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Sublime omakase experience at Dozo Penang

Dozo Penang © Adrian Cheah

"Omakase" is the short term used for "omakase shimasu" which means "I will leave it to you (chef)". It gives creative freedom to the chef to conjure up an unforgettable culinary experience. This style of dining is best indulged with an open mind, a willingness to try new experiences, leaving all biases aside.

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More than just fresh oysters at a Penang oyster farm

Penang oyster farm © Adrian Cheah

My early childhood days were filled with family weekends to the beach. We would swim, dig for lala and on occasions, arm ourselves with a screwdriver and hammer to chisel out oysters from rock surfaces. Some days we would also bag a few belangkas (horseshoe crabs) and hai ciau (axe clams). Those were the good old days when the shores of Penang were teeming with life and the waters, pristine.

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The Saanen Dairy Goat Farm, a hidden gem to visit in Balik Pulau

Saanen Dairy Goat Farm © Adrian Cheah

Stories related to goats cut across cultures and geography, conjuring up myths and beliefs that have flowed through millennia right up to this present day. I find these vivid and dramatic tales utterly captivating.

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The culinary legacy of the Nyonyas

Nyonya cooking © Adrian Cheah

Historical records suggest that when Chinese migrants arrived in then Malaya, they brought with them several culinary styles, among them Hakka, Hainan, Foochow, Canton and others. One style of cooking which metamorphosed out of these 'prototypes' is known today as Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine, a combination of Chinese and Malay flavours.

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The elegance of Japanese cuisine at Miraku

Miraku © Adrian Cheah

One country that truly elevates food to an art form is Japan. When dining at Miraku you would be able encounter such an art form as soon as you are served, so much so that you are compelled to feast with your eyes first. Here, food preparation is such a delicate craft that it is pursued with passion and executed to perfect artistry.

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Rocking at Hard Rock Hotel Penang

Hard Rock Hotel Penang © Adrian Cheah

The distinctive rock and roll themed décor of the hotel is plastered with memorabilia, a white statue of Michael Jackson sitting on a throne, a mosaic wall of the Beatles as well as autographed platinum records. Throughout the hotel, one would also come across display cabinets exhibiting outfits worn by famous music legends including a black leather jacket, jeans and scarf by Bon Jovi and even red robot shoes by Elton John.

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Tan Choon Hoe – the crusader of Penang Hokkien Dialet

Tan Choon Hoe

The Digital Age and today’s globalised world has been a boon for the spread of Popular Culture. Popular culture – Western or American, is slowly but surely seeping into our way of life. Predictably, even Asian youths are dressing and gesturing like their hip hop or boy band idols from MTV. Even the way we speak is being MTV-nised and you will find certain youths who are more at home going “Yo, dude” or "Whassup” than greet you in their native tongues.

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Our bold and beautiful red Bunga Raya

Bunga Raya © Adrian Cheah

Let us pause for a moment and look at the name of Malaysia's national flower – Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. The English word “hibiscus” derives from the Greek word “hibiskos.” The flower received its name from the renowned physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40 – 90 AD). He was the author of "De Materia Medica", a 5-volume Greek encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances. Disocorides was also a botanist.

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Traditional Malay cooking at Lagenda Café in the heart of George Town

Lagenda Café © Adrian Cheah

The key signature in traditional Malay cuisine is definitely the generous use of local herbs, spices and belacan (shrimp paste). Coconut milk is also added to Malay dishes to enrich them with a creamy finish. In Penang, as well as the northern states of Malaysia, Malay cooking has further integrated Thai flavours. Meats and seafood are usually marinated with a special blend of herbs and spices before being cooked. Vegetables are often stir-fried and some eaten raw always with sambal belacan. I love Malay dishes because of their strong, spicy and aromatic oomph. For an authentic Malay feast, head down to Lagenda Café.

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Kazumasa Japanese Cuisine, marked with quality ingredients and artistry

Kazumasa © Adrian Cheah

With a giant crab scaling the facade of the building at Fettes Park, it is quite difficult not to miss Kazumasa Japanese Cuisine. It is here that the omakase menu was first brought to the shores of Penang. Besides the omakase and ala carte possibilities, set lunches are also available.

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The Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Penang

Nine Emperor Gods Festival © Adrian Cheah

How far would you go for your belief – undergo a nine-day vegetarian diet, walk on fire or even pierce a long spear through your cheeks? Or are you an armchair devotee who prefers to remain in your comfort zone and observe from afar? Would the younger generation know what the festival is all about and would youths pause to find out more?

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The best laksa in Balik Pulau

Balik Pulau laksa © Adrian Cheah

Penang laksa is extremely popular, especially among locals for its wonderful balance of spicy, sweet and sour flavours. This is strictly a hawker treat, as one is unlikely to find great laksa in a fancy restaurant.

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Jia Siang Cafe, seafood at its freshest

Jia Siang Cafe © Adrian Cheah

Being more than half a century old, I have learned to watch with my own eyes and note down the "gloriousness" that is everywhere around me. As an artist and a photographer, this singular duty of being aware has helped me capture photographs that forge the narrative in my projects and creative endeavours.

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Nasi lemak – a parcel of Malaysian goodness

Nasi lemak © Adrian Cheah

A favourite breakfast dish for most Malaysians is the Nasi Lemak – something which transcends the often-tenuous ethnic boundaries in this multi-racial country, as Malays, Indians and Chinese all love it.

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Abdul Rashid Abdul Razak – a self-taught artist of great talent

"In portrait painting, likeness is crucial"

Abdul Rashid Abdul Razak © Adrian Cheah

Under the guidance of his father, Abdul Rashid Abdul Razak honed his artistic skills at a very young age. He was just nine years old when he earned his first commission – a portrait in oil which he sold for RM80.

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Apong Guan – one piece is never enough

Apong Guan © Adrian Cheah

This is something I have recently noticed about Uncle Ah Guan. He has always being great fun to chat with but on my recent visit one afternoon, although he was smiling and friendly, he was not his usual chatty self. I realised that age is catching up and grinding over the stove in the scorching tropical heat, day in and day out, cannot be an easy task for him these days.

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Le Venue revisited (many times over)

Le Venue © Adrian Cheah

When it come to good food, Penangites are spoiled for choices, from hawker fare to fine dining cuisine. Having said that, to mark a memorable evening, one would still have to ponder and think of an appropriate venue. Some restaurants have introduced fusion food that does not make sense while other have implement nouveau cuisine with hardly anything on the plate and everything on the bill. Being prudent with their spending, Penangites would feel disgusted if they leave half full, having to stop at a nearby coffeeshop thereafter for a plate of sar hor fun. I would always assume that such places would not survive the tough clientele on the island, nevertheless although many have fallen, there are those who have managed to thrive. There are also many restaurants that serve mediocre meals that are simply forgettable.

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An authentic Hakka luncheon in Balik Pulau

Hakka Village © Adrian Cheah

In Penang, where do you go for classic home-cooked Hakka favourites? To answer that, I ventured to the village of Balik Pulau, where about 30 percent of the Chinese are presumed to be Hakkas. Perched on a hillock in Pulau Betong is a restaurant located at Balik Pulau Lodge. Some recognise it as the "Hakka Village".

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Penang's sizzling century-old oh chien (oyster omelette) recipe

Penang oh chien © Adrian Cheah

In Penang, "oh chien" (in Hokkien) means "fried oysters" but it commonly refers to the oyster omelette dish. There are many varieties available in Malaysia and even more so throughout Southeast Asia, China and Taiwan.

The main ingredients for Penang-style oh chien include a batter (tapioca flour, rice flour or a mixture of both), chopped chives, eggs, fresh oysters and a special blend of seasoning. The dish is usually stir-fried over high heat and served with a garlic chilli sauce on the side. Some stalls garnish their dish with coriander leaves, adding more aroma to the omelette.

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Dozo – Japanese avant-garde cuisine arrives at the isle of Penang

Dozo, Penang © Adrian Cheah

You can now add Dozo to your list of Japanases restaurants to dine in Penang. It opened its doors on 1 August 2020 serving fine Japanese cuisine with an avant-garde flair.

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