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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.

Coconut water – the perfect tonic for the tropics

Coconut © Adrian Cheah

On our way back from Pantai Kerachut one scorching afternoon, my friends and I were contemplating what to order to quench our thirst after an exhausting hike, aside from the obvious choices of carbonated drinks. After some deliberation, we decided to go with one of nature's wonders – fresh coconut water that was easily available in Penang. Thus, from the exit of the national park in Teluk Bahang, we made haste to the nearest nondescript roadside stall offering just that.

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The exotic hairy fruit called the rambutan

Penang rambutan © Adrian Cheah

In the vast range of local fruits available in Penang, the rambutan comes in a close second to the durian as a popular choice. Rambutans are tied up in bunches of 50 or 100 each and sold at roadside stalls, at marketplaces and by some fruit vendors when in season. Prices vary according to size and quality. Rambutans sold in Penang are always fresh as they come straight from the local orchards.

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All things cendol and more

cendol © Adrian Cheah

Cendol/chendul is an iced sweet dessert that contains strands of green jelly served with fresh coconut milk and fragrant gula Melaka (palm sugar) syrup. This humble-looking offering certainly has its irresistible charms. Cendol tastes even better under the sweltering tropical heat. The cool, refreshing concoction is commonly found throughout Penang. Some stalls offer additional toppings such as boiled kidney beans/red beans, pulut (steamed glutinous rice), sweet corn, sago pearls, diced jackfruit, ice cream and even durian.

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Nangka stuffed with pulut

Mango sticky rice © Adrian Cheah

Mango sticky rice © Adrian Cheah

Mango sticky rice (“kao niew mamuang” in Thai) is among my favourite Thai desserts. The fresh, sweet mango is paired with rich, soft pulut (glutinous rice) smothered with a creamy santan (coconut milk) sauce. Sometimes the dessert is sprinkled with toasted mung beans, adding a little crunchy texture to the delicious treat.

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Church of St Anne: monument to faith and enduring legacy

Church of St Anne © Adrian Cheah

The humble legacy of 19th century French missionaries have become among the greatest pilgrimage centres of the region.

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Tips on making really good Seri Muka

Seri Muka © Adrian Cheah

Seri Muka (literally means "radiant face" in Malay) or Kuih Salat is a dainty sweet cake that consists of two layers. The base is made from glutinous rice which is topped with a green custard layer, scented and coloured with pandan juice. Santan (coconut milk) is a key ingredient as it imparts the “lemak” (rich) taste to the glutinous rice as well as the custard layer.

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Never Forgetting Balik Pulau – exploring an alluring, rustic village in Penang across time

Josephine Choo
Photography, design and layout by Adrian Cheah

Never Forgetting Balik Pulau © Adrian Cheah

"Never Forgetting Balik Pulau" is part memoir, part guide. The author, after spending her entire youth in the village, accumulated a bagful of tales. Exploratory trips back gave credence to past memories but gradually, a comprehensive guide with maps to the village evolved.

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Ice kacang, Penang's all-time ubiquitous but favourite dessert

ice kacang © Adrian Cheah

Ice kacang, the mother of all Malaysian desserts, is also known as ang tau s'ng (Hokkien for iced red beans) or ABC (ais batu campur in Malay). Although “kacang” means beans in Malay, this jubilant offering contains more than just ice and beans. Brimming in a bowl, the colourful concoction is made of a tower of shaved ice swirled with a mixture of red beans, leong fan (grass jelly or cincau in Malay), creamy sweet corn, chewy tapioca pearls and translucent attap chee (nipa palm fruit), smothered with at least two types of syrup and evaporated milk. You can further top it with a scoop of ice cream (especially durian, making it even more sinful).

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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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Springy Nyonya Kuih Talam

Kuih Talam © Adrian Cheah

Kuih Talam, a classic Nyonya cake, is still popular in Penang today. Its two signature colours are green and white. The sweetened green base layer is perfumed with pandan (screw pine) juice while the top white layer has a "lemak" (rich) indulgence of santan (coconut milk) that is mildly salty. It is dangerously addictive and a slice is never enough. Maybe that is why nowadays, Kuih Talam is cut and packed in two or three pieces. I also notice that the pieces are much smaller than what they used to be when I was growing up.

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Tides of candlelight adoration at St. Anne's Feast

St Anne

One of the largest and most extraordinary religious mass gatherings in Southeast Asia is the St Anne Novena and Feast in the town of Bukit Mertajam in Penang.

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Bee Koh Moy, a healthy bowl of goodness

Bee Koh Moy © Adrian Cheah

In Penang, Bee Koh Moy (Hokkien for black glutinous rice porridge, Bubur Pulut Hitam in Malay) is often served topped with fresh coconut milk. The yin-yang-looking combination of mildly sweetened black rice porridge drizzled with a slightly salty creamy white coconut milk sauce is a scrumptious treat. The rich and creamy dish, perfumed with aromatic pandan (screw pine) leaves, can be served warm or chilled. This offering is usually enjoyed for breakfast, at tea time or as a dessert after a meal; it is best savoured in small portions as it is hearty and filling.

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