Views from the Top of Penang

Visited the restaurant 59 Sixty at the 59th and 60th floor of Komtar in downtown Georgetown, Penang. So I thought I’d give you a peek at what Penang looks from the top.2016-01-07 13.17.11

(Above) This is the heart of Georgetown – the old quarter – with Butterworth and the Penang Port is in the distance across the water. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Imagine yourself scooting through these maze of streets, looking at the street art, stopping by one of dozens of hip cafes, enjoying the architecture, and stopping for the best food anywhere. This is Penang!2016-01-07 14.00.23

(Above) The main traffic intersection southwest of Komtar. 2016-01-07 13.16.08

(above) Looking southward over the eastern half of the island – south of Georgetown.

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(Above) Looking eastward across the Penang Strait which is part of the Strait of Malacca. The Penang Bridge can be seen in the upper right corner.

 

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(Above) Looking southeast. Good view of the Penang Bridge in the center, including the suspension bridge in the center. Jerejak Island is in the top right corner. The second Penang Bridge could be seen by the naked eye, but the camera didn’t pick it up.2016-01-07 13.58.55

(Above) Looking westward. The first little hill near the center top is Pearl Hill. My home is on the other side of the hill. The piece of land which juts into the Strait of Malacca is where my home away from home is – the Penang Performing Arts Centre. Heading northward, you’ll leave the strait and end up in the Andaman Sea.

This has been my home for the last ten years. I love it!

I want a restaurant which does what I can’t

I live in Asia. Penang, Malaysia to be precise. My tropical, island home is blessed with some of the best Asian food in the planet. The street food is cheap and plentiful and simply amazing. I’m learning to replicate some of the dishes at home, but still they real-deal is always better. No matter how many times I make the Thai padprik chicken in my own kitchen, it still isn’t as good as the one my Thai lady at the food stalls whips up in about a minute over a steaming hot wok.

Western food in Penang is another thing altogether. The best western food in Penang is at my house. If you want real pizza, come on over. Real American food, I’ll whip it up for you. Mexican – oh yes, I’ll have your taste-buds tantalizing. The western restaurants which try to replicate the western flavors fall severely short.

I had a friend who would never buy in a restaurant that which he could make better at home. That makes a lot of sense.

So that’s my new creed – I want a restaurant which does what I can’t.

I met one the other day called Kebaya of the Seven Terraces boutique hotel in Georgetown. I’ll have to do a proper review of the place sometime soon since I just went there for the first time. But I walked away not just impressed, floored really. The flavors, quality, presentation, and service were impeccable. Truly some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life.

But the one dish that got me thinking about this post was their special of the day: smoked beef in red curry. I know how to make beef. I know how to grill a good steak. But one bite of the beef and I knew that they had secrets which I didn’t know. The smoky charcoal flavor permeated every fiber of that beef, unlike any I have ever tasted. Coupled with the phenomenal red curry sauce, it was a dish that could have made me weep if I weren’t so happy.

Those geniuses in the kitchen know a bunch of royal secrets which made my experience truly something to be treasured.

And that’s why I like the local hawker Asian food as well. They have their know-how, methods, and ingredients which make their flavors and experience unique.

This is what a restaurant experience should be like. Hey cooks, chefs, and restaurateurs, make me something that I can’t make at home, and then you’ll surely have me as a longtime customer.

Kudos to Kebaya. The best restaurant in Penang.

My Top 10 Favorite Places in Asia: #2 – Penang, Malaysia

Where to begin?

I moved to Penang or Pulau Pinang (Penang Island) in 2006 having never visited before that time. In 2006, it is safe to say that it would not have been #2 on such a list as this, but Penang slowing grows on you, creeping step by step into your chest like a crawling ivy that wants to choke you and not let go. I don’t think I realized how much I really love Penang until I started putting together this list and there was no where else to put it except #2. Before I talk about the “why”, let me express a few o my misgivings about Penang which took a while to overcome.

First off, when I arrived I compared everything here to Vietnam, where I had previously lived for ten years. Penang and Vietnam are nothing alike. Eventually I stopped comparing and just started to understand Penang for what it is rather than what it isn’t.

We were coming to a tropical island and were hoping to have beautifully clear blue water in which to enjoy. Unfortunately, Penang’s rapid development has trashed the once beautiful beaches, making the water full of jellyfish, murky, and unsuitable for swimming. What a shame, I thought.

Lastly, we lived in a nice community with a modest bungalow, but we found it hard to get to know neighbors. Everyone seemed more distant and unfriendly, again, when compared to my experiences in Vietnam.

But I’ve come to realize that none of these misgivings can come close to knocking this island down any pegs of my top 10 list, because Penang is AWESOME!

So let’s settle in and talk about the “why”.

IT’S AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL – EVEN WITH UNSWIMABLE WATER.

I work, literally, right next to the beach. I hear the waves in my classroom, and on those days that the sun is sitting high and hot in the sky, the water turns a variety of aqua blue which is simply magnificent. The winding road along the island’s northern shore is gorgeous as it snakes around winding hills and breathtaking ocean views. Plus, there are MANY ways to enjoy the water in Penang, even if swimming isn’t one of them.

  • Take a boat ride from the state park in Telok Bahang to Turtle Beach to see the turtle hatchery.
  • Sit at one of Batu Ferringhi’s many beautiful resorts with a cold drink and watch the sunset over the Andaman Sea.
  • Hit one of the many water sports centers and go parasailing, take a ride in a banana boat, or rent a jet ski.

GEORGETOWN is a WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Georgetown, the main city on Penang Island, has a treasure trove of interesting and amazing places to explore both in and around the city. The old section of the city are strewn about with places of heritage. Some of the highlights include the Peranankan Mansion, a traditional home of a wealthy Straits Chinese family, Khoo Khongsi the amazing clan house of a rich Chinese family. The Georgetown streets are quaint, crowded, full of life, art, character and fun.

Branching outside of Penang, one must visit, what is claimed to be, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia – Kek Lok Si. The sprawling complex is impressive and serves as a great overlook of the city.

Speaking of overlooks, every visit to Penang must include a ride on the funicular railway up Penang Hill. The view is spectacular, looking down on Georgetown and the waterway that separates it from Butterworth, the city on the mainland.

THE DIVERSITY

One of the endearing charms of Penang is the wonderful diversity that exists side by side. Within walking distance of my house, I could visit a Mahayana Buddhist temple, an Islamic mosque, a Hindu temple, and a Christian church. That’s par for the course in Penang.

Penang is Malaysia’s only state that has a population that is majority Chinese (mainly Hokkien), but Penang has a large minority of both Indian and Malay.

The mix is charming and interesting … which leads to the best reason of all to visit Penang …

THE FOOD

Just a few months ago, CNN travel called Penang as having the best street food in Asia. Even more recently, Lonely Planet named Penang as the top culinary spot in the world for 2014.

Well, they are just acknowledging what others have known for a long time. Penang has AMAZING food. Every day I eat here I lament the fact that someday I will have to leave.

Did you know that there is a certain restaurant in Georgetown that sends flyers to Hong Kong every time they purchase one of several types of HUGE fishes which become available. Then many people from Hong Kong will fly in specifically to eat the special dishes that they make.

The food here is special, for many reasons, many because of its scope, fushion nature, and simply awesome flavors.

Here are some of my favorite:

Nasi Kandar – a type of Muslim Indian shop which sells a variety of ready made curries and rotis (breads). I always eat way too much.

Food stalls – Malaysians LOVE there local outdoor food stalls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (plus late night snack)  They are always open, always cheap, always delicious. Here are few of the wonderful varieties:

  • Thai Padprik Chicken/Tom Yam/many other stir fries
  • Char Keoy Teoh – Penang’s FAMOUS noodle dish with seafood
  • Chicken Rice
  • Curry Mee (curry noodles)
  • Beef rendang
  • Charcoal Grilled Satay
  • Economy Rice shops – a plethora of ready made dishes, vegetables, curries, fried fish
  • Nasi Lemak – the Malaysian staple – coconut rice with a boiled egg, spicy sambal, anchovies, and peanuts
  • This list could go ON AND ON …

Indian Food

I used to like Indian food in America until I came to Penang. From banana leaf southern vegetarian to northern tandoori and masala curries, Indian food is EVERYWHERE in Penang and it is fabulous. You must drink the Teh Ais to go with it, a sweet milk infused iced tea – wonderful!

Nonya Food

Perhaps, the top of the list on many people’s top Penang food is a fusion food called Nonya. It derives from the Straits Chinese, the group of Chinese who immigrated and assimilated into Malaysian life in many ways. Nonya food is a result of taking Chinese cooking methods and traditions and applying them to the spices and diverse traditions of the Malay peninsula. The result is a cuisine that is bold on unique flavors. There are so many wonder dishes – Curry Kapitain, Pork Rendang, Popiah (spring roll), eggplant and shrimp, spicy shrimp sambal, a variety of fish curries, tofu with peanut sauce, and the list goes on.

Penang food has to be experienced. I’m lucky to be able to experience it on a daily basis.

All in all, these many characteristics has made Penang my home. As a writer, it has also been my muse. I’ve spent MANY hours sipping cold drinks by the ocean, plugging away at my computer, writing one of my plays or novels. The cool breeze off the gentle teal ocean has provided me with so much inspiration that I wish I could write all day long every day.

In the meantime, I will enjoy my tropical island paradise. I hope you’ll come visit sometime to discover why Penang is so high on my list of favorite Asian places. Here are a few photos:

Parasailing in the evening sky.

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A view from Penang Hill
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The ocean right outside my classroom.2013-05-16 10.06.55

 

Penang at dusk.2013-06-02 19.32.23

 

It was unreal! Some of the very best I've ever had anywhere.

Roti Canai – Indian break for dipping in curry sauce. AMAZING!

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Street art in Georgetown.2013-06-19 11.45.22

Khoo Kangsi – Clan House2013-06-19 11.14.36

 

A recap of my top 10:

10. Malacca, Malaysia

9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

8. Singapore

7. Hong Kong

6. southern Vietnam

5. Sabah, West Malaysia

4. Beijing, China

3. Siem Reap, Cambodia

2. Penang, Malaysia

1. ???

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring where you live. Have you done it?

You know the drill. How often do you act like a tourist in your own back yard? Not often. Since we are staying in Penang this summer, we decided to have a vacation day here. Why not pretend we are tourists visiting Georgetown and the surrounding area – because a lot of tourists come through here. What do they do? Here’s a short glimpse of our awesome day.  We have to have another because we didn’t even have time to do everything we wanted to.

Khoo Kongsi – Khoo Clan House – The impressive clan house right in the heart of Georgetown.

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Iron Art Work

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The awesome wall murals by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic.2013-06-19 14.27.40
2013-06-19 11.45.222013-06-19 14.32.04Also on our walking agenda but not pictured:

  • Chew Jetty  with great views of the strait separating Georgetown from Butterworth.
  • Cake and Ice Cream at China House
  • Art displays at Whiteaways
  • Little India for Roti and the girls got henna

There might be some surprising tourist gems in your backyard. Check them out!