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I Went To Penang To Try Michelin Guide Food: Is It Worth It?

I Went To Penang To Try Michelin Guide Food: Is It Worth It?

Do the anonymous Michelin Guide inspectors really understand Malaysian food?

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Everyone knows of the Michelin Guide, but in Malaysia, its authority is questionable. In a country where we celebrate street food, hidden stalls with no names, and long-standing hawker fare, is there a place for the perceived swankiness of the Michelin Guide?

I was invited to visit Penang and see for myself.

The Michelin Guide award given to eateries in KL and Penang.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

What It’s About

If you haven’t realised, the Michelin Guide for Kuala Lumpur and Penang were released last year.

READ MORE: 97 Malaysian Restaurants Selected By Michelin, Including Sri Nirwana Maju In Bangsar!

The guide includes 61 Michelin-selected eateries and restaurants, which means these places were acknowledged to be consistently good; while only 4 restaurants were awarded with the coveted Michelin star, which means that it serves “high quality cooking worth a stop”.

While many of the selections were well-loved, Malaysians found the list lacking. We know what we like to eat, and no anonymous “orang putih” inspectors are going to tell us differently. For a country which prides itself on its food, having just 97 restaurants selected over two cities seems pitiful.

But it turns out that Michelin wasn’t done with us yet.

New Loves, New Crushes

Now, Michelin has announced that they will be releasing some of its new additions to the Guide ahead of their annual reveal ceremony. Usually, the Guide is updated once a year, but evidently Malaysia’s thriving food scene is worth a change to the process.

Elisabeth Boucher-Anselin is the current Director of Communications, Brand and Sustainable Development of MICHELIN Experiences.
(Credit: Michelin Guide)

The announcement was made by Elisabeth Boucher-Anselin of Michelin Experiences, who said that these “live updates” to the Guide are considered inspectors’ “crushes”, and will only be officially introduced into the 2024 edition of the Guide later this year.

Malaysia is definitely a destination our inspection team fell in love with, and our team is always looking for new places to cover.

Elisabeth Boucher-Anselin to TRP

These “crushes” will be released on the Michelin Guide’s official website and mobile app (both iOS and Android), highlighted with a ‘NEW’ symbol, so visitors can check it periodically for these new eateries still in their probationary period.

So How’s The Food, Actually?

Within a weekend, we visited 4 places on the Michelin Guide: Thara, Rasa Rasa, Bao Beck Tea House, and Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery, which is one of the only 4 Malaysian restaurants to hold a single Michelin Star.


This Thai cuisine boasts a high ceiling and tasteful interior decorations.

The food is good, with classic Thai cuisine flavours of savoury-sour tom kha gai, garlic fried pork and squid, mango salad, and sizzling young peppercorn clams.

Typical Thai fare offered at Thara in George Town, Penang.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)
Steamed red snapper in their special sauce with crispy radish and Vietnamese chilli.
(Credit: Roots PR)

The dishes were plenty enjoyable and great for sharing, even for big parties. A must-try is the red ruby dessert, featuring refreshing coconut milk and crisp water chestnut.

The restaurant is quite full and will require reservations.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)


Rasa Rasa is tucked away in a small shop lot, leaning heavily into the vintage-heritage aesthetic of George Town. The interior is quite small, with nostalgic old-school metal tables and chairs.

The restaurant is quite cozy; best for smaller parties or be prepared to sit separately.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

Their food is simple local fare, such as nasi lemak, fried bee hoon, kaya butter toast and more, but the taste is anything but simple.

The Classic Pandan Nasi Lemak is fragrant with a delicious homemade sambal. Portions are not tiny, though the plate definitely is.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

All things considered, it is a really good nasi lemak full of Malaysian flavour and a great old-school ambience for that authentic Penang vibe.

(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)


Step into Bao Teck Tea House and be transported into a lush paradise of the finer Asian things in life.

You will be greeted by this impressive mossy garden centrepiece, definitely a sight to behold.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

Bao Teck is located in a heritage building and specialises in uncommon teas and fine dining dim sum offerings, like English high tea but made Chinese.

The Dim Sum Series features the Bao Teck Siu Mai, Crystal Seafood Dumpling, and Mushroom Siu Mai, made with 3 kinds of mushroom.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

Bao Teck emphasises fresh lean pork and shrimp in their dim sum, which results in succulent and juicy dim sum, each one arriving with gorgeous presentation.

The Deep Fried Series features the Golden Sesame Ball, Crispy Yam Puff, and Money Bag with Prawn.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

Come here to enjoy a veritable feast for the eyes, stomach, and soul. From the gorgeous hand-built mossy garden to the aesthetic decorations, the ambiance alone is worth admiring.

(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)


Auntie Gaik Lean’s is one of four Michelin-starred restaurants in Malaysia, famous for their nyonya cuisine.

For many of us, this was the first time ever trying a Michelin-starred restaurant, and we were not disappointed.

A spread of (almost) everything on the menu.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

Some highlights are the Authentic Nyonya Curry Kapitan Chicken, which features a vibrantly rich curry and tender chicken; the jiu hu char, a unique nyonya dish made of jicama (sengkuang) and cuttlefish; otak-otak, northern nyonya style made with coconut milk; fresh petai octopus sambal; tamarind prawns, a must-order for how savoury and appetising it is; egg belanda, a deceptively simple omelette dish that tastes like a cloud; aubergine sambal, which highlights the soft texture of eggplant; and Nasi Ulam, a traditional rice dish of local mixed herbs.

Auntie Gaik Lean’s nyonya-style otak-otak.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

Although the restaurant had only been around for about a decade, Auntie Gaik Lean herself has been cooking almost her whole life, going into the kitchen full time since the tender age of 12.

The Baba Delight appetiser platter which includes: Lorbak, Top Hat, Prawn Fritters, Acar Awak.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

To her, the kitchen is her sanctuary, and until today she still cuts the vegetables and does the prep work herself. Even the herbs in the nasi Ulam are hand-cut by her.

From top: Curry Kapitan Chicken, nasi Ulam, tamarind prawns, and aubergine sambal.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

My food is sexy. We eat with our eyes first, and my food has vibrant colours. The moment it comes out, I would have already won your heart.

Auntie Gaik Lean to TRP
Auntie Gaik Lean and her son Adrian Tan.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

The Verdict

The Michelin Guide tries very hard to convince us that their selection process highlights the best restaurants of the region, but one thing that we must remember is who exactly Michelin is selecting these restaurants for.

Let’s be clear on one thing: the Michelin Guide restaurants provide an experience for non-locals.

Travellers come to Malaysia to eat good food, but in a way that’s still comfortable for them.
(Credit: tirachardz via Freepik)

It’s not about your favourite char kuey teow hidden in a back alley run by an incredibly rude aunty with the meanest wok hei, where you have to stand around an open drain and eat the piping hot noodles off a paper plate.

These are “worth-it destinations” for the visitors and tourists, the places you would bring your overseas friends to experience Malaysia. Or if you have people to impress, whether that be clients or in-laws.

The Michelin Guide suggests places where the food is enjoyable and the ambience is pleasant, where it’s still local enough to be special and worth a try yet also very much in the range of most people’s comfort zones- local or not.

Classic Hainan Butter Kaya Butter Toast and Butterfly Pea Flower drink from Rasa Rasa.
(Credit: Anne Dorall/TRP)

In that case, the Michelin Guide has succeeded with their selections, all of which will be satisfying– even if Malaysians may argue that it’s not the best. (Which is, of course, subjective.)

And in any case, the food inspector team has their work cut out for them trying to go through Malaysia’s vast selection of good food. Let’s see what new ‘crushes’ they will come up with for next year.

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