One of the major draws that brought me back to George Town, Penang, Malaysia was all the affordable and delicious plant-based food available in the city. You’ll find everything from vegan renditions of traditional Malay dishes to items with Western-flair. There are plenty of coffee shops and hawker stalls that are vegan-friendly too. These are the best places for vegan food in George Town, Penang.
STRICTLY-VEGAN RESTAURANTS IN GEORGE TOWN, PENANG
PINXIN VEGAN CUISINE
One of my favorite local vegan restaurants in Penang is just a 20-minute walk from the center of George Town near the Hin Bus Depot market. Pinxin is locally-owned by a young couple who recognized how destructive meat was to their bodies, the environment, and animals. They went fully vegan, are raising their baby plant-based, and sharing the goodness of plant-based food with locals and tourists alike at their picturesque restaurant serving vegan food in George Town, Penang.
While you’ll find some western dishes on the menu such as veggie burgers the best things to enjoy at Pinxin are the traditional Malaysian dishes in vegan renditions. They only use high-quality ingredients that are farm fresh and preservative-free. I loved the mushroom satay, Hokkien noodle, nasi lemak, asam laksa, and chee cheong fun (basically all my favorite Malay dishes like those I ate in Melaka).
Pinxin is also one of the few places in town where you can pick up zero-waste goods such as reusable ziplock-like baggies, metal straws, and mesh produce bags.
Location: 38 Lebuh Tye Sin
SUSHI KITCHEN GEORGETOWN
If you’re strictly vegan you’ll love the Japanese plant-based Sushi Kitchen. I went here so often during both of my trips to Penang. It’s not Malaysian but it’s some of the best vegan food in George Town. Sushi Kitchen doesn’t use white sugar, white salt, egg, milk, garlic, or onion so that they’re jain and yogic friendly as well.
Take a seat on the ground on traditional tatami mats and enjoy your meal with their in-house earthy chilled green tea. I love their miso soup with udon noodles and the edamame and seaweed rice. I’m not that into vegan sushi so I never tried any of it but apparently it’s incredible—Sushi Kitchen has since turned into a chain across the country as it’s so popular! Personally, none of the desserts really did it for me so my two-cents would be to skip the sweets here.
Location: 12 Gat Lebuh Acheh
This beautiful restaurant and yoga studio (they have classes in English) is likely the most hipster and picturesque spot for vegan food in George Town. The food At Wholey Wonder is very clean, healthy, and fresh—and has the upscale price point to match. However, there’s nowhere else in town where you can get food on this level.
What’s most memorable about this spot are their creative elixirs and smoothies. All of the bowls and salads are amazing and the desserts are truly otherworldly. The pizza is a bit underwhelming so give it a miss. As this place is outside of the historic center they have pretty decent WiFi but be mindful as it is a small space and you shouldn’t work on your laptop unless you’re actively eating. It’s a great place to pop into after the Hin Bus Depot market on the weekends—but they have plenty of vegan food at the market too.
Location: 61 Jalan Gurdwara
YUN SHAN GE VEGETARIAN HOUSE
There are two locations of this local restaurant for vegan food in George Town, Penang. The larger of the two is located on Penang Street and the smaller outpost is on Armenia street. Both have different menus so be sure to check out both spots. The owner of Yun Shan Ge Vegetarian House told me both her kitchens are 100% vegan.
The Armenia street location has a sweet, floral, and fruity vegan rendition of laksa which is quite popular but wasn’t my favorite as I prefer savory. Unfortunately, every time I tried to go back to this location it was closed but I was visiting during the Lunar New Year.
I missed out on many meals at the other location due to the holidays too but the owner did invite me to come in one night and try a traditional New Year dinner even though they were fully sold out. I have no idea what I ate but it was such a treat to be invited to be a part of this special.
Location: 16 Penang St and 12 Lebuh Armenian
VEGAN FALAFEL STAND
The vegan falafel stall outside of the Reggae Bar is seriously so delicious and open super late. The vegan falafel stall is operated by a Syrian guy who immigrated to Malaysia and makes a divine dairy-free garlic sauce from cauliflower. You can grab a free drink at the bar if you’re a woman and enjoy live music most nights.
Location: No. 12 Lebuh Chulia
VEGAN-FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS IN GEORGE TOWN, PENANG
EE BENG VEGETARIAN BUFFET
Just like most cities in Southeast Asia, there are a lot of vegetarian buffets in George Town. Now, I usually avoid buffets as they can be a bit questionable when it comes to sanitation. Food from the night before may be placed in the morning or food may have been left out all day which can lead to major traveler tummy issues. Buffets also aren’t very eco-friendly as there’s generally a lot of food waste.
However, buffets are one of the most cost-efficient and easiest ways to taste local cuisine to find out which dishes fit your fancy. My favorite buffet for vegan food in George Town, Penang is EE Beng Vegetarian Buffet. Mostly everything is vegan, but the staff is super friendly and happy to point anything out that contains egg or milk. Don’t forget to try one or two of the steam buns of the day!
I did try a few other vegetarian buffets in George Town but found the food was cold, mostly fried, or super oily.
Location: 20 Lebuh Dickens
Wheelers was my favorite spot in Penang to eat and work. I always asked if I could go upstairs where it’s quieter and the WiFi is faster and never had an issue with this. The coffee here is fantastic and they have a pretty eclectic range of vegan dishes available including vegan nachos and sandwhiches.
I can’t guarantee your food at Thali NR will be 100% vegan although several wait staff seemed to get that I didn’t want anything with ghee on it or made with cow’s milk and this spot was recommended to me by a vegan friend. If you do decide to go (it is for sure 100% vegetarian) you won’t regret it—all of the many meals I had here were amazing but the best thing is to get the largest thali possible at lunch and fill it with all your favorite Indian dishes. You can DIY or order a set thali.
Location: 75 Lebuh Penang
NOT SO GREAT VEGAN FOOD IN PENANG
I’ve spent about two months in George Town, Penang and sadly came across quite a few places that had vegan food that just didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t a fan of The Leaf Healthy House, Tofu Village, or Veggielicious Cafe. However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t give them a shot yourself and see if you enjoy them more than I did. I’ve tried to go to Woodlands several times but each time the staff were incredibly rude to me so I decided to leave.
COFFEE SHOPS IN GEORGE TOWN, PENANG
There are endless cute cafes in Penang. Most have WiFi (not always super reliable) but still, this has made the city an up-and-coming hub for digital nomads.
Mugshot Cafe is a favorite among locals and expats for good reason—their coffee is incredible and they have plant-based milks! I was told the bagels were vegan but often butter is used to stick sesame seed to the top of bagels so order at your own risk. They use metal straws instead of plastic which I applaud. The WiFi here is absolute rubbish so don’t try to work here.
Location: 302 Chulia St
Apparently, this spot has opened up an official coworking space since I left Penang. If you go, let me know how it is. Urban Day Break is just far enough from the town center that the WiFi here is fine. The coffee is fantastic and they’re willing to use water to make the smoothie bowls vegan.
Location: 338 Lebuh Pantai
OTHER GREAT COFFEE SHOPS
For latte art head to On The Table. Some other great spots with excellent coffee (most don’t have vegan food or plant milk) and great decor are Bean Sprout, Moon Shop, Gugang Cafe, The Twelve Cups, The Postcard Shop, and Merry Me. I’ve been cutting back on plant milk so I wasn’t too bothered if I could only drink my coffee black. For great matcha head to Hakuna Matata Café and for fresh-pressed juices hit up Juice Code.
EATING VEGAN AT HAWKER STALLS
It’s possible to have vegan versions of local food too at street food stalls, known locally as hawkers. It can be challenging though and I even resorted to telling food vendors that I was Muslim (I’m not) in order to ensure they didn’t add pork fat to my meal. For a Muslim-majority nation, it is shocking how many of their national dishes contain pork.
To get the gist of what are the must-eat dishes in Penang I headed out on the Food Tour Malaysia Penang Brunch outing. My guide, Kevin, was an expert in all the Penang delicacies, he even used to have a restaurant in the historic George Town city center. Kevin did his best to accommodate my no meat dietary restriction and had a laugh trying to convince hawkers to prepared traditional dishes without chicken and pork. I love Assam Laksa, a soupy noodle dish with a tangy tamarind sauce.
CHEE CHEONG FUN
During brunch, I went to a variety of hawker markets and hidden gem restaurants to try lots of local dishes. Sampled dishes included Chee Cheong Fun, a super thick rice noodle dish seasoned with soy sauce mixed topped with sesame seeds (the non-vegan version has shrimp paste and pork). These dishes can be found at most hawker stalls in Penang. To try a few dishes head to an open-air night market, known as pasar malam, such as the Chulia market which operates most nights. Jelutong is on Friday and Macallum is on Monday.
YES, YOU MUST TRY DURIAN
While in Penang, try high-quality durian, it’s supposed to be the best place it the world for quality durian. I’ll warn you, it’s an acquired experience. It’s not the taste that bothers me as much as the texture.
Popiah is a thin pancake-meets-spring-roll stuffed with veggies and loaded up with a variety of sauces such as soy sauce and sweet bean sauce. My favorite street food dishes in Penang were Char Koay Teow, a simple flat rice noodle dish served with bean sprouts and chives (usually contains pork, shrimp, and egg) in soy sauce, and Clay Pot Mee. Another traditional dish that I love is bamboo beaten noodles and vegan-friendly dim sum snacks whenever I can find them.
Ais kacang and cendol are traditional Penang chilled deserts. They’re quite similar, but also totally different. Cendol is sort of like a snow cone, but with toppings you’ve never had during a hot American summer: sweet corn, red kidney beans, and pandan jelly noodles. Somehow when mixed together with coconut milk the concoction is surprisingly delicious and refreshing. But then again I am an addict to all things pandan leaf.
Ais kacang is similar to Cendol, except it is missing the pandan, so I wasn’t as much of a fan as this sweet dish. It has ice shavings, red kidney beans, jelly cubes, and sweet corn.
Nyonya cuisine is notorious in Penang — but challenging to enjoy for vegans as it’s heavily meat and fish-based. The specialty comes from the Peranakans, Chinese that immigrated to Malaysia. Nyonya is actually the name for Peranakan ladies, the cuisine is lovingly nicknamed for them in honor of the complicated process it takes to make most of the delicious Nyonya meals. My favorite thing from the Peranakan culture in Penang is their rice flour coconut desserts, known as kuih. The colorful sweet cakes are typically served for breakfast or with tea.
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With all these amazing dishes to try it’s no wonder that Penang was voted the “World’s #1 Best Food Destination” by Lonely Planet in 2014. Are you drooling yet? Tell us in the comments which dish sounds good to you!