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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 memorable 9-course vegetarian dinner at Happy Realm

Happy Realm © Adrian Cheah

Being a food paradise, Penang offers many avenues for full-fledged vegetarians to obtain scrumptious meals. From Indian vegetarian restaurants to Chinese outlets, there is a wider range of food available. During the Jade Emperor Festival (first to the ninth of the ninth month of the lunar calendar), more stalls mushroom all over Penang selling vegetarian delights from rice dishes to stir-fried noodles and from Chinese cakes to Italian pizzas. Furthermore with the creation of faux meats, some dishes are unbelievably "uncanny".

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The Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Penang

Nine Emperor Gods Festival © Adrian Cheah

How far would you go to uphold your beliefs? Would you undergo a strict vegetarian diet for nine straight days? Would you walk on fire barefooted or pierce a long spear through your cheeks? Or are you an armchair devotee who would prefer to remain in your comfort zone and observe events from afar? Does the younger generation know what this festival is all about and how many would stop to find out more?

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Of lanterns and mooncakes

lanterns and mooncakes © Adrian Cheah

"The Chinese people have never demanded a clear separation of the worlds of myth and reality – indeed, they are so closely bound up that it is hard to say where one begins and the other ends." – An Introduction to Oriental Mythology, Clio Whittaker et al

"The moon, along with fine wine and beautiful women, is a favourite topic for the Chinese poets." – Chinese proverb

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Auntie Jo's delightful jelly mooncakes

jelly mooncake © Adrian Cheah

Taishi cakes, the predecessor of mooncakes, were present during the Shang Dynasty (c.1600-1046 BC) and Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). For a long time in history, mooncakes have been created as an offering during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Although traditional baked mooncakes have been around for thousands of years, this symbolic mooncake making tradition has not stopped evolving.

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The surreal vistas of Bukit Katak (Frog Hill)

Frog Hill © Adrian Cheah

Jim Richardson once noted that if you want to be a better photographer, "you should stand in front of more interesting stuff". Richardson is a renowned photographer for the National Geographic Magazine. Many would agree with Richardson and with the advent of social media, it is easy to turn an unknown location like Bukit Katak (Frog Hill) into one of Penang's much sought after Instagrammable hotspots.

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Irama Dining, the rhythm of a fresh and modern dining experience

Irama Dining © Adrian Cheah

Penang is truly a food paradise. One can find almost everything under the sun here on this tropical island including good Malay food. Dining at Irama is a game-changer for me. The strong, aromatic and distinct Malay-style cooking is combined with the rich flavours of local herbs and spices. The food presentation is masterful and the dining room is tastefully elegant.

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Tow Boo Kong Temple – an epic edifice where gods descend on Earth

Tow Boo Kong Temple © Adrian Cheah

This is the most famous place of worship in Raja Uda, and indeed in the whole of Seberang Perai. The intricately designed Tow Boo Kong Temple sited on the northern end of Jalan Raja Uda was built in honour of the Nine Emperor Gods.

Originally set up as just an attap-shed shrine in the early 1970s, the temple was rebuilt to its current scale and grandeur in 2000. The majestic archway was completed in 2009.

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Never Forgetting Balik Pulau – exploring an alluring, rustic village in Penang across time

Josephine Choo
Photography, design and layout by Adrian Cheah

Never Forgetting Balik Pulau © Adrian Cheah

"Never Forgetting Balik Pulau" is part memoir, part guide. The author, after spending her entire youth in the village, accumulated a bagful of tales. Exploratory trips back gave credence to past memories but gradually, a comprehensive guide with maps to the village evolved.

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Discover legendary handmade mooncakes by Chef Chong Kei

Mooncake © Adrian Cheah

Celebrated by the Chinese on the 15th day of the eighth lunar moon (between September to October), the Mooncake Festival commemorates the overthrow of the Mongols, when the insurgent leaders, by way of smuggling secret messages in mooncakes, called the people to revolt.

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The versatile French toast that is easy to make

French toast © Adrian Cheah

When my seven siblings and I were young, my late Dad would cook up a storm for breakfast, having many hungry mouths to feed. French toast was one of his popular breakfast dishes.

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Nangka stuffed with pulut

Jackfruit with glutinous rice © Adrian Cheah

Steaming pulut is easy. All you have to do is rinse and soak the pulut overnight. The following day, drain and steam the pulut with santan and pandan leaves. Enjoying pulut with nangka (a local term for jackfruit), mango or durian is truly delicious.

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The floral bath (mandi bunga) ritual

floral bath © Adrian Cheah

The Russian musician Igor Stravinsky might have composed Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rites of Spring) as an exploration of nature and the rituals of renewal and sacrifice, but one could safely conjecture that the ritual and ceremony of the Malaysian floral bath was created for more personal (and less lofty) reasons. The two may be worlds apart, but both Stravinsky and the local bomoh share one thing – invoking the power and the mystery of nature and the elements in their work.

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