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The elegance of Japanese cuisine at Miraku

Miraku © Adrian Cheah

One country that truly elevates food to an art form is Japan. When dining at Miraku you would be able encounter such an art form as soon as you are served, so much so that you are compelled to feast with your eyes first. Here, food preparation is such a delicate craft that it is pursued with passion and executed to perfect artistry.

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Sea cucumbers – back to nature cures

sea cucumber © Adrian Cheah

Marine life in Malaysian waters is full of many natural wonders. Among them is the humble sea cucumber. Locally, it is known as 'gamat' in Malay and 'hai som' in Hokkien. It is scientifically called holothurians, a class of the phylum echinodermata.

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Traditional and avant-garde Asian cuisine at Maple Palace

Maple Palace © Adrian Cheah

Chinese New Year celebrations which last for 15 days offer an ideal time for family reunions as well as to catch up with old friends. When my classmates from Han Chiang High School decided to have a mini class reunion, Maple Palace was our top choice. The restaurant serves mouth-watering cuisine that is both traditional and avant-garde at the same time. It also offers festive Chinese New Year dishes synonymous with good luck and prosperity. On top of that, the quality of the delicacies at Maple Palace has been consistent throughout my visits in the past.

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The Han Jiang Ancestrial Temple of the Penang Teochew Association – linking past and present

Teochew Temple © Adrian Cheah

You cannot miss the building. Nestled among rows of old Indian Muslim carpet stores, jewellers and eateries, the ancestral temple of the Teochew Chinese stands out with its pronounced Chinese architecture and imposing doors featuring twin larger-then-life Chinese warriors in full regalia. This silent and formidable pair with their red-faces and weapons, frightening to foes yet welcoming to members and visitors, have been standing guard to the temple's peaceful interior for more than a century. Their presence recalls to mind a rather popular Chinese tercet: "Like the spring rain to a lotus blossom, thou art welcome; come, rest within".

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Sembang-sembang with Tan Choon Hoe

Tan Choon Hoe

Malaysians are a lucky bunch, always well known for their versatility in languages or dialects. Take for example my late father who was Chinese could converse fluently in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil, Hindustani, Mandarin, Cantonese and of course, Hokkien.

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Chine Blue - an insight into Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion © Adrian Cheah

Like a fragment from a scroll painting, an exotic indigo-blue mansion, with graceful, curved windows and a peaked, tiled roof, remains in the midst of Penang's modern high-rises. This rare survivor of old Penang, constructed in a Chinese-courtyard style with Western art-nouveau features, reflects the complex personality of its builder Cheong Fatt Tze. Called the "Rockefeller of the East", he was the most flamboyant of all Penang's multimillionaire towkays during the island's heyday of wealthy magnates.

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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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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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Penang Bridge – connecting the island to the mainland

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

Before 1985, transportation between the island and the mainland was solely dependent on the state-owned Penang Ferry Service that plies between Butterworth and George Town. For using the ferry services in Penang, motorists need to pay toll fare while heading to the island. There is no charge for leaving the island.

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Belacan, integral ingredient in local cuisine

belacan © Adrian Cheah

Anyone who has paid attention to local cuisine can safely hazard a guess that Penangites, and Malaysians for that matter, have a predilection for pungent foods! Call it full-flavoured, aromatic, spicy or downright nasty, Malaysian cuisine boasts more pungent varieties than arguably any other country in the world. This piquant character manifests itself in various forms, in fresh fruits (durian and jackfruit), in condiments (budu), preserves (cincaluk and tempoyak) and the innocuous looking belacan or shrimp paste. The last item is as indispensible to Malaysian cooking as herbs are to Italian cuisine or soya sauce to Chinese. Why, some purists go as far as to declare that your 'Malaysianess' hinges on whether or not you like belacan!

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Fresh and colourful Nordic cuisine

We have a better understanding of what the Vikings ate through archeological finds. Here are some examples of food species excavated from Dublin during the Viking age: fish – cod, ling; shellfish – cockles, mussels, oysters, scallops; cereals – wheat, rye, oats, barley; fruits – blackberries, apples, strawberries, sloes, elderberries, cherries, plums, hawthorns, mountain ashes, rose hips; vegetables – nettle, brassicas, celery, carrot, radish, fennel; legumes – peas; nuts – hazelnuts; and others including black mustard, poppy seeds and rapeseeds.

Nordic cuisine © Adrian Cheah

The fresh and colourful Nordic salad is served on a rectangular slate with Hollandaise sauce. The shallots infused with vanilla and pickle vegetables are memorable.

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Middle Eastern offerings at Halab in Chulia Street

Halab, Penang © Adrian Cheah

Halab, tucked in a bungalow along the bustling Chulia Street in the heart of George Town offers authentic Middle-eastern cuisine. It is no surprise that the Syrian and Arab communities in George Town frequent Halab, forming their base clientele alongside Penangites and tourist visiting the island.

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Tan Choon Hoe – the crusader of Penang Hokkien Dialet

Tan Choon Hoe

The Digital Age and today’s globalised world has been a boon for the spread of Popular Culture. Popular culture – Western or American, is slowly but surely seeping into our way of life. Predictably, even Asian youths are dressing and gesturing like their hip hop or boy band idols from MTV. Even the way we speak is being MTV-nised and you will find certain youths who are more at home going “Yo, dude” or "Whassup” than greet you in their native tongues.

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Something blue, something rice, something nice at Mews Café

Yes, this blue-coloured rice dish from Mews Café that is simply delicious also titillates the senses. It looks amazing, smells appetising and tasted heavenly as well.

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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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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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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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Stop and smell the spices at Tropical Spice Garden

Tropical Spice Garden © Adrian Cheah

One of Penang's popular attraction is the Tropical Spice Garden which is located in Teluk Bahang, a few minutes’ drive from Batu Feringgi. For those seeking peace, tranquility and to immerse one's self in the splendour of Mother Nature, this veritable secret garden is the place to be.

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Penang ferry service

The famous heritage ride across the Penang Channel

Penang ferry © Adrian Cheah

Probably the most cherished and well-known icon of Penang, this ferry service which carries motor vehicles and foot passengers became operational in 1925, linking Butterworth on the mainland to George Town on the island. Prior to that, the ferries in the form of large boats were meant for goods and people only.

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