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My Kebaya shirt - a journey where novelty meets sublime beauty

Kebaya shirt © Adrian Cheah

Having grown up in a Peranakan household, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of the kebaya. It is not just about how – when matched with a traditional floral sarong – the entire ensemble is wearable art, one that gives a veritable statement on the opulent cultural heritage of the Nyonyas.

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Colourful onde onde ubi keledek recipe from Madam Lily Wong

Onde onde © Adrian Cheah

Nyonya kuih are colourful Asian sweet cakes that are popularly served for breakfast and afternoon tea and as snacks anytime of the day. The selections are many and varied, available at morning markets and food courts throughout Penang.  One such type is the explosively delicious onde onde. 

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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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Little India of George Town

Little India, Penang © Adrian Cheah

Not many visitors and tourists to George Town's famous Little India enclave know that the area's name was adopted by the local authorities only nine years ago.

But whatever it is named, visitors hardly fail to sense the remarkable nostalgic charm and almost innocent simplicity of the area. And no wonder. Little India breathes a rich living history that spans over two centuries. Culture here throbs with antiquity and tradition.

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An enduring staycation at Green Acres Orchard and Ecolodge in Balik Pulau

Green Acres © Adrian Cheah

Mr. Eric Chong and I have known each other since we were seven years of age, both attending La Salle School in Standard One, then St. Xavier's Institution in Form Four. This humble beginning has fostered a close relationship between us that enables me to offer my personal insights into my dear friend's passion project of becoming an orchard grower, a farmer, an organic crusader, an avid student of mother nature and above all, a man who has an unquenchable curiosity to seek and learn. He is unfettered by hard work with perseverance deeply rooted in his being. Together with wife Kim and son Adric (as well as their pet beagle, Ciku), they are the family behind Green Acres.

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"Roti! Roti!", the lure of the bread man

Penang bread man © Adrian Cheah

The 'roti man' or bread vendor is quite a common sight in Penang. They are usually on their rounds in the mornings and from tea time, plying their stock-in-trade in a road contraption that resembles a hybrid between a motorcycle and a 'meat safe'.

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Pann – treat of the real thing

Pann © Adrian Cheah

Literally translated from Tamil, 'otthu kadai' – that quaint little wooden roadside shop specking the streets of George Town – means "small shop".

The 'otthu kadai' is a pretty interesting emporium – tiny, compact and mottled with a collection of different things. Each of these small convenience shops is a veritable miniature open-air mart selling an exhaustive range of items in an incredibly confined space.

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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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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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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 skirt 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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Savoury Or Kuih (steamed yam cake) recipe from Madam Lily Wong

Or kuih (yam cake) © Adrian Cheah

Or Kuih is a mashed steamed yam cake garnished with fried dried shrimps, shallot crisps, spring onions and diced chillies. The cake is light and flavourful, best eaten with chilli sauce or "ti ciau" (fermented sweet soy sauce). Delicious yam cake must be soft with the rich taste of yam chunks.

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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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History of Little India

Little India, Penang © Adrian Cheah

This meticulously regimented network was among the earliest parts of George Town planned under the administration of Sir Francis Light, the English founder of Penang. The area is hence now referred to as the "Francis Light Grid" – a rectangular network bordered by Leith Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).

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Shangri La's Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa – the jewel in the crown that lies beneath a majestic canopy

Rasa Sayang © Adrian Cheah

Centuries-old rain trees rise up above us. Majestic and lush, the foliage reaches for the ground, like falling rain suspended in the form of vibrant green leaves. The natural beauty accentuate the grandeur that surrounded us at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa, Penang.

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Murtabak – a hearty meal all by itself

Penang Murtabak © Adrian Cheah

Hameediyah Restaurant in Campbell Street serves good Murtabak. Established in 1907, this is one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Penang.

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The upside-down tree – Penang's very own Baobab

Penang's Baobab tree © Adrian Cheah

According to African legend, the Baobab wanted to become the most beautiful tree of all. When it realised that this was not possible, it put its head into the ground, so only the roots pointed heavenward. Another legend holds that when the Baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it moving.

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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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