Food from Malaysia: The best Tandoori Chicken in the world?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ May 19th, 2011. Updated on May 30th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Food around the world » Malaysian food.
The best Tandoori chicken in Malaysia

Colorful, tasty, and simply the best Tandoori Chicken I have ever tasted ... but only in one restaurant, in one town, in one country ... revealed below

Tandoori Chicken was never my favorite dish, until I had it in Penang, Malaysia

Tandoori Chicken always tasted a little bland, sometimes sweet, and often times burnt, to me. I’ve had it in various parts of the world, including India / Pakistan. I keep going back to ordering it as every now and then though. For every now and then  a restaurant seems to offer that subtle hint of culinary greatness.

When a certain dish hits your mouth and makes your taste buds come alive , you know this is how it was meant to taste originally

Where does Tandoori chicken come from?

The history of Tandoori chicken is not what most people think. The origin of tandoori chicken actually comes from Peshawar in North

Tandoori Chicken and naan bread cooking in a tandoor

One of my many tandoori chicken and naan breads cooking in a tandoor - warning, don't put your camera over an open tandoor!

West Pakistan. Of course this was in the 1920’s when Pakistan was still India, so India still claims the right to it. What’s more, the man who created Tandoori Chicken, Kundan Lal Gujral, was a Hindu Punjabi who after partitioning in 1947 fled to Delhi, India.

So, yes, although created in what is now Pakistan, tandoori chicken was technically invented in India.

How is tandoori chicken made?

Chicken is marinated with tandoori masala mixed with curd (a sour yogurt). Coriander,  chili, and cayenne pepper are added with turmeric which gives it that infamous orange color you see. Though I have no doubt, in some places, excessive food coloring is also used.

The marinated chicken is then skewered with a metal rod, and placed into a clay tandoor oven to cook. The result means the chicken is slow cooked all the way though, leaving it moist inside, while crispy on the outside.

Discovering the best chicken tandoori in the world

If you read my travel journal about arriving into Georgetown Penang, you’ll know I had a rough day. I sat down at a restaurant I knew nothing about. And, ordered something that looked to have a lot of meat.

The first thing that hit me when my dish arrived was the smell. The tandoori masala scent was evident from the start. So much so it sent a wall of saliva cascading into my mouth.

Not to be disappointed, the first bite set my mouth ablaze with a mass of near euphoric excitement due to the exposure of exceptional taste alone.

Yes, it was so good I let out a moan. And, yes, the waiter, from Chennai, called his buddy over in amusement.

There have been very few times in my travels that I have tasted something so exceptionally good that it leaves a mark I will never forget. This did.


Tandoori Chicken from Penang

In all my travels, only three dishes pop into my head as being simply the best food I have eaten. Chicken tandoori from Penang Malaysia is one of them, but only from one restaurant!

So much so, I ordered again. Just in case this was a one-off experience.

Is it Penang, or the restaurant that produces the best tandoori chicken?

I went back to the same place for a very early lunch the next day. And, yes, the same result. Mouth watering near on soul reviving flavors hit my taste buds once again.

A few days later in Penang, and I was quickly learning that food here is exceptionally fantastic.

No doubt about it, if you like food, get to Penang. Rarely does something taste bad here.

But what about the Tandoori chicken? I tried five other places. Yes, a little obsessive, but what the heck, if you are in search of the best tandoori, isn’t it worth it.

While good, the chicken tandoori in other restaurants paled in comparison to that very first place. A place I went to back to nearly everyday. A place I will not forget. Restoran Kassim Mustafa , on Chulia Street, Georgetown, Penang.

Kassim Mustafa restaurant, on Chulia Street, Georgetown, Penang

Kassim Mustafa restaurant, on Chulia Street, Georgetown, Penang ... serving the best tandoori chicken in the world

Everyone has their favorite place to eat

Food, certain dishes more so, brings out a passion in many people. They will swear by a place, or a cook.

Kassim Mustafa serves local style food, and most of it is quite good. Not great, but good.

However, honestly speaking, this place certainly has my seal of approval when it comes to the best tandoori chicken in the world.

I don’t know if they use a special ingredient, or the head cook is related to Kundan Lal Gujral. But they got it right every time I ate there.

Looking at the chicken, I can only assume it’s marinated for a very long time in authentic ingredients, and cooked from fresh. Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time there watching!

And, before anyone says anything, I paid for everything I ate there, and they don’t know about this article.

Argue your points, places and taste bud opinions away. But I challenge anyone who eats tandoori chicken here to say it’s not amazing!

This is an additional post and one of a series highlighting Food in Malaysia

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27 Great responses to Food from Malaysia: The best Tandoori Chicken in the world?

  1. hayadith says:

    looks like u gain kilos in Penang huh..

  2. Veenster says:

    Hi Dave,

    This entry probably defines the phrase `killing me softly with tandoori’… :D

  3. iamthewitch says:

    Wow very rarely do I hear you sing praises for food so much! And to the extent of pointing out a certain restaurant that is really calling for attention! :) I have not tried the Tandoori in Kassim Mustafa yet but my favorite has got to be in Melaka! :)

    • There are only three foods in the last 6+ years that really hit me as being amazing. This is one of them, but only from Mustafa’s! What ever they are doing, they are doing it right!

  4. Marnie Alvez says:

    Food in Penang is really one of the best in Malaysia! =) Always a hit, never a miss. Why I never bumped into you while in Kassim Mustafa? I regularly have my roti telur there. Can’t wait to be back in Penang… for my dim sum fix at De Tai Tong in Lebuh Cintra, duck with pig organs soup/ rice in Lebuh Kimberley, Assam Laksa at Jalan Penang and the famous Penang Kuey Teow in Jalan Selamat =p~~~ Drooling now!

    • I always sit two seats in front of their little wash basin at the back. There’s an Indian guy serving there with a thick mustache, long face. When he smiles he looks good, otherwise very serious. Can’t remember his name, he’s from Cennai. But that’s the guy who always serves me the Tandoori. I gave him my card too.

      Somehow I am not a huge Chinese food fan in Penang, mainly the Indian and Malay stuff keeps me happy. But either way, keep drooling!!

  5. Very interesting read – but have you tried Chicken Tandoori in Pakistan? Not sure if you are coming back to my country but just in case you are, make sure you let me know and maybe we can learn a few things about cultures. At least myself given you have a lot with your 6 years of travel.


    • Yes I dried Tandoori in Pakistan, it was very good too. Crispy yet moist, but I am afraid this place in Penang beats it! That said, Quetta serves up the best roast mutton I ever had, so it’s a fair exchange I think. Would like another trip to Pakistan, hopefully this will be possible.

  6. I think the owner of this restaurant needs to give you a year’s worth of free tandoori chicken for this post as backpackers and blog readers will invade this restaurant in droves after reading this entry.

    • Ha ha. Who knows Ted. I guess it’s a not a hard place to miss in Penang and easy to find. I’m guessing the owners will deny anything and ask me to pay full wack again. That said, if they don’t, I am quite happy to sit there eating tandoori gifts all day!

  7. time to head to penang. :)

  8. James Clark says:

    I would agree that this place serves a great Tandoori chicken. Around that restaurant there are a group of Indian restaurants that are open 24 hours. I just love that a place has 24 hour Indian food available!

  9. Must try that when I visit. I love food.

  10. Sherry says:

    Okay, you’ve convinced me. I’m headed to Penang for some food. It sounds absolutely yummy!

  11. Steph says:

    Just one thing to say. That chicken looks amazing and I have to close this page now so I stop drooling.

    I added a link over on my blog for you, btw. :)

  12. Great blog and great post. Added link from my blog. The Tandoori looks superb, the one at the Kashmir is very hard to beat IMO though (basement of Oriental Hotel, Penang Road, Georgetown).

  13. Martin D says:


    Found your page from google as we were looking for an alternative to Kapitan restaurant whilst in Georgetown so we tried it out.

    The Tandoori chicken was indeed great but i’ve never felt so unwelcome in a restaurant in all my life, didn’t sound as though you had similar problems though.

    The staff refused to acknowledge us at all until after 20 mins of waiting I asked the man if he would serve us to which he seemed really ashamed to be seen talking with us. He nervously looked around at the other customers and then told us to just ‘order something quickly’. The food was tossed onto our table without a glance at our faces or any hint of anything other than distain. The food was great and when we finished we tried to ask four different waiters and had wait for ten minutes to receive our bill. Everyone seemed to be too embarassed to talk to the only white people in the restaurant. I’ve thankfully never been in a situation that I would consider to be racist before and I fully understand that many people around the world face much larger examples of prejudice on a daily basis so i’m certainly not trying to make this a much larger deal than what it is. My girlfriend and I are well travelled and always respectful of native cultures, we were also dressed conservatively with our skin covered. I would hope that this is not a regular occurence as it was completely unwarranted in one of the most touristy places in Malaysia.

    It is a great pity because my girlfriend and I greatly enjoyed the food but we would not go back.

    Did you feel any hint of this or were we just really unlucky?


    • Hi Martin,

      Sorry to hear you didn’t have a good experience there. It’s more of a 24 hour eating place, than a restaurant of fine staff. I think one of the problems is that it’s mean to be self service, but some of the staff take orders. I remember sitting there for a while waiting to pay when I got bored and got up. One of the guys came over and came me the bill that I brought to the cash register.

      I was lucky in the sense that I made friends with one of the waiters as we talked about India a lot. Many of the people working there are on below minimum wage, working 12 hour shifts. There are indeed better places to go in the sense of hospitality. They certainly don’t come rushing up to you there. Though, having said that, I’ve developed a habit of shouting for food in places like this myself. “shouting” as in, making myself heard in calling someone over.

      But, as you noted, the food is pretty good. Perhaps it’s better to think of the place as a lighter version of “Sienfield’s soup Nazi restaurant” episode?

      • Martin D says:

        Ha ha ha, it was a little like the ‘soup nazi’.

        I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided that it’s not possible to have food that cheap and that good without something going wrong otherwise life would be too perfect. Problem is, I just had some amazing bargain samosas and i’ve been petrified all day.

        Despite the sour taste Kassim left in our mouths we would still recommend going and Penang has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

        Great blog btw! Good luck in finding a new home.

  14. I’ve heard about Mustafa but not been yet. Must make an effort next time I’m there.

    And yes, Penang is food Nirvana.

  15. [email protected] says:

    “… the first bite set my mouth ablaze with a mass of near euphoric excitement due to the exposure of exceptional taste alone”

    Says it all… :)