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Batu Ferringgi – a beach for lovers and dreamers

Batu Ferringgi © Adrian Cheah

I came to Penang for the first time only last July after spending time over the years in Hong Kong, China and India, but mostly in Indonesia. Being a lover of beaches I headed for Batu Feringgi on the north coast and settled at the Parkroyal Hotel. In Indonesia the beaches at Kuta on Bali and Paragtritis on Java have been ones I have always returned to.

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George Town World Heritage Site: The story of the Chinese in nineteenth-century Penang

By Mark Thompson and Karl Steinberg with photographs by Adrian Cheah

George Town World Heritage Site: The story of the Chinese in nineteenth-century Penang

Walk between two of George Town’s most famous landmarks with this illustrated guide. Discover the story of the Chinese in nineteenth-century Penang and explore some of the community’s fascinating characters, customs, architecture and events.

For as long as it has existed, George Town in Penang has attracted travellers and settlers from across the globe and is a true confluence of cultures. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site continues to enchant visitors with its traditional charm and its well-preserved historical townscape.

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Acheen Street Mosque, priceless legacy of the Penang Muslim community

Acheen Street Mosque © Adrian Cheah

The history of the Acheen Street mosque (also known as the Malay mosque), began in 1792, which marked the arrival of its founder Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Aidid who had come from Acheh to settle in Penang. A member of the royal family of Acheh, Sumatra and descendant of a sovereign Arab family, Hussain became a hugely successful entrepreneur and one of the wealthiest merchants and landowners in Penang.

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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 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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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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Penang Hill – an uplifting experience!

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

A must see in Penang is the Penang Hill Railway, Keretapi Bukit Bendera, a fascinating little cable train service that lifts you out of the heat and humidity of the coastal plain and up to a fabulous view and cool breezes. OK!, if you are not quick on your feet you can miss a seat, but the majority of passengers stand. Any way you see more and have the added fun of travelling upwards at 45 degrees to the landscape.

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Fanning the flames of satay

Satay © Adrian Cheah

Satay is an example of how Penang cuisine was greatly influenced by the Arabs who came here to trade from the Middle East. Some say that this dish has Turkish roots. Be that as it may, satay has been available in Malaysia for many years already and is synonymous with Malay cuisine.

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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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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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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.

Besides Mullet fish, you could also opt of chunkier fish filet to make this dish.

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The Kapitan Keling – a mosque rich in history

Kapitan Keling Mosque © Adrian Cheah

The Kapitan Keling Mosque Kapitan Keling Mosque along Jalan Kapitan Keling (once Pitt Street) is a monumental structure crowned by copper domes. This is the largest historic mosque in George Town, founded around 1800.

The name of mosque was taken from the Kapitan Kelings, people who were appointed leaders of the South Indian community by the British.

The term 'keling' derived from the ancient Hindu kingdom on the Coromandel coast of South India. It was generally used to denote all those who came from there. As the Indians found it difficult to pronounce certain English words, the title "Captain" was somehow transformed into "Kapitan". From there, the Kapitan Kelings (or Captains of the Kelings) came about.

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Kuih Bahulu

Kueh Bahulu © Adrian Cheah

Kuih Bahulu is a perennial favourite among Malaysians of all ages. It is a light, fluffy sponge cake made of eggs, flour and sugar. It has a slightly crusty outer layer and is quite similar in taste and texture to the French Madeleines. Kuih Bahulu ideal for tea time and goes very well with black coffee. It comes in different shapes and sizes, but the popular options include the goldfish and the button flower designs.

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Sanctum sanctorums of the Thai and Burmese communities

Dhammikarama Burmese Temple © Adrian Cheah

In 1845, a large endowment of land in the Pulau Tikus area was made to the Theravada Buddhists, principally Thai and Burmese, whose importance is recorded in local street names to this day. Today, the extensive lands surrounding the Thai Wat Chaiyamangalaram are home to a small and thriving kampong of about thirty families (approximately 120 persons) of Thai Chinese and Hindu Indians. (The Changing Perceptions of Waqf, as Social, Cultural and Symbolic Capital in Penang, Judith Nagata)

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Time always for Laksa

Penang Laksa © Adrian Cheah

Penang Assam Laksa is amongst the best known and loved of hawker fare in Penang. A bowl of steamed spaghetti-sized rice vermicelli is first generously garnished with finely sliced vegetables including onions, cucumber, red chillis, pineapple, lettuce, mint and pink bunga kantan (ginger buds).

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Capturing the opulence of bygone days - the Nyonya art of Sylvia Lee Goh

Sylvia Lee Goh

Sylvia Lee Goh embarked on a journey of discovery of identity and self-worth. It was a long road, but with a lot of encouragement and moral support.

In the mid-eighties Sylvia was a member of the Arts and Craft Guild, holding a committee member position for two years. This Guild was under the umbrella of the American Association.

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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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The ever versatile Nasi Goreng (fried rice)

Penang fried rice © Adrian Cheah

Thanks to its unique cultural mix, food lovers in Malaysia get to enjoy a mouth-watering blend of various flavours in their victuals (or makan-makan in local speak). Think sambal belacan with wantan noodles, Nyonya curries, Malay char koay teow and the ever popular and versatile nasi goreng or fried rice. It can be eaten any time of the day and is found on the menu of any Penang or Malaysian eatery, from street vendors to five-star hotels.

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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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Clan Jetties of Penang

Clan Jetties of Penang © Adrian Cheah

"The wooden stilts are replaced every five years or so" explained Siew Pheng as we walked around the jetty. Siew Pheng, born and raised on Chew Jetty goes on to tell us that this labour intensive task of replacing the wooden stilts is a dying trade as only a few old hands practice the skill. Many youngsters prefer not to live at the jetty, but in apartments and houses on Penang island itself, as the maintenance of these houses is backbreaking work.

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