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All about Penang & more

Penang today is very much an amalgam of the old and the new – a bustling port, a heritage city and an industrial base. Perhaps it has more to offer per square mile than any other place in the world. For sheer variety of locales, cultures and foods, Penang is hard to beat. Here are stories about Penang and more.

On The Crest Of Prayer – The Thaipusam Story

Thaipusam © Adrian Cheah

From the top of the green hill, the endless string of devotees dotting its way up the concrete steps seemed like a sacred procession of silence.

Carrying milk-pots of brass and silver, and harnessed in colourful kavadis, the worshippers inched their way to the great temple overhead with sweet hypnotic resolve. The children, the elders, even the disabled ones, scaled slowly with their ceremonial burdens, ascending with a mission to the call of the good Lord Muruga above.

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The colourful bubur cha cha and pengat – almost similar yet different

bubur cha cha and pengat © Adrian Cheah

In Malay, “bubur” means “porridge”. As "cha cha" is a homophonic with the Hokkien "che che" (meaning "abundance"), it is a dish synonymous with unity and happiness in abundance. Although there are various theories, there is no one definitive consensus on its origin or what the name of the dish actually means.

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The intriguing tale of deliverance behind the Hokkien New Year

Hokkien New Year © Adrian Cheah

The ninth day of the first lunar calendar is especially significant to the Hokkien people (a subgroup of Chinese). Some traditionalists would even venture as far as to say that it is much more important than the Chinese New Year day itself because on that day, the entire Hokkien clan was spared from being massacred. They believe it was the Jade Emperor, also known as the God of Heaven, who protected them. Thus, it is celebrated with more grandeur especially in Penang compared to the first day of the lunar calendar.

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The Spring Festival – an insight into the festivities of Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year © Adrian Cheah

The Chinese community observes many festivals, some religious and some secular. One of the most important celebrations is the Spring Festival, more commonly known in Penang as Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year.

The Chinese lunar calendar, dating back thousands of years, follows the cycles of the moon. A complete cycle takes 60 years, made up of five cycles of 12 years each (12 Chinese zodiac animals taking turns to govern each year). Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the start of the Chinese lunar calendar can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. Thus, the first day of the new lunar year that marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebrations changes each year.

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Ang Pow, a packet of good tidings

Ang pow © Adrian Cheah

A gift of money, simply practical and convenient, is positively appreciated by all. It is common for the Chinese community throughout the world to present ang pows (red envelopes of money) as gifts during auspicious occasions such as during Chinese New Year, birthdays and weddings. Although this humble offering dates back thousands of years, it is still prevalent to this very day.

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Nyonya Kuih Bangkit with a difference. Why not?

kuih bangkit © Adrian Cheah

Nyonya Kuih Bangkit, one of the classic Chinese New Year cookies alongside Kuih Kapit and pineapple tarts, is well-loved by Penangites. What makes this traditional snow-white tapioca cookie good is its aromatic fragrance that welcomes you the moment you bite into the slightly crispy outer coating which then melts in the mouth to a powdery softness as it touches the saliva.

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Sri Mariamman, the temple of an ancient goddess

Sri Mariamman © Adrian Cheah

Penang has a large community of Indians, broadly divided into those from the North (Bengalis, Sindhis, Gujerati, etc.) and the South (Tamils). It is not surprising then that the Penang landscape is dotted with Hindu temples, from the large and ornate to the unostentatious makeshift huts and lean-to's.

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Chap Goh Meh – The Night of Romance

Chap Goh Meh © Adrian Cheah

A fascinating Chap Goh Meh legend tells the tale of a lonely young bachelor, who during an outing on this moonlit night, was suddenly enchanted when he caught a glimpse of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Who was this exquisitely delicate beauty driving by in all her finery, he wondered? With excitement pounding in his heart, the hopeful young man quickly jotted down the number of the car she was in, lest he forgot.

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Kek Lok Si Temple, the monastery on Crane Hill

Kek Lok Si © Adrian Cheah

In Chinese iconography, the Crane holds special significance. It is an auspicious symbol denoting longevity, and wisdom that comes with age. The Crane is said to manifest a peculiar interest in human affairs and is also often associated with good luck, high-mindedness, purity and freedom.

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The legend of the ferocious beast called Nian

Nian © Adrian Cheah

"Nian"' in Mandarin means "year". However, legend has it that Nian was also a mythical monster that terrorised humans during the New Year. It was so fierce that it threatened to destroy the entire race of mankind.

At a loss about what to do, the Emperor summoned his advisors to find a solution to this looming armageddon. Having devised an infallible plan, the advisors approached Nian and challenged this all-powerful beast to prove of its invincible strength by destroying all other monsters on earth rather than to erase the humans who were obviously no match for it.

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Learn how to make authentic Nyonya Jiu Hu Char

Jiu Hu Char © Adrian Cheah

“Jiu hu” is Hokkien for “cuttlefish” and “char” means “fry”. Thus, Jiu Hu Char means “fried cuttlefish”. Although the shredded cuttlefish is the star ingredient (providing a potent umami flavour), there is more in that dish than just cuttlefish. The ingredients for this popular Nyonya offering consist of jiu hu si (dried shredded cuttlefish), yambean, carrots, cabbage, pork belly, mushrooms, onions and garlic.

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Un Poco Loco, a Spanish locale to go crazy about

Un Poco Loco © Adrian Cheah

Un Poco Loco is more than just a tapas bar as there are some items on the menu that offer a more hearty meal. Located at City Junction in Tanjung Tokong, it is the brainchild of the team behind the one Michelin star Restaurant Au Jardin. Un Poco Loco is headed by Chef Yan You (executive chef) and Chef Alex (chef de cuisine). The menu is curated by Chef Kim Hock.

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