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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.

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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A traditional signboard maker in Penang

traditional signboard maker © Adrian Cheah

In this day and age of colourful and animated LED video billboards, digital displays for advertisements and other fancy forms of signage, one does wonder if there is a place, still, for the traditional, hand-carved signboard – the sort of signboard that is found in some Chinese homes and business establishments.

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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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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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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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Hachiban Izakaya, more than just a typical Japanese pub

Hachiban Izakaya © Adrian Cheah

Located at Jalan Kelawai, Hachiban Izakaya serves more than just sake and pub grub. "Hachiban" means "No. 8" and "Izakaya" stands for a casual venue to chill out after work for drinking; similar to that of an Irish pub or a Spanish tapas bar.

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The humble golden kee chang that are extraordinary

kee chang © Adrian Cheah

Preparation for kee chang (alkaline dumplings) starts a week in advance. Picking the jasmine rice grains out from a heap of glutinous rice is time-consuming and requires patience. The laborious task is necessary in order to obtain a translucent finish for the dumplings. If rice grains are present, the kee chang will lose their translucent appeal. I vividly remember sorting through the grains of rice when young, or as Mum would call it, “pilih the pulut”. I failed to understand then why such a tedious undertaking was even necessary since everything would be gobbled up eventually. Mum refused to entertain our rationale and would not compromise on quality. Today, being a "product" of Mum, I too have learnt not to compromise on quality, finding it rather ironic that my daughter would utter the same arguments I once did.

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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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Le Venue revisited (many times over)

Le Venue © Adrian Cheah

When it comes 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 others have to 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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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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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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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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