[Penang, Malaysia] Kerala-Indian lunch at Shobana's Kitchen, Little India

Kerala’s coconut-enriched cuisine has always been one of the tastiest among India’s rich collection of regional cooking styles.

In George Town, where South Indian cuisine is often dominated by either Tamil-Hindu/vegetarian or Tamil-Muslim cooking, Shobana’s Kitchen offers a tasty alternative with its Keralan dishes.

We were there for lunch today, over-ate (!) and were absolutely stuffed to the gills by the time we left:

  • Our banana leaf lunch included spiced Keralan vegetables like mulangi (radish), chorakai (bottle gourd), and a refreshing salad made from vellarika (cucumber) & savala (onions) tossed in curd.
    An indispensable Keralan relish called injipuli , made of ginger, jaggery, tamarind and green chilis, was provided on the side.

  • Meen Pollichatu - Keralan-style spiced fish steak, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. The fish steaks, moist and perfectly cooked, was smothered liberally with a thick, red chili-onion-turmeric paste, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over open fire, like a sort of Robinson Crusoe fish en papillote.
    Tasted divine, like Dante’s comedy, before the heat which followed pretty much turned one’s tongue into Dante’s inferno. So glad I had my mango lassi handy.

  • Kozhierchi Kothamalli - Keralan coriander chicken, perhaps South India’s answer to Thai green curry, where green peppers were used in place of red ones to give the overall dish a deceptively milder appearance. Be forewarned, the chili-heat was simply lying in ambush before the assault began. Chili-heads would adore this dish.

  • Two types of puttu - steamed rice flour-grated coconut funnel cakes: we had the white rice and the brown, organic rice versions. I much preferred the latter, which had a delicious nutty flavour.

In this region, the Malayalees of Kerala, just like the Tamils of Tamil Nadu, the Telugus of Andhra Pradesh, Bengalis, Gujeratis and Punjabis, have been in Malaysia and Singapore for at least two centuries, as colonial British Malaya was closely associated with the British Raj. Their cuisines in Penang, as elsewhere here, have intermeshed with each other, and evolved, whilst retaining some of their defining characteristics.

So, the Keralan food here at Shobana’s Kitchen seemed to have strong Tamil influences, as Tamils are traditionally the majority among the Indian diaspora in Malaysia (85% of Indians) and Singapore (58% of Indians).

Our hostess, the restaurant manager Shoba, was incredibly genial & friendly. We are already planning a return visit soon, to explore more dishes on their menu.

Shobana’s Kitchen
20D, Lebuh Penang (Penang Street), 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 4-226 1004
Operating hours: 8am to 6pm, Tue-Sun. Closed on Mondays.


What a feast!

And I went back to Shobana’s Kitchen again today for lunch - this time because a good friend who saw my earlier post insisted that I come along for an encore. :joy:

Unbelievable. But I’m glad I did - for two reasons:

  1. It’s Pongal today, an important Hindu harvest festival which is widely celebrated among the Tamil & Telugu diaspora in Malaysia & Singapore. We get complimentary Pongal rice - a sweet rice porridge cooked with jaggery and aromatic spices, and studded with cashews and raisins.

  2. I got to order Avial - one of my fave vegetable stews, which I’d forgotten to get the other day:

The restaurant looked noticeably busier today because of the festival.

Eating rice and curries off a banana leaf has to be done sans any cutlery - one has to use one’s hand, and only the right hand.


Thanks for that report. If I ever make it back to Penang, this will be my first meal.
Here in Chiang Mai we finally got our first Keralan restaurant a few months ago. It has a more limited menu than yours but we do get cutlery. :wink:

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You should try eating Indian or Thai with your hand, Jeff, if you haven’t already! :joy:

I’ve eaten Indian food with my hand in India but as a westerner was almost always offered a fork and spoon too. Eating with your hand in Thailand (other than sticky rice) is no more acceptable than in Japan or the US. Some customs don’t travel well.

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This report is so incredible and reminds me its been too long since I explored all the restaurants in Ft. Bend County, just across the county line from me, that cater to a seemingly sizable ex-pat community from Kerala in the Houston area. There are two grocery stores and churches, too.

I love the fish curry which I had at a couple of places, then found a mix at one of the grocery stores and made it at home. Absolutely one of my most favorite dishes from the Subcontinent. I loved the palappam, buttermilk curry, kappa and so many things, the thoran and avial, a duck curry 2 times and Keralan biryani with it’s raisins and cashews.

I visited at one Onam Sadya and we ate off (faux) banana leaves with our hands. I didn’t do as well as others around me but I didn’t starve. At a Sri Lankan place I also ate a feast off real banana leaves that was wonderful.

I definitely need to get back down there.

Thanks again for this report.

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Most welcome. Looks like you do get some very good food options where you are!

Back to Shobana’s Kitchen for Sunday morning breakfast. We were the first customers there at 8am this morning, just as the restaurant opened its doors.

The genial Kochi-born chef, Madam Komala Devi, came out to chat with us as there were no other customers besides us yet. She’s quite a perfectionist in her cooking.

Our Sunday breakfast options:

  1. Dosa - the ones here are thick, savoury pancakes, delicious with the accompanying dhal curries and coconut chutney.

  2. Upma - the savoury semolina grains were well-spiced, but not the moister, richer version (studded with lentils, cashews and ginger) which I liked.

  3. Semiya - India’s answer to Chinese rice vermicelli. Delicately spiced, dotted with tempered mustard seeds.

  4. Ragi puttu - finger millet rice cakes, with fresh grated coconuts. These were delicious: nutty and more-rish.

  5. Paal appam - for the longest time, the best paal appam in Singapore (and my favourite breakfast food) was from a spot on Race Course Road, but it closed down sometime in the late-1990s. Since then, I’d contented myself with what used to be the “second-best spot”, Madras New Woodlands on Upper Dickson Road.
    But Shobana’s Kitchen here in Penang produces appams which reminded me of the ones produced by the defunct spot on Race Course Road all those decades ago: moist, delicious crepes with crisp, lacy edges and a plump, spongey centre.
    Pour sweet, thickened coconut milk over it, and one gets the most decadent sweet breakfast option ever.

  1. South Indian filtered coffee

Another beautiful feast! I have to admit that the last two look like a perfect, decadent breakfast. Paal appam and a filtered coffee look like a phenomenal combo.
I just looked back a bit at some of your earlier posts, Peter, and I am dumbstruck by the variety and the beauty of the dishes that you have shared with us. I haven’t been to SE Asia for a couple years and I haven’t been to Penang for much longer than that, but these entries make me very, very wishful for the days of free and easy travel to return.
As I stroll through these cafes vicariously, one other thought has been coming to mind rather frequently of late. I would love to be able to buy a coffee table book with your thoughts about each of these cafes, to read the knowledge that you share about each of them and then to experience the beauty of the foods through your photography. I do not believe that I have ever seen a book of travel photography/dining appreciation that comes close to the artistry of your photos or the depth of your knowledge of the cuisine.
Your entries here on Hungry Onion are a treasure, Peter!


Thanks so much for your kind words. For me, these posts are merely sharing things I love doing, and places which I enjoy going to. I do wish you can come visit Penang one day.

I am still looking forward to international travel again!


That’s a great idea. I love looking at your photos and learning about the food and history of the area.


Back to Shobana’s Kitchen for lunch today after a long while! Their banana leaf meals were still some of the tastiest in George Town.

Shobana’s Kitchen will be serving the special Sadhya meal, encompassing some 28 side-dishes, on April 15 - during the Malayalee spring festival, or Vishu.

I’m looking forward to Sadhya meal:


Meal(s) look fabulous as always. I’ve never participated in a Sadhya but it’s an impressive feat that some people aspire to at home as well (100 dishes is one such high bar).

I’ve always been puzzled by the word “Keralan” which I only came across in British food writing at some late point.

In India (and to Indians) the people (and by extension the foods) of Kerala are referred to either as Malayali (after the language Malayalam) or Keralite (which encompasses non-Malayali speakers and is a more general term).


Breakfast at Shobana’s Kitchen this morning - clockwise from top-left: Egg 𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙜𝙖 𝙥𝙖𝙡 𝙖𝙥𝙥𝙖𝙢 with Malabar fish curry; 𝙗𝙝𝙪𝙧𝙟𝙞 𝙥𝙖𝙫 (bread roll with masala-spiced scrambled eggs); 𝙞𝙙𝙞𝙮𝙖𝙥𝙥𝙖𝙢 (string hoppers) with 𝙖𝙫𝙞𝙮𝙖𝙡 (vegetable in creamy coconut gravy); and 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙞𝙡 𝙠𝙪𝙩𝙩𝙞 𝙙𝙤𝙨𝙝𝙖 with chicken curry.


𝗦𝗵𝗼𝗯𝗮𝗻𝗮’𝘀 𝗞𝗶𝘁𝗰𝗵𝗲𝗻 celebrated Vishu, the Malayali Spring Festival, by offering the traditional Sadya meal today, Saturday 15 Apr.

Sadya means ‘banquet’ in Malayalam, and a traditional Sadya can consist of two dozen side-dishes or more, all served together on individual banana leaves.

Our meal today consisted of traditional Malayali repasts like injipuli, kaalan, naranga achar, pulisseri, mezhukkupuratti, pachadi, koottukari, crispy banana chips, and much more. Best vegetarian meal we’d had in a long while!

Only one way to eat a Vishu Sadya meal - with your right hand!


What a spread!

Reminds me of the Dutch/Indonesian colonial rijstaffel I’ve had in Amsterdam

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We have been watching coverage and cooking shows about sadya and related spreads leading up to the festivals, and my mom was pulling my leg that I wouldn’t eat 90% of what’s served — and she’s 100% right :rofl:

Now Ramzan iftar food on the other hand —
I’m there for 100% it!

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And the side-dishes were all-vegetarian!


𝗢𝗻𝗮𝗺 is Kerala’s famous harvest festival, and its main celebration day is today. It’s a 10-day festival that officially concludes on 31 Aug. The 𝗢𝗻𝗮𝗺 falls during the Malayalam Chingam (Aug to Sep) period, and Malayalis will celebrate with the Sadya, a traditional vegetarian feast.

The 𝗢𝗻𝗮𝗺 𝗦𝗮𝗱𝘆𝗮 is an elaborate meal consisting of 20 to 26 side-dishes to accompany rice, all served on a fresh banana leaf. The spread includes traditional Malayalee repasts like kalan, avial, thoran, sambhar, pachadi, payasam, and more.

We were at Shobana’s Kitchen to experience its one-day-only all-vegetarian 𝗢𝗻𝗮𝗺 𝗦𝗮𝗱𝘆𝗮 meal.