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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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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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Penang’s all-time favourite Char Koay Teow

Penang Char Koay Teow © Adrian Cheah

I have always wondered where the all-so-famous Penang Char Koay Teow came from? Who were its original creators? Some believe that Char Koay Teow (‘fried flat noodles in Teochew) was first sold by Chinese fishermen, farmers and cockle-gatherers on the island who moonlighted as Char Koay Teow hawkers in the evening to supplement their income.

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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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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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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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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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Golden Sands Resort – a tropical haven for the entire family

Golden Sands Resort © Adrian Cheah

Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La in Malaysia, Penang is the epitome of premier resort getaway for families, groups and individual travellers. Opened in 1979, the Golden Sands Resort was the fourth hotel in the Shangri-La chain and is one of the first hotels along the famed tourist enclave of Batu Feringgi beach in Penang.

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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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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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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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"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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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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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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PARKROYAL Penang Resort – a tropical paradise to luxuriate in

PARKROYAL Penang Resort © Adrian Cheah

For two consecutive years, my daughter has requested for the same birthday gift – a weekend at PARKROYAL Penang Resort. The Resort has been one of her favourite places to kick back and lose herself in a tropical paradise.

Living in Penang, we are indeed fortunate that we can just take a 35-minute drive from home to Batu Ferringhi sans the arduous plane and taxi rides (e.g., my cousin from Toronto took some whooping 23 hours to reach Penang).

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