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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.

Feringgi Grill, redefining haute cuisine

Feringgi Grill © Adrian Cheah

Feringgi Grill, one of Penang's premier Western-style grill restaurants, has won numerous awards and accolades since 1973, delighting some of the most discerning diners. It is one of my favourite restaurants to celebrate a romantic evening or to mark a special occasion.

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Church of the Holy Name of Jesus – a historical church in a sleepy hollow

Church of the Holy Name of Jesus © Adrian Cheah

Introduction

Old churches are fascinating buildings. Aside from their obvious roles as houses for worship and community gathering, old churches are also well known for their sublime architecture and illustrious histories. The Western continent has some of the finest and world-renowned churches, the mind immediately recalling structures like the early Gothic-styled Notre Dame in Paris (1163), St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican (349AD) and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City (19th century). Equally fascinating ones also include the Santa Maria Maggiore (430AD) and Santa Prassede (780AD) in Rome and the Saxon Brixworth and Escombe churches in England (around 670AD).

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Healy Mac’s Irish Bar & Restaurant – the friendly gastropub at Straits Quay, Penang

Healy Mac’s © Adrian Cheah

Healy Mac’s Irish Bar & Restaurant has a winning formula with a successful chain of gastropubs in Malaysia (one in Penang, one in Ipoh and four in Kuala Lumpur), Indonesia, Spain and Ireland. Having to do more than the luck of the Irish, it is hard graft, dedication and desire for constant improvement that the owner Liam Healy and his team have managed to establish an authentic Irish identity for his gastropubs since 2009.

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The elegant Nyonya kebaya – wearable art that knows no seasons

kebays © Adrian Cheah

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is an oft-quoted maxim about the importance of adapting oneself. Whether or not this bit of wisdom was known to the early Chinese immigrants to Malaysia, some of them eventually married the local folk and adopted Malay customs while remaining quintessentially Chinese in belief and philosophy. The result of this union was the Chinese Peranakan (more commonly known as Babas and Nyonyas), a unique cultural hybrid with a cosmopolitan persona that flourished for centuries throughout Malaysia.

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Appetising Nyonya Acar Hu (Nyonya pickled silver mullet)

Nyonya Acar Hu © Adrian Cheah

Nyonya Acar Hu is one of my favourite acar options that can truly whet one's appetite. Mum has been making this savoury delight for as long as I can remember. Its appetising flavours can be appreciated with a plate of steamed white rice.

This dish is like no other, combining a beautiful balance of sweet and sour flavours, spiced with cabai burung (bird’s eye chillies), ginger and of course, fresh turmeric. Other ingredients like shallots and garlic cloves are little preserved nuggets that complement the fish well. The deep-fried fish, given ample time to develop in the fresh turmeric vinaigrette are extremely tasty and tantalising. This is a dish that will wake up all your senses.

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The vibrant and colourful Nyonya kerabu bee hoon

kerabu bee hoon © Adrian Cheah

When it comes to good food, the only one you have to really satisfy is yourself. When it comes to cooking (without deviating too far from the recipe), you can add whatever you like to your dish and omit all the ingredients that do not tickle your taste buds.

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Church of the Assumption, among Penang's historical landmarks

Church of the Assumption © Adrian Cheah

George Town, located in the heart of Penang, has perhaps one of the most diverse religious communities in Malaysia. Here, almost every religion has its own distinct religious architectural abode to serve believers.

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Sigi's did more than tickle our taste buds!

Sigi's Bar & Grill © Adrian Cheah

My family and I enjoyed a memorable evening hosted by Dato' Welf and Datin Susan at Sigi's Bar & Grill at Golden Sands Resort Penang by Shangri-La. Although we could dine in air-conditioned comfort, or up on the upper deck with an elevated view, we chose an alfresco dining area near the beachfront of Batu Feringghi. The stunning vista of the beautifully landscaped gardens and the ocean beyond were priceless. The Resident Manager of the resort, Christoph Düker was at hand to greet Welf and Susan. He was also kind enough to take the above photo for us.

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Inventive roti canai sarang burung in Balik Pulau

Roti Canai Sarang Burung © Adrian Cheah

Being a popular dish among Penangites and Malaysians at large, roti canai or roti paratha is a flaky, moreish flatbread enjoyed any time of the day. Made with flour, water, salt, a little sugar and fat, the mixture is kneaded into a dough and allowed to rest. It is then divided and rolled into palm-size balls. The rested dough ball is stretched; held at a corner, it is then flung in the air onto the oiled work surface twice or thrice, stretching it paper thin before folding to obtain a layered texture.

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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 skirts 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 beadwork for shoes with which the Nyonya is identified is a comparatively recent invention from 19th century Britain and Continental Europe.

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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 Chinese Peranakan cuisine, a combination of Chinese and Malay flavours.

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KTM Swing Bridge in Prai – a rare engineering novelty in Asia

KTM Swing Bridge © Adrian Cheah

A marvel of engineering, this “swing bridge” is built over the Prai River specifically to allow trains to cross over, connecting the Butterworth Railway Terminal on the northern side to other rail destinations further south in Malaysia. The bridge also opens up occasionally for large barges, ships and ferries that need to pass through along the river. It is operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), the national railway company.

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