After a lovely sleep I awoke to sunshine and blue skies – I was clearly not in Scotland anymore. The sun was shining in Penang and I was looking forward to a morning full of eating with our Penang Food Tour. We were meeting out guide Jessi at Prangin Mall, a 5 minute walk from our hotel and so after waking my dad (10 minutes before we were due to leave) we wandered along making it exactly on time. Jessi our guide for the day, was a local Penangite from Indian descent and she brought along a driver for the tour too, to aid in parking at each of the food stops. On the way to our first stop she pointed out some of the local sights and explained that parking was really difficult in the city and the only option to get around due to a sub-standard public transport system. This became even clearer when we arrived at our first stop for the day – Sri Ananda Bahwan – when we got out and the driver went off to park. The first stop was Indian vegetarian and having spent quite some time in India travelling I had high expectations, but of course was not disappointed. The dishes were all from the South and consisted of vadai, plain dosa with chutneys, sweet condensed milk and rose paper dosa, and 2 rice based sweet deserts, a orange rice jelly and rose flavoured glutinous rice. We washed all of this down with a chai and sweet lime and considering this was only stop 1 of 4, I was already feeling pretty full!
Must learn to pace… We drove off to our next stop which was situated in an area called Pulau Tikus (or rat island). The drive was quite short but we passed by some beautiful old colonial buildings including the court house, St Xavier’s school, Gleneagles hospital (apparently the most affluent one on the island) as well as lots of differing places of worship; from temples to churches to mosques. Jessi explained that the island really is a mixing pot of different cultures who generally live very harmoniously together. Our next stop was a Chinese noodle stop at the hawker centre while afterwards we tried Malay cuisine and it all exists together and tastes great making Penang one of the food capitals of the world. We got lucky with parking at Pulau Tikus and were soon sitting with a barley drink and kopi (Penang version) waiting on our food. The barley drink is believed to have health benefits but I didn’t think it tasted amazing and the coffee was strong but sweet and tasty. First up on the food front we had hokkien mee, a noodle soup made with prawn and rib broth. It was really tasty and not too spicy in comparison to the curry mee which came after and was really spicy but so yummy. This was probably my favourite dish of the entire tour! Next up we walked across to a small pancake stand to watch the vendor cooking us up a snack of one banana and one tuna pancake which were delicious (or the tuna was anyway, I hate bananas, but I am reliably informed it was nice). We then took the opportunity to wander around a local market which sold fish, meat and vegetables as well as a selection of things one might need such as towels and mops etc. Jessi explained the vendors pray on the shoppers by having things they might need in the hope they will pick them up rather than trailing to a mall. As we walked back to the car we stopped for another snack of hoppers (rice noodles stuck together in a circle) dipped in coconut and brown sugar. They were lovely although I really was about to burst by this point! We then took the opportunity to sample some of the local fruit in the form of a mangosteen, which for a non-fruit lover was surprisingly great. My dad got unlucky with his though which was crawling with ants when he opened it. The perils of hawker eating.
Thankfully it was again a bit of a drive to our next stop and we were assured this would just be a snack stop given our already full tummies. We were heading down to the jetties and Jessi explained to us that even though Penang currently has 2 bridges connecting the island to the mainland of Peninsular Malaysia the government is trying to get the go ahead to commission an underground tunnel as another transport option. The locals are totally against the idea believing it would have a devastating impact of the sea life of the area, would be very costly and completely unnecessary. We drove along Gurney Drive, the sight of the proposed development and Jessi explained in her youth this part of the coast had been a popular beach destination before the rise of the high-rise hotel chains and the devastation the 2004 tsunami caused to the area. We were again lucky with parking and made our way into the Tan jetty area. Jessi informed us this was not the nice pretty used for the tourists (as we could see by the piles of rubbish). We arrived at the fried fritter stall whereby we saw the owners making the sausage, prawn and tofu fritters which are all served with a special recipe chilli sauce. They were all delicious and quite a nice light snack after all the heavy food we had had so far. We then took the opportunity to explore a bit of the jetty village. This is the traditional housing of the area where one family (eg Tan) all live and work together from on jetty. The houses and businesses are all on the edge of the water on stilts and every one of them has a temple at the end facing out to see so the fisherman could make prayers when they came back from work safely each day. The Tan temple was small and modest but we could see over to the nearby Lee jetty which had a very grand temple showcasing the wealth of the family. The end of the jetty also gave fantastic views out to the shorter connection bridge to the mainland which you could see in the distance just over 13 km’s away.
After our little wander in the sun it was time to make our way to our final stop of the tour. Jessi though, took excellent account of how full we were and so drove us via some of the famous street art of Penang on the way. This was something I was really keen to see and so really enjoyed it. The city was granted Unesco world heritage status in 2008 and as a result Ernest Zacharevic chose to paint the famous Little Child on a Bicycle mural which we saw as well as some of the more modern ones, including an interesting one on air pollution. Another interesting addition was that of a pokeball to a mural of a child reaching for something – pokemon is potentially going to take over the world! After some bad traffic and a small fruit stop where we had watermelon and cempedak to cool down we arrived at our final stop for some traditional Malay classics. First up was the spicy and sweet assam laksa, a Penang specialty which was probably second favourite only to the curry mee. It was spicy and hot with just the right amount of sweetness and better than the one we had had for dinner the previous night. Next up was another char kway teow which was again better than the one we had for dinner with duck egg and massive prawns. By this point we were seriously struggling and just managed a few mouthfuls of the famous Teochew Chendul. It was a sugar ice based desert with green pandan flavour noodles which I was not a huge fan of but definitely glad that we tried it. Jessi dropped us at our hotel and we said our goodbyes. The tour was a fantastic introduction to Penang cuisine as well as Georgetown itself and I would recommend everyone who visits the food capital of Asia to give it a try. Just ensure you don’t eat too much at your first stop!
After a short 30 minute nap back at the hotel we decided what better thing to do after stuffing your face for 4 hours than to hit the beach. Despite Penang being an island the nearest beach to where we were staying was Batu Ferringhi – a 30 minute taxi ride away. The taxi dropped us right at the nearest side of the beach and so we wandered along realising despite its touristy reputation that it is really just made up of huge resorts with loungers and pools inside. After walking almost the entire length of the beach we decided to bite the bullet and crashed into the Park Royal. We spent a small fortune in drinks (or for Malaysia anyway) and so no-one really bothered us. It was lovely to just soak up the sun and read while sipping on some iced green tea and honey while my dad sat at the bar drinking beer. If you are looking to swim this is not the beach for you, as the sea was really choppy and had red swimming flags. However, it did have a lot of watersports offerings including jet skis and paragliding which was particularly popular. After spending a few hours chilling out here we made our way back along the beach and wandered along the famous night market selling a horde of fake goods. Neither of us were really in the market for a fake designer watch or bag and so around half way along nipped into a very tourist friendly hawker centre to grab a snack of hot Chinese style prawns and chicken satay for dinner. It wasn’t much food but after our mammoth brunch tour it was plenty and we finished our evening with a final wander and taxi back to town. The beach was nice and a great way to spend the afternoon but it wasn’t somewhere I would want to be based if visiting Penang.