Great Penang

Adrian Cheah loves Penang. He brings you an interesting insights on the UNESCO heritage city of George Town where he calls home.

Great Penang © Adrian Cheah


Plan to breathe new life into market

The Star, Friday, 4 August 2017
BY CHONG KAH YUAN

THE state government is working on a solution to keep the Little Penang Street Market going.

The market held at Upper Penang Road has just marked its 11th anniversary but its future is now uncertain after the organising committee members expressed their wish to retire.

State Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said he was open to new ideas on how to use the space.

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Time always for Laksa

Penang Laksa © Adrian Cheah

Penang Assam Laksa is amongst the best known and loved of hawker fare in Penang. A bowl of steamed spaghetti-sized rice vermicelli is first generously garnished with finely sliced vegetables including onions, cucumber, red chillis, pineapple, lettuce, mint and pink bunga kantan (ginger buds).

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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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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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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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Durian, the sensational "king of the fruits"

Penang durian © Adrian Cheah

“You should wash your hands using the water poured over durian skin. It will remove the pungent durian smell from your hands," urged Mr. Teh, my neighbour who accompanied me on a durian feast at Balik Pulau. We had a satisfying breakfast like no other amidst the natural surrounding of a durian orchard.

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That hairy fruit called Rambutan

Penang rambutan © Adrian Cheah

Among the vast range of fruits available in Penang, Rambutan comes a close second to Durian as a popular choice when in season. Sold along roadsides at market places and by fruit vendors, rambutans are tied up in bunches of 50 or 100 and prices vary according to size and quality.

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The Craftisan, tea-inspired gelato and hand-crafted desserts

Adrian Cheah at Craftisan

When the sweet tooth comes a-knockin', head to The Craftisan for one of its luscious dessert options. Whether it is brownies, crepe or gelato that strikes your fancy, its delicious offerings should satisfy your cravings. Hand-dripped coffee and a selection of teas compliment perfectly its creative desserts.

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The ever versatile Nasi Goreng (fried rice)

Penang fried rice © Adrian Cheah

Thanks to its unique cultural mix, food lovers in Malaysia get to enjoy a mouth-watering blend of various flavours in their victuals (or makan-makan in local speak). Think sambal belacan with wantan noodles, Nyonya curries, Malay char koay teow and the ever popular and versatile nasi goreng or fried rice. It can be eaten any time of the day and is found on the menu of any Penang or Malaysian eatery, from street vendors to five-star hotels.

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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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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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Penang tau sar peah, food for the Gods

Penang's tau sar peah is legendary and spoken of in the same breath as Kuala Kangsar's pau (dumpling) and Kampar's chicken biscuits.

Indeed, conversations about Penang food inevitably turns to the celebrated Penang tau sar peah. For Penangites who work outside the state (and even those who live overseas) and return for periodic sojourns to their beloved hometown, the tau sar peah is invariably among the items that line their bags when they depart.

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Nasi lemak – a parcel of Malaysian goodness

Nasi lemak © Adrian Cheah

A favourite breakfast dish for most Malaysians is the Nasi Lemak – something which transcends the often-tenuous ethnic boundaries in this multi-racial country, as Malays, Indians and Chinese all love it.

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Make your own ketupat daun palas (boiled rice wrapped in palm leaves)

Ketupat © Adrian Cheah

The most popular types of ketupat found in Malaysia are ketupat nasi (made with plain rice) and ketupat daun palas (made with glutinous rice). Both varieties are wrapped in palm leaves and then boiled in water until cooked. It is said that ketupat daun palas originated from the northern states – Penang, Kedah and Perlis while ketupat nasi is more popular in Perak.

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Kuih Bahulu recipe

Kueh Bahulu © Adrian Cheah

Kuih Bahulu is a perennial favourite among Malaysians of all ages. It is a light, fluffy sponge cake made of eggs, flour and sugar. It has a slightly crusty outer layer and is quite similar in taste and texture to the French Madeleines. Kuih Bahulu ideal for tea time and goes very well with black coffee. It comes in different shapes and sizes, but the popular options include the goldfish and the button flower designs.

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Lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo)

Lemang © Adrian Cheah

Although lemang is available all year round, it is nonetheless an exceptionally special dish during Hari Raya open house. Although the preparation seems simple enough, cooking lemang requires an open area with plenty of ventilation - which is why people just prefer to buy lemang rather than attempt to make it themselves.

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Traditional Malay cooking at Lagenda Café in the heart of George Town

Lagenda Cafe © Adrian Cheah

The key signature in traditional Malay cuisine is definitely the generous use of local herbs, spices and belacan (shrimp paste). Coconut milk is also added to Malay dishes to enrich them with a creamy finish. In Penang, as well as the northern states of Malaysia, Malay cooking has further integrated Thai flavours. Meats and seafood are usually marinated with a special blend of herbs and spices before being cooked. Vegetables are often stir-fried and some eaten raw always with sambal belacan. I love Malay dishes because of their strong, spicy and aromatic oomph. For an authentic Malay feast, head down to Lagenda Café.

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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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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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Kuih Ee (glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup)

Kuih Ee © Adrian Cheah

Traditionally, Kuih Ee (tong yuen) is served on special occasions such as during weddings and the Winter Solstice Festival (sometime during the end of December, about a month before the Chinese New Year). These days however, Kuih Ee is available daily in Penang from certain hawkers in the Pulau Tikus and Ayer Itam markets in the morning.

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