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

Lagenda Café © 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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Kazumasa Japanese Cuisine, marked with quality ingredients and artistry

Kazumasa © Adrian Cheah

With a giant crab scaling the facade of the building at Fettes Park, it is quite difficult not to miss Kazumasa Japanese Cuisine. It is here that the omakase menu was first brought to the shores of Penang. Besides the omakase and ala carte possibilities, set lunches are also available.

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A traditional signboard maker in Penang

traditional signboard maker © Adrian Cheah

In this day and age of colourful and animated LED video billboards, digital displays for advertisements and other fancy forms of signage, one does wonder if there is a place, still, for the traditional, hand carved signboard – the sort of signboard that is found in some Chinese homes and business establishments.

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Thai cuisine at Bukit Genting Hill Leisure Park and Restaurant

Bukit Genting © Adrian Cheah

As long as the meal is not meant to take centre stage, I highly recommend a trip up to Bukit Genting. Here, one can enjoy al fresco dining with amazing views of the Straits of Malacca and the South Channel. Surrounded by forested hills, the breathtaking vistas of the rustic village of Balik Pulau below come complete with paddy fields. The view at sunset when the sun dips into the ocean is even more spectacular!

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3-course set lunch at Indigo restaurant at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Indigo © Adrian Cheah

Located on the first floor of the Blue Mansion, Indigo restaurant is inspired by Cheong Fatt Tze himself, offering a fusion between East and West. My friend and I had the 3-course set meal priced at RM75++ per person, available only for lunch. We selected one dish for each course.

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Acheen Street Mosque, priceless legacy of the Penang Muslim community

Acheen Street Mosque © Adrian Cheah

The history of the Acheen Street mosque (also known as the Malay mosque), began in 1792, which marked the arrival of its founder Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Aidid who had come from Acheh to settle in Penang. A member of the royal family of Acheh, Sumatra and descendant of a sovereign Arab family, Hussain became a hugely successful entrepreneur and one of the wealthiest merchants and landowners in Penang.

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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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The Ferringhi Garden Restaurant: great dining within an oasis 

Ferringhi Garden © Adrian Cheah

The Ferringhi Garden Restaurant has an amazing lush garden filled with flowers in full bloom. Even before looking through the menu, we could not resist taking a few photographs of its tranquil and beautiful dining ambience.

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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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Le Venue revisited (many times over)

Le Venue © Adrian Cheah

When it come to good food, Penangites are spoiled for choices, from hawker fare to fine dining cuisine. Having said that, to mark a memorable evening, one would still have to ponder and think of an appropriate venue. Some restaurants have introduced fusion food that does not make sense while other have implement nouveau cuisine with hardly anything on the plate and everything on the bill. Being prudent with their spending, Penangites would feel disgusted if they leave half full, having to stop at a nearby coffeeshop thereafter for a plate of sar hor fun. I would always assume that such places would not survive the tough clientele on the island, nevertheless although many have fallen, there are those who have managed to thrive. There are also many restaurants that serve mediocre meals that are simply forgettable.

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Penang's sizzling century-old oh chien (oyster omelette) recipe

Penang oh chien © Adrian Cheah

In Penang, "oh chien" (in Hokkien) means "fried oysters" but it commonly refers to the oyster omelette dish. There are many varieties available in Malaysia and even more so throughout Southeast Asia, China and Taiwan.

The main ingredients for Penang-style oh chien include a batter (tapioca flour, rice flour or a mixture of both), chopped chives, eggs, fresh oysters and a special blend of seasoning. The dish is usually stir-fried over high heat and served with a garlic chilli sauce on the side. Some stalls garnish their dish with coriander leaves, adding more aroma to the omelette.

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Dozo – Japanese avant-garde cuisine arrives at the isle of Penang

Dozo, Penang © Adrian Cheah

You can now add Dozo to your list of Japanases restaurants to dine in Penang. It opened its doors on 1 August 2020 serving fine Japanese cuisine with an avant-garde flair.

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Hachiban Izakaya, more than just a typical Japanese pub

Hachiban Izakaya © Adrian Cheah

Located at Jalan Kelawai, Hachiban Izakaya serves more that just sake and pub grub. "Hachiban" means "No. 8" and "Izakaya" stands for a casual venue to chill out after work for drinking; similar to that of an Irish pub or a Spanish tapas bar.

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Truly authentic, truly Thai at Chili Head

Chili Head © Adrian Cheah

Chili Head Social Bar and Eatery, a cool and hip Thai restaurant overlooking the beautiful marina at Straits Quay serves excellent authentic Siamese food. Here is a place where Thais themselves would love to eat.

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The Kapitan Keling – a mosque rich in history

Kapitan Keling Mosque © Adrian Cheah

The Kapitan Keling Mosque Kapitan Keling Mosque along Jalan Kapitan Keling (once Pitt Street) is a monumental structure crowned by copper domes. This is the largest historic mosque in George Town, founded around 1800.

The name of mosque was taken from the Kapitan Kelings, people who were appointed leaders of the South Indian community by the British.

The term 'keling' derived from the ancient Hindu kingdom on the Coromandel coast of South India. It was generally used to denote all those who came from there. As the Indians found it difficult to pronounce certain English words, the title "Captain" was somehow transformed into "Kapitan". From there, the Kapitan Kelings (or Captains of the Kelings) came about.

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Irama Dining, the rhythm of a fresh and modern dining experience

Irama Dining © Adrian Cheah

Penang is truly a food paradise. One can find almost everything under the sun here in this tropical island including good Malay food. Dining at Irama is a game changer for me. The strong, aromatic and distinct Malay-style cooking is combined with the rich flavours of local herbs and spices. The food presentation is masterful and the dining room is tastefully elegant.

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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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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 was 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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Half Acre Restaurant, Taiwanese flavours in Penang

Half Acre Restaurant © Adrian Cheah

When you talk about Taiwanese food, fried stinky tafu, scallion pancakes, oyster vermicelli, minced pork rice and pearl milk tea come to mind. However at Half Acre Restaurant, you will not find any of these popular Taiwanese street food. On the other hand, you would be treated to strong Taiwanese flavours that are aggressively herbal with deeply umami.

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