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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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Belacan, integral ingredient in local cuisine

belacan © Adrian Cheah

Anyone who has paid attention to local cuisine can safely hazard a guess that Penangites, and Malaysians for that matter, have a predilection for pungent foods! Call it full-flavoured, aromatic, spicy or downright nasty, Malaysian cuisine boasts more pungent varieties than arguably any other country in the world. This piquant character manifests itself in various forms, in fresh fruits (durian and jackfruit), in condiments (budu), preserves (cincaluk and tempoyak) and the innocuous looking belacan or shrimp paste. The last item is as indispensible to Malaysian cooking as herbs are to Italian cuisine or soya sauce to Chinese. Why, some purists go as far as to declare that your 'Malaysianess' hinges on whether or not you like belacan!

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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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Truly authentic, truly Thai at Chili Head

Chili Head © Adrian Cheah

Chili Head Social Bar and Eatery, a cool and hip Thai restaurant overlooking the beautiful marina at Straits Quay serves excellent authentic Siamese food. Here is a place where Thais themselves would love to eat.

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Penang's very own Arcadia in the clouds – Penang Hill

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

Penang Hill is the state's foremost hill resort. Although it was originally called Flagstaff Hill, the locals have always affectionately referred to it as Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera. At about 830 metres (2,750 feet) from sea level, the temperature on the hilltop is considerably cooler than the nether lands. On regular weekdays, the hill is pretty quiet and can serve as a recuperative getaway, far from the madding crowd and city heat.

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Chap Goh Meh – the Night of Romance

Chap Goh Meh © Adrian Cheah

A fascinating Chap Goh Meh legend tells the story of a lonely young man who, during an outing on this very significant night, was suddenly enraptured by the most beautiful sight he ever laid eyes on. Who was this exquisitely delicate beauty driving by in all her finery, he wondered. Despite the excitement pounding in his heart, the hopeful young gentleman quickly jotted down the number of her car, lest he forgot.

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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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Ang Pow, a packet of good tidings

Ang pow © Adrian Cheah

A gift of money, ever so simple is practical, convenient and sure to be appreciated by the recipient! All over the world and for as long as anyone can remember, the Chinese have been giving gifts of money during auspicious occasions, like Chinese New Year, birthdays and weddings.

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Coconut water – the perfect tonic for the tropics

Coconut © Adrian Cheah

On our way back from Pantai Kerachut, my friends and I were contemplating what drink to quench our thirst after an exhausting hike, aside from the obvious choices-100 Plus, Coke or Kickapoo. Why not coconut water, we thought, so coconut water it was.

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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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Celebrating PIA St. Patrick’s Day 2018 Malaysian Style

PIA St. Patrick’s Day 2018 © Adrian Cheah

“Sharing Our Traditions; Céilí agus Ceol” – the theme of the 2018 Penang St. Patrick’s Festival and Gala Ball promised lots of Irish style ‘craic’ with family and friends from around the world.

Flashback to my first experience of a St. Patrick’s Ball abroad, while working in Lusaka, Zambia in the 1980s. Members of the Irish diaspora gathered to celebrate Irish heritage, culture and traditions. It included energetic Irish dancing, haunting violin music, ‘The Green Fields of France’ and other ballads, smooth Black Velvets and a sense of pride in our intrinsic Irish identity. Powerful diaspora memories!

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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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Fresh and colourful Nordic cuisine

We have a better understanding of what the Vikings ate through archeological finds. Here are some examples of food species excavated from Dublin during the Viking age: fish – cod, ling; shellfish – cockles, mussels, oysters, scallops; cereals – wheat, rye, oats, barley; fruits – blackberries, apples, strawberries, sloes, elderberries, cherries, plums, hawthorns, mountain ashes, rose hips; vegetables – nettle, brassicas, celery, carrot, radish, fennel; legumes – peas; nuts – hazelnuts; and others including black mustard, poppy seeds and rapeseeds.

Nordic cuisine © Adrian Cheah

The fresh and colourful Nordic salad is served on a rectangular slate with Hollandaise sauce. The shallots infused with vanilla and pickle vegetables are memorable.

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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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Hills and Heritage of Penang – the durian experience

Flowering Frenzy

durian flowers © Adrian Cheah

After a very disappointing 2017 for seasonal fruits, 2018 has certainly started off with a bang. As if making up for last season’s low yield, most of the durian trees around the Balik Pulau area are flowering with a vengeance. Barring weather calamities, we should see a bumper crop starting - a bit earlier than usual - in mid March 2018. The hot and dry weather the past months plus all the storing of energy from the low yield have caused this explosion of flower buds.

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Kek Lok Si Temple, the monastery on Crane Hill

Kek Lok Si Temple © 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 Spring Festival - an insight into the festivities of the Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year © Adrian Cheah

The Chinese observe many festivals, some religious and some secular. The most important celebration however is the Spring Festival, more commonly known today as the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year.

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Middle Eastern offerings at Halab in Chulia Street

Halab, Penang © Adrian Cheah

Halab, tucked in a bungalow along the bustling Chulia Street in the heart of George Town offers authentic Middle-eastern cuisine. It is no surprise that the Syrian and Arab communities in George Town frequent Halab, forming their base clientele alongside Penangites and tourist visiting the island.

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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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