If It Swims, We Have It: Penang, Malaysia

The island of Penang is located off the northwest coast of the Malaysian Peninsula. It’s joined to the mainland by two bridges and can be easily and inexpensively reached by bus or plane from Kuala Lumpur.

While some visitors head straight to the island’s beaches and forests, others spend time in the vibrant, cosmopolitan capital of George Town. Named after King George III, the city was established by the British East India company in 1786 and was the first British Settlement in South East Asia.

In George Town you can wander ruins and take in colonial architecture by day, then stuff yourself silly in the restaurants, food courts and hawker stalls of Gurney Drive by night

Unsurprisingly, seafood dominates the menu, although not all of it is locally caught.

In the larger restaurants of Penang, you can find everything under the sea from Alaskan snow crab to Maine lobster and Canadian Geoduck (a large rather X-rated looking clam).

Geoduck. Weeeeeeeeird.

Establishments like Bali Hai are so confident they have it all they boast about it on a neon sign outside that reads: IF IT SWIMS, WE HAVE IT.

Bali Hai Restaurant, George Town Penang Malaysia | best sea … | Flickr
image from Flickr.com

They’re exaggerating, but only slightly. There aren’t any dolphins, children or Olympic gold medallists here, but there is a staggering variety of fish, molluscs and crustaceans on display.

A trip to Bali Hai is like visiting an aquarium, only the tanks are labelled with the critter’s name and its price per 100 grams. This allows you to marvel at God’s creatures, whilst simultaneously deciding which of them you’re going to eat.

This may not be the best place to take vegetarians.

It also means that foodies and seafood lovers can quickly turn into kids at a pick-n-mix stand:

“Ooh, shall we have some snow crab?”

“How about a lobster tail?”

“And let’s try some abalone too!”

Yes, at Bali Hai it’s all fun and games…until you have to pay

And you’re faced with a bill that’s more than your hotel accommodation.

If this does happen to you, you might be comforted to know it’s happened to countless others as well.

You’ll be able to spot them in the restaurant. They’ll be the ones scrutinising their bills with furrowed brows. Tapping out calculations on their phones, trying to find out where it all went wrong, while a waitress stands by their table, bored rigid, waiting for someone, anyone, to hand over a credit card.

So if you go to Penang for the food, you have two choices: you can head for the cheap, delicious hawker stalls and food courts or throw caution (and your travel budget) to the wind and head for one of Gurney Drive’s aquarium/restaurants and try something new.

Geoduck, anyone?

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