Great Penang

Adrian Cheah loves Penang. He brings you an interesting insights on the UNESCO heritage city of George Town where he calls home.

Great Penang © Adrian Cheah


Roti Jala – fish net crepe that’s so good with curry

Roti Jala © Adrian Cheah

If you are a tourist, in Penang or Malaysia during Ramadhan, you have to add the Ramadhan bazaar onto your list of must-see places. The month-long Ramadhan bazaar offers a wide variety of Malay specialities and is an interesting market to scout for delicious treats. Among my favourite dishes is Roti Jala.

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Ti Kuih to sweeten the words of the Gods

Ti Kuih © Adrian Cheah

Ti Kuih (sweet sticky rice cake) in Mandarin (nian gao) literally means ‘year cake’ which also echoes the sound of rising abundance or prosperity for the coming year.

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CHINESE CUISINE AT PUTIEN

PUTIEN restaurant © Adrian Cheah

We started our dinner at PUTIEN restaurant at Gurney Paragon Mall with the Starters Platter which had an assortment of four PUTIEN delights. They were cold pig's trotter jelly, seaweed with mini shrimps, braised pig intestine and braised bean curd. The cold dish of pig's trotter jelly topped with a dark chilli paste was packed with flavour and collagen. I enjoyed this dish very much.

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Da Shu Xia Seafood House – sumptuous and fresh seafood in Penang

Da Shu Xia Seafood House © Adrian Cheah

We just want it all – fresh seafood, delicious flavours, beautiful presentations, a cosy ambiance, great service and above all, cheap prices. Yes we do, especially Penangites!

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Kuih Ee (glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup)

Kuih Ee © Adrian Cheah

Traditionally, Kuih Ee (tong yuen) is served on special occasions such as during weddings and the Winter Solstice Festival (sometime during the end of December, about a month before the Chinese New Year). These days however, Kuih Ee is available daily in Penang from certain hawkers in the Pulau Tikus and Ayer Itam markets in the morning.

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Half Acre Restaurant, Taiwanese flavours in Balik Pulau

Half Acre Restaurant © Adrian Cheah

When you talk about Taiwanese food, fried stinky tafu, scallion pancakes, oyster vermicelli, minced pork rice and pearl milk tea come to mind. However at Half Acre Restaurant, you will not find any of these popular Taiwanese street food. On the other hand, you would be treated to strong Taiwanese flavours that are aggressively herbal with deeply umami.

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Sea cucumbers – back to nature cures

sea cucumber © Adrian Cheah

Marine life in Malaysian waters is full of many natural wonders. Among them is the humble sea cucumber. Locally, it is known as 'gamat' in Malay and 'hai som' in Hokkien. It is scientifically called holothurians, a class of the phylum echinodermata.

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Traditional and avant-garde Asian cuisine at Maple Palace

Maple Palace © Adrian Cheah

Chinese New Year celebrations which last for 15 days offer an ideal time for family reunions as well as to catch up with old friends. When my classmates from Han Chiang High School decided to have a mini class reunion, Maple Palace was our top choice. The restaurant serves mouth-watering cuisine that is both traditional and avant-garde at the same time. It also offers festive Chinese New Year dishes synonymous with good luck and prosperity. On top of that, the quality of the delicacies at Maple Palace has been consistent throughout my visits in the past.

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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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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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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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Acar Chee Ya Hu (pickled mullet fish)

Acar Hu © Adrian Cheah

This is one of my mum's favourite acars. She has been making this for as long as I can remember. It is such an appetising dish when served with a bowl of steaming white rice.

Like other Nyonya acars, this dish is a combination of sweet and mostly tart flavours. However, the other ingredients, like onions and garlic still impart their individual aromas. The deep-fried fish absorbs the gravy and becomes succulent and moist.

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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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Kuih Bangkit (Tapioca cookies) – a popular Chinese New Year favourite

Kuih Bangkit © Adrian Cheah

Kuih Bangkit is one of the classic Chinese New Year cookies beside Kuih Kapit and pineapple tarts which are adored by Penangites. What makes this traditional snow-white Nyonya cookie good is the aromatic smell that welcomes you the moment you bite into the crispy outer later which then melts in your mouth to a powdery softness.

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The art of making the perfect Kuih Kapit (love letters)

Kuih Kapit © Adrian Cheah

Some people claim that oysters are an aphrodisiac. Then there are others who say that the tomato is the food of love (from its name Pomme d'Amour – French for "love apple").

In Malaysia, there exists a delicacy that, despite its name, is neither an aphrodisiac nor a love potion. Yet those who have tasted it have been known to wax lyrical over the exquisite flavour. The love-letter, or more commonly known as Kuih Kapit (a paper-thin crispy biscuit) is an essential feature of Chinese and Malay festivals.

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Chio Hua, the golden Nyonya Jelly

Nyonya jelly © Adrian Cheah

Reminiscing about my childhood days brings back fond golden memories especially about the kitchen where I first fell in love with cooking. For me, everything that my mum shared with me will always have a special place in my heart – from cooking the most fiery sambal babi to making crunchy Nyonya jelly. Mum has definitely enriched my childhood with these experiences.

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Kebaya – inventive pan-Asian haute cuisine

Kebaya © Adrian Cheah

The first time I sampled Christopher Ong’s cooking was at a Chinese New Year open house he held many years back. Lam Mee was on the line up and although it is an uncomplicated dish to prepare, a flavourful stock was necessary to serve up a delicious bowl. With a dollop of sambal belacan on the side, I relish the entire bowl with gusto that day. It was wonderful and had just the right combination of everything a good bowl of Lam Mee would call for. Chris also highlighted that I was eating off an authentic antique Peranakan blue and white batik bowl.

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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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Make your own Acar Awak (spicy mixed vegetable pickle)

Acar Awak © Adrian Cheah

A crunchy and aromatic dish concocted of mixed vegetables infused in a rich and spicy gravy garnished with crushed groundnuts. This dish acts as an appetiser in any meal. It adds zest to a plain dish of 'economy' fried bee hoon.

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Otak-otak, a savory parcel of fish custard

Otak-otak © Adrian Cheah

Unwrap a parcel of otak-otak and you will catch a waft of the spicy, delicious egg-like fish custard that is usually served with other dishes common in a Nyonya household. Otak-okak can also be eaten on its own or as an appetiser or even with bread. This popular dish is available at Nyonya restaurants, some food courts and wet markets, as well as a common spread in “Economy Rice” stalls.

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