Our Food Draws the Crowd!


Penang is one of the must-visit cities in Malaysia. Findings from Agoda’s Travel and Tech Study show that domestic travel in Malaysia surged by an additional 10 million visits in 2016, and Penang’s tourism industry received a major boost when it was named as one of the 17 places to visit in 2017 by CNN, coming in second after Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Penang attracts not only leisure travellers, but also business visitors who seek new investment opportunities. As Penang is also well-known for its healthcare industry, medical tourists from all around the world – particularly Indonesia, Singapore and Japan – contribute to a large proportion of Penang’s annual tourism revenue. The state’s other pulling factors are its high-tech manufacturing hub, world heritage status, sandy beaches and multicultural society, but above all, it is the food that lures tourists to Penang.

According to the Penang Tourist Survey 2016, experiencing local food is the first in the top five must-do activities in Penang, at 46.3% – higher than in 2015 (37.3%).

Based on the same survey, local cuisine ranked second-highest in visitors’ perception of Penang.

This can be seen from the proportion of expenditure by international and domestic tourists: food and beverage recorded the highest percentage (26.7%), followed by accommodation (24.3%) and transportation (19.4%). In addition, the availability of halal food is rated by tourists as a key attribute, followed by the price of food and beverage, and cleanliness.

From the migrants from India came the nasi kandar, a dish synonymous with Penang. In the past, nasi kandar hawkers used to peddle the food by placing them in containers hanging from a kandar pole that rested on their shoulders. Today, most nasi kandar hawkers sell their wares from stalls or restaurants. It is estimated that a total of 188 nasi kandar restaurants operate on both the island and the mainland.

Numbers of Nasi Kandar Restaurants by District in Penang

The informal sector, which consists of hawkers, petty traders and restaurants, among others, is an important feature in Penang, and it has been acknowledged by the authorities as well as the community for its important role in shaping urban Penang’s identity. Dishes such as char koay teow, chicken rice, fried rice, nasi lemak, laksa, local beverages as well as snacks like pasembur and rojak are available throughout the state.

The popularity of Penang’s street food is manifested in the number of licenses issued for hawkers, restaurants and food trucks by both the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) and Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP). As of October 1, 2017, a total of 27,818 licenses have been issued for hawkers, restaurants and food trucks on both the island and the mainland.

In Penang, many roadside stalls started off in small trucks. In recent years, a new type of mobile food business, the food truck, has taken off globally and in Penang as well. Based on MPSP’s licensing data, about 10 food truck operators have been given permits on the mainland.

Number of Licenses Issued by MBPP and MPSP for Hawkers, Restaurants and Food Trucks (up till October 1, 2017)

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