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Little India of George Town

Little India, Penang © Adrian Cheah

Not many visitors and tourists to George Town's famous Little India enclave know that the area's name was adopted by the local authorities only nine years ago.

But whatever it is named, visitors hardly fail to sense the remarkable nostalgic charm and almost innocent simplicity of the area. And no wonder. Little India breathes a rich living history that spans over two centuries. Culture here throbs with antiquity and tradition.

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Deepavali – Celebrating the Light

Deepavali  © Adrian Cheah

Squatting at a corner of King Street amid the human bustle of Penang's Little India, Manickam P. sorts through a giant pile of fresh green banana leaves.

Clad in baggy khaki shorts and a sweat-soaked singlet, he seems to take no notice of either the automobiles that incessantly purr past or the hundreds of human apparitions that mill by him. The elderly odd-job worker certainly has his work cut out for him nowadays.

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Remembering loved ones on All Souls Day

All Souls Day © Adrian Cheah

The feast of All Souls is a reminder to pray for the faithfully departed, to help them on their journey to heaven. Therefore we say prayers not just for those we knew and loved and also for the 'neglected souls'. These are regarded as acts of charities.

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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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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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La Vie's splendid cuisine to celebrate life's treasured moments

La Vie Penang © Adrian Cheah

Appetisers are delicate petit morsels which tantalise our taste buds to increase our appetite. A well-planned menu would select appetisers that would coordinate and lead up to the flavours of the main dishes in a meal. In short, appetisers should give you an idea about the main course. Great appetisers put you in the mood; they get you excited about what else lies in store for you. We started our dinner at La Vie with an alluring march of four appetisers – crispy unagi, prawn salad, crab meat croquettes and clams in Thai-style sauce. Such an incredible quartet that kept us clamouring for more.

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Nyonya kasut manek (beaded shoes) – timeless objects of beauty

Nyonya beaded shoes © Adrian Cheah

English influence

The British presence in the three Straits Settlement states had a profound influence on Peranakan culture. Suddenly, the hitherto unknown suits and skirt became à la mode for men and women respectively.

Western techniques also influenced the art and craft of fashioning Peranakan footwear. The style of embroidery for example, once influenced by the Malays was in turn influenced by Western culture. The fine bead work for shoes with which the Nyonya is identified with is a comparatively recent invention from 19th century Britain and Continental Europe.

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Our bold and beautiful red Bunga Raya

Bunga Raya © Adrian Cheah

Let us pause for a moment and look at the name of Malaysia's national flower – Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. The English word “hibiscus” derives from the Greek word “hibiskos.” The flower received its name from the renowned physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40 – 90 AD). He was the author of "De Materia Medica", a 5-volume Greek encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances. Disocorides was also a botanist.

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Ah Leng's supreme Char Koay Teow

Ah Leng Char Koay Teow © Adrian Cheah

Taste is very subjective and since Penangites are spoiled with choices, their discerning palate is indeed well tuned to great food. Should you wish to see them enraged and in full disgust, just serve them a plate of something ordinary, or if you dare, something horrible. This only goes to illustrate how passionate they are about food especially the local delicacies.

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Rocking at Hard Rock Hotel Penang

Hard Rock Hotel Penang © Adrian Cheah

The distinctive rock and roll themed décor of the hotel is plastered with memorabilia, a white statue of Michael Jackson sitting on a throne, a mosaic wall of the Beatles as well as autographed platinum records. Throughout the hotel, one would also come across display cabinets exhibiting outfits worn by famous music legends including a black leather jacket, jeans and scarf by Bon Jovi and even red robot shoes by Elton John.

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History of Little India

Little India, Penang © Adrian Cheah

This meticulously regimented network was among the earliest parts of George Town planned under the administration of Sir Francis Light, the English founder of Penang. The area is hence now referred to as the "Francis Light Grid" – a rectangular network bordered by Leith Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).

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The upside-down tree – Penang's very own Baobab

Penang's Baobab tree © Adrian Cheah

According to African legend, the Baobab wanted to become the most beautiful tree of all. When it realised that this was not possible, it put its head into the ground, so only the roots pointed heavenward. Another legend holds that when the Baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it moving.

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Sri Mariamman, the temple of an ancient goddess

Sri Mariamman © Adrian Cheah

Penang has a large community of Indians, broadly divided into those from the North (Bengalis, Sindhis, Gujerati etc.) and the South (Tamils). It is not surprising then that the Penang landscape is dotted with Hindu temples, from the large and ornate to the unostentatious makeshift huts and lean-to's.

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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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Indulging in the finer things in life at Le Venue

Le Venue © Adrian Cheah

How much are you willing to pay for a great dining experience? If the sky is the limit, then Le Venue is just the place for you. With a brilliant flare of culinary magic, Chef Petr Fehér is able to transform top quality ingredients from the four corners of the world into sumptuous delights. His ultimate artistic presentation is a visual feast and the ingenious combination of flavours is simply astounding. 

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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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Apong Guan – one piece is never enough

Apong Guan © Adrian Cheah

This is something I have recently noticed about Uncle Ah Guan. He has always being great fun to chat with but on my recent visit one afternoon, although he was smiling and friendly, he was not his usual chatty self. I realised that age is catching up and grinding over the stove in the scorching tropical heat, day in and day out, cannot be an easy task for him these days.

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My Kebaya shirt - a journey where novelty meets sublime beauty

Kebaya shirt © Adrian Cheah

Having grown up in a Peranakan household, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of the kebaya. It is not just about how – when matched with a traditional floral sarong – the entire ensemble is wearable art, one that gives a veritable statement on the opulent cultural heritage of the Nyonyas.

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The Armenians of Singapore: A Short History

Nadia H. Wright
Design and layout by Adrian Cheah, ACEK Creative Solutions

The Armenians of Singapore

So small a community: so great a legacy!

Fewer than 750 Armenians have ever lived in Singapore, yet St Gregory’s Church, Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, the Straits Times newspaper and Raffles Hotel owe their existence to the pioneering Persian Armenians.

Who were these Armenians, what did they do and what happened to them?

This book throws light on those questions.

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Fine dining and merrymaking at The View

The View © Adrian Cheah

Renowned as one of the most established fine dining restaurants in Penang, the View offered an ideal setting for the Le Altanza Wine Dinner held on Saturday, 20 July 2019. Its panoramic views from the restaurant, impeccable service and cozy ambience set the perfect stage for a memorable evening.

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