (US$4.50)
Lunch – The tastiest lunch I ate was at Queens Hall food court on the 3rd floor of Queensbay shopping mall. Sliced roast BBQ duck breast with steamed white rice and crunchy cucumber (with spicy dipping sauces) and an iced lemon tea cost RM13 (US$2.93). Not only could I have eaten two of these, I would have eaten it every day!
Dinner – I eat a lot of seafood, but even more so when I stay on an island. Craving fried food, I ordered grouper fish and chips with tartar sauce and a side of mushy peas, steamed vegetables and rice from Blue Reef Fish & Chips at Straits Quay for RM28 (US$6.30) and the portions would have easily fed two hungry diners. The flavorful fish was hot and perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside with tender flaky, juicy fish inside.
While spending US$10/day for food sounds inexpensive for most travelers, it’s actually a lot to spend in many Asian cities. Delicious meals can be found at local hawker centers and street food markets all over Penang with snacks under RM4 (US$.90) and main dishes averaging RM8 (US$1.80).
There are fine dining restaurants as well, like Kabaya at Seven Terraces that offers a 4-course meal of classic Indo and Straits Chinese Nyonya cuisine starting at RM120 (US$27) or elegant French-inspired Farquhar Mansion’s 5-course Chef’s Tasting menus priced from RM228-RM288 (US$51-$65).
If you’re coming to Penang, be sure to visit the Penang International Food Festival (PIFF), three separate events scheduled from April 15-30, 2017:
April 15 – Street Food Festival (Savour the Past)
April 22 – Taste of Penang (Enjoy the Present)
April 28-30 – Fringe Food Festival (Relish the Future)
Links for more information:
Straits Quay: http://www.straitsquay.com/
Rapid Penang: http://www.rapidpg.com.my/
Queens Hall Food Court: http://www.visitpenang.gov.my/portal3/penang-tourism-news/2013-queens-hall-opens-in-queensbay-mall.html
Blue Reef Fish & Chips: http://www.bluereef.com.my/
Kebaya at Seven Terraces: http://kebaya.com.my/
Farquhar Mansion: http://www.farquharmansion.com/
Penang International Food Festival: http://www.piff.com.my/