Penang: foodie heaven

Upon arrival at our guesthouse in George Town we were handed a guide to street food in Penang, complete with a description of dishes and some of the best places to try them. Our faces lit up like a little kid’s on Christmas morning. Best tourism pamphlet ever.

After dropping off our bags we headed out to get started on the food challenge we had accepted. After a short stroll admiring the colonial architecture we arrived at Joo Hooi Cafe, a tiny but bustling place. We were lucky to nab a seat and ordered their specialty,  the penang laksa. Unlike the laksas we’re used to the penang version was made with a fish-based broth. A little too fishy for our liking but yum nonetheless.

That night we returned to the guesthouse and the first thing Tony, the owner, asked was what had we eaten. For me this just reinforced how much food is a tourist attraction in Penang.

We continued to tick off dishes during our five days here, from Roti Canai in Little India to Wan tan mee on Lebuh Chulia. Many street stalls specialise in just one dish, and we were able to eat most nights for around $2.50 each (for a medium dish & fresh fruit juice). The street stalls were great for mixing with the locals. One old fella we met happily told us of how he loved Perth but had lost all his money at Burswood Casino. The cooks are also great to watch, the robotic speed with which they pump out dishes is impressive. The only downside is that there’s always someone eying out your seat, so it’s not the place to dine and relax as your meal digests.

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Of course there’s more to Penang than just food. Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic has made the island home and in 2012 was commissioned to scatter art through the streets as part of the George Town Festival. His subjects, as you’ll see below, are the people of Penang.

We were lucky enough to be in town for his first exhibition in Penang “art is rubbish is art”. Held in the grounds of an old rundown bus station, his exhibit included works produced on recycled rubbish, coffee bean sacks and walls.

We also caught a bus out to Penang Hill for the day. I have to disagree with the sign below however. You could happily visit the island without making a trip up to this attraction.

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A far more worthwhile day trip is Taman Negara Pulau Pinang, the Penang National Park. Admission was free and we paid 5 ringgit for the optional canopy walk. A few minutes into our hour long walk to Monkey Beach our hearts skipped a beat as a massive monitor lizard scared the bejebus out of us by running into a nearby bush. The trail was nice but a bit vague in spots. After walking across a beach and under a tree or two we were wondering if we were still on track. We kept on walking and eventually popped out at Monkey Beach (not a monkey in sight mind you). We enjoyed a picnic we had packed and then caught a boat back to the park entrance. A lovely day indeed.

As this is the start of the Asia leg of our trip we’re not yet sick of temples (this time will come I’m sure). We decided to stroll down the ‘street of harmony’ which has places of worship for the town’s four main religions. Leong San Tongs Khoo Kongsi, a Chinese clan house was a highlight. This Unesco heritage listed site features great wooden architecture as well as stone carvings and mural paintings.

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And to wrap up our Penang experience we splurged by purchasing a day pass to the Park Royal Resort in Batu Ferringhi. We spent the day relaxing by the pool and dropping our jaws at the exorbitant prices of food and beverages.

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