Penang – Pearl of the Orient

14-02-18

After a whistle stop tour of Kuala Lumpur we boarded a plane heading for the island of Penang, just off the west coast of Malaysia.

I’ve done a bit of the east coast of Malaysia before but Penang has been on my list for a while so I’m really pleased we’ve been able to incorporate it into the itinerary. I was particularly keen because Penang is so highly praised for its delicious food and awesome hawker stalls. Many say that the mix of cultures here contribute to a real melting pot of cuisines, making Penang the food capital of Malaysia, if not all of Asia.

We’ve based ourselves in George Town which is the main city in the region and another UNESCO heritage site. It’s a gorgeous city, steeped in history thanks to its location at the intersection of Asia’s great kingdoms and Europe’s colonial empires. This is particularly reflected in the eclectic and diverse architecture, culture and food.

The core of the city is home to a hodge podge of historical China town, little India and traditional Malay buildings. Chinese temples embellished with incredibly ornate and colourful decorations butt up against watermarked, peeling shopfronts that rub shoulders with carefully restored colonial buildings with pristine paintwork and gorgeous shutters.

The buffer area around this is incredibly modern with skyscrapers and western mega-malls.

George Town has a bourgeoning art scene and it’s really something special. The trend stems from 2012 when the George Town festival commissioned Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic to do a series of paintings.

Since then many others have contributed.

Every wander around George Town rewards us with the discovery of new artwork in its maze of alleys and side streets.

A crumbling old bus station has been put to good use as an outdoor gallery and pop up market and there is an appreciation for quirky murals and tags everywhere.

The main roads are wonderfully chaotic with colourful trishaws touting for business, taxis hooning past and street vendors throwing buckets of cleaning water into the open drains that line the road. The air is thick with incense from temples, dust from the road and tasty smells from hawkers.

Whilst we’ve found this hustle a little tiring in other locations, there is something wonderfully charming and romantic about George Town. I think it must be the unique street art, blossoming cafe culture and yummy food that tempers George Town’s raw edges and we love it.

And on that point we get to the food! I’ve read that you’d be hard pushed to eat poorly in Penang and so far that rings true. We’ve indulged in wonderful curries in Sri Lanka and fresh seafood in the Philippines but Penang has the edge on all food eaten so far.

Of particular note is the beef rendang curry from our first night. The meat was so tender and flavourful that it must have been slow cooked for hours.

Gary likes to sample a Laksa in all locations and reckons that Penang holds the current number one spot, with an incredibly rich and fragrant fishy broth and wonderfully soft noodles.

The only dish we aren’t raving about is a desert that we were sweet talked (pun intended) into trying by our waitress who had no doubt clocked that we were both greedy by nature and tipsy. I can’t even recall the name of the dish but it had little, flavourless green pearls that you poured coconut milk and treacle over. Not the best…

Tomorrow we are going to do some exploring further afield to find the beach.

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