Eating keto (low carb) in Penang is not only easy, it’s delicious!
When one thinks of Malaysian food, the mind generally goes toward the famous keto unfriendly rice or noodle dishes: nasi lemak ( creamy rice cooked in coconut milk ), hokkien mee (a noodle soup dish) or the Penang pancake: roti canai.
But as we discovered in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a country that is famous for noodles and rice can also be chock-a-block with delicious low carb keto friendly options.
This is definitely the case in Penang, Malaysia.
- Skip to Background on Our Eating Keto
- Skip to Eating Keto in Penang: A Real Kitchen
- Skip to Eating Keto in Penang: Our Restaurant Recommendations
Background on Our Eating Keto
When we decided to become digital nomads, one of the first things we resolved to do was lose weight so we could travel more comfortably and pack lighter.
The bottom line is that we are NOT strict keto people – we don’t pee on ketostix to see if we are in ketosis, we don’t obsess about 20 gross carbs vs. 20 net carbs per day (this amounts to: we eat vegetables…a LOT)…in fact Lisa often says we are closer to South Beach than keto.
Anyway, whatever you want to call it, it worked!
We each lost about 25 pounds before we launched as digital nomads and felt healthier than ever. And by staying low carb and low sugar we have kept the weight off as digital nomads.
Eating Keto in Penang: A Real Kitchen!!
Before we started eating keto Lisa rarely cooked at home. She was a traveling consultant most of her life living in hotel rooms, so cooking was never a big part of her life.
But once we started eating keto, Lisa found that if she wanted super-low carb and low-sugar dishes that resembled carby food she would have to cook. She is now quite good at whipping up keto-friendly meals and snacks.
But in Thailand and Vietnam it is rare to find an apartment with an oven in the kitchen.
It’s a cultural difference that seems to come up on every episode of House Hunters International that features Thailand or Vietnam as a destination: they just don’t do ovens!
We also never saw an oven in Bali, Indonesia.
But every flat we rented in Penang, Malaysia had an oven!
Homemade Keto Lunch and Snacks
The key to making these homemade keto foods in Penang was finding almond flour. It wasn’t hard: we found it at the Cold Storage grocery store at Plaza Gurney Mall.
Later during our time in Penang Lisa switched to cooking with coconut flour which works nearly as well and is available in any grocery store.
Personally I like the fathead pizza and keto biscuits WAY better than the kind made with flour and all those empty carbs!
Matt’s Melted Cheese
We fell in love with grilled cheese in Argentina. Not the sandwich, just…grilled cheese. Cheese melted and grilled in a pan!
Finding nonstick pans in homestay kitchens is a hit or miss affair. So I travel with this little nonstick pan! Just dump cheese in and let it melt and brown on the bottom. YUM.
Lisa’s Homemade Keto Dessert
And not only are ovens standard in Penang kitchens, so are microwaves.
So Lisa also made our favorite dessert: keto microwave chocolate mug cake.
Every morning we have bulletproof tea to get our bodies burning fat first thing!
We also add a little collagen powder. Lisa swears that taking some collagen powder in our morning tea has improved my skin – especially my facial skin – considerably. And in any case, it adds a few good calories to our tea!
Eating Keto in Penang: Our Restaurant Recommendations
We have become pretty adept at minimizing carbs and sugars when eating out. But the simple fact is that ‘hidden carbs’ and sugar are going to creep into any diet when you are eating out 2 meals a day.
So we chose cuisines and restaurants where we thought we could keep those hidden carbs and sugars to a minimum.
Hawker Food Courts
An easy way to eat keto in Penang is to eat at the Hawker stall food courts.
The foods are prepared simply. And you can sometimes see exactly what goes into each dish as it is prepared!
Song River Food Court
Our favorite hawker food court in Penang is Song River.
And our favorite hawker stall in Song River is the chicken wing guy.
We had these wings several times during our time in Penang!
Satay, veggies and fish are also great low-carb hawker stall options.
Gurney Paragon Food Court
The top floor of the Gurney Paragon Mall has another hawker food court. While we liked Song River more, this hawker court has the advantage of indoor air conditioning.
That feature makes it a better choice for eating keto in Penang for lunch. Thai omelettes and meats do the trick.
Ferringhi Garden Restaurant
Our favorite keto friendly restaurant experience in Penang was our anniversary dinner at Ferringhi Garden Restaurant in Batu Ferringhi. We had sizzling Mongolian beef and Angus short rib. Lots of yum and no carbs.
Indigo at the Blue Mansion
A close second favorite was Lisa’s birthday dinner at Indigo at the Blue Mansion in George Town.
The seared foie gras and steaks were absolutely top notch as well as low-carb!
No Eyed Deer
Where next? No Eyed Deer! (say it fast!)
As well as being punny, No Eyed Deer serves great low-carb food like sausages and steaks.
It’s between the Gurney malls and Straits Quay so easily accessible from either.
Mexican food can be tough on the keto way of eating. The one exception is fajitas…hold the tortillas! Nothing but grilled meat and veggies!
Holy Guacamole! is right on Love Street in the center of George Town. We liked the fajitas and casual-cool ambiance so much we went twice with groups of friends!
The BARN at Gurney Plaza Mall quickly became our go-to for keto-friendly lunches. They have a set lunch that includes a soup and salad bar and an entree (including chicken or fish) that averages RM 20 (under $5 US).
It’s a great lunch at a great price.
We did have to ask for olive oil for our salad and what they provided was not very good oil. So we just started brining a bottle of olive oil for our salad when we had lunch there.
Ivy’s Nyonya Cuisine
And it is indeed cheap and delicious! The set menu is a LOT of food for RM 69 ($16.50 US)…for TWO people!
Not all of the dishes were super keto friendly, but most were and we did skip the rice!
Despite their reputation for pizza and pastas, Italian restaurants can be very keto friendly.
That was certainly the case at Via Pre in George Town. We had simply prepared fish with olive oil and steak. Perfect keto meal!
Chinese food tends to be loaded with hidden sugar. But Tek Sen (NOT Texan!) is the most famous Chinese restaurant in Penang, and an interesting very casual dining experience.
So we went for dinner with a couple of expats.
Let’s just call that a ‘carb up’ meal. The meats had all been caramelized. They were delicious, but NOT keto friendly!
But the veggies were. And they were delicious too!
Mews Cafe is a lovely little restaurant doing slightly upscale Malay food prepared with fresh local ingredients.
It’s in the Muntri Mews hotel which is a lovely little boutique hotel in George Town.
Their take on beef rendang is killer!
Olive Kitchen and Bar
Indian food is a keto black hole. You never know how much sugar they are putting in their gravy so all you can do is hope for the best and make it worth it.
Olive Kitchen + Bar is a great place to roll the keto dice. It’s right in the heart of George Town and exists mostly on a large plaza. So it is a wonderful evening of al fresco dining.
We didn’t detect a ton of sugar in the gravy, but the waiters had a bit of a freak out when we told them we didn’t want rice OR naan with our meal. He asked four times, and then brought a colleague over to make sure it was clear that we didn’t want either – didn’t he understand that we had ordered lots of spicy food!?
He was surprised and impressed when we cleaned our plates!
Chong Qing Lao Huo Guo Steamboat Penang
Steamboat, hotpot – whatever you call it – is the perfect keto meal.
You can control exactly what goes into your pot and then into your body!
We did hot pots in Singapore and many other places in southeast Asia.
Chong Qing Lao Huo Guo Steamboat is a terrific steamboat experience.
We arrived hungry, so massively over-ordered…but then ate most of what we ordered anyway. All kinds of meats and veggies that we cooked ourselves in two different broths – one spicy and one mild.
Rain Garden is a large-ish restaurant built around a courtyard.
The service is really friendly and the food is both keto-friendly and delicious.
Bottom Line: Eating Keto in Penang
We had an amazing few weeks in Penang. A big part of our positive experience was being able to eat (mostly!) keto both in our flat and at restaurants.
Despite eating out for 2 meals a day we both left Penang slightly down in weight from when we arrived!