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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.

Irama Dining, the rhythm of a fresh and modern dining experience

Irama Dining © Adrian Cheah

Penang is truly a food paradise. One can find almost everything under the sun here on this tropical island including good Malay food. Dining at Irama is a game changer for me. The strong, aromatic and distinct Malay-style cooking is combined with the rich flavours of local herbs and spices. The food presentation is masterful and the dining room is tastefully elegant.

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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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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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Roti Jala (net crepes) are simply irresistible with curry chicken and potatoes

Roti Jala © Adrian Cheah

If you are a tourist in Penang during Ramadhan, you have to add the Ramadhan bazaar onto your list of must-see places. The month-long Ramadhan bazaar (opens from 3:30 – 7:30 pm) offers a wide variety of Malay specialities and it is a wonderful market to scout for delicious treats. Roti Jala is something I will usually buy among many others.

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All things cendol and more

cendol © Adrian Cheah

Cendol/chendul is an iced sweet dessert that contains strands of green jelly served with fresh coconut milk and fragrant gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup. This humble-looking offering certainly has its irresistible charms. Cendol tastes even better under the sweltering tropical heat. The cool, refreshing concoction is commonly found throughout Penang. Some stalls offer additional toppings such as boiled kidney beans/red beans, pulut (steamed glutinous rice), sweet corn, sago pearls, diced jackfruit, ice cream and even durian.

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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 been 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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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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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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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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Nyonya kasut manek (beaded shoes) – timeless objects of beauty

Nyonya beaded shoes © Adrian Cheah

English influence

The British presence in the three Straits Settlement states had a profound influence on Peranakan culture. Suddenly, the hitherto unknown suits and skirts became à la mode for men and women respectively.

Western techniques also influenced the art and craft of fashioning Peranakan footwear. The style of embroidery for example, once influenced by the Malays was in turn influenced by Western culture. The fine bead work for shoes with which the Nyonya is identified with is a comparatively recent invention from 19th century Britain and Continental Europe.

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Durian, the sensational "King of the Fruits"

Penang durian © Adrian Cheah

“You should wash your hands using water poured over the inside of a durian skin. It will remove the strong odour from your fingers," urged Mr. Teh, my neighbour who accompanied me on a durian feast at one of the many durian orchards in Balik Pulau. That morning, we had a satisfying breakfast like no other, amidst the natural surroundings of the orchard, shaded by towering durian trees.

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A sumptuous dinner at Kaze Japanese Restaurant, Penang

Kaze Japanese Restaurant © Adrian Cheah

Dining out to celebrate Mother's Day on 9 May 2021, the eve of the third Movement Control Order (MCO) in Penang, was more than a chanced opportunity. The MCO was later announced to have been extended to the entire country stretching till 7 June 2021. It has been a while since my family and I visited a restaurant in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. We felt it necessary to be rather safe than sorry. However on Mother's Day, although filled with trepidation, we went to Kaze Japanese Restaurant at Promenade for dinner.

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