Penang or “Pulau Pinang” in Malaysia, is an island and part of mainland Malaysia known as Butterworth. The two parts are linked by a 13.5 km bridge built in 1985. A second bridge is under construction, which will make it the longest in South East Asia at a distance of 24 km long!
Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia, in the northwest coast of Peninsula Malaysia of the Straits of Malacca. It has a population of under 2 million people. The capital is known as “Georgetown”. The local name, Pulau Pinang comes from a betel nut tree of an island. “Pulau” being an island and “Pinang” a betel nut tree, a type of palm. Noted in Wikipedia, this palm is often erroneously called the betel tree (which should be Areca Nut Palm) because of its fruit. The fruit, or areca nut, is always chewed along with the betel leaf.
Penang is my birthplace and second home to me. I make a trip home at least once a year to see my mother, sister, brother and his family. It is a very special place and I always look forward coming home to Penang, which is famously known for its food and culture. It’s capital, Georgetown, was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 7 July 2008 to recognise a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel in East and Southeast Asia.
Penang was founded in 1786 by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company, and renamed as Prince of Wales Island. The island was thick and dense in tropical rain forest. Myth had it that Captain Light fired a canon full of gold bullion into the forest. The gold belonged to whoever that could find it. Thus, part of the forest was cleared for the landing and a fortress, known as Fort Cornwallis, was built to protect the island against future enemy invasion. Penang was the first state in Malaysia that was colonised by the British.
My partner and I arrived in Penang yesterday’s afternoon after a very long journey. We flew from Hobart to Melbourne. Then an international overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur, with a domestic connecting flight to Penang. We are staying at the G-Hotel, located in Gurney Drive, which is a popular night destination for Penangites and expatriates. Gurney Drive was once lined with houses and buildings built during the colonial period, with a long stretch of sandy beach lined with casuarina trees. My dad used to take the family on a weekly drive along the beach. We would walked along the beach and collected seashells and dug clams to cook at home. Unfortunately, over the years, the once beautiful stretch of beach is now crowded with high rise condominiums and part of the beach was heavily eroded with a few remaining casuarina trees in the eastern end of Gurney Drive.
Gurney Drive is definitely not the same place as I grew up, strolling along the seafront with my family during the weekend. I cannot say it is my favourite place in Georgetown. It is congested with traffic at night. But, my partner always like us to come back and stay here because of the mall next door to the hotel, the view of the sea and the distant mountains of mainland, the famous night hawker centres and the restaurants.
Last night we went back to a Teochew restaurant, called Goh Teo Kee, not far from the hotel. The style is homecook and popular with the locals. It has a mix of authentic teochew, nyonya and thai dishes, which is synonymous of Penang food.
We ordered their signature dish, Teochew Style Braised Duck, Thai Sauce Soft Shell Crab, Assam Curry Fish Head, XO Scallop Sauce Tofu and Special Fried Rice, all for MYR$86! The exchange rate at the time was AUD$1 = MYR$3, that means our dinner for two cost under AUD$30. The meal was delicious and unforgettable. That is what I missed most of Penang!
Teochew Style Braised Duck – this is a home specialty of Goh Teo Kee. The duck was quite fatty and braised with 12 different spices, a secret sauce passed down the generations. Cost MYR$14.
Special Fried Rice – indeed I was really surprise at how good this fried rice was. It had almost a burnt smell, which I like due to the strong ‘wok hay’ (flame), and garnished with lots of deep fried shallots. Cost MYR$5 only. That is less than AUD$2!
XO Scallop Sauce Tofu – now, this XO sauce was so different from other XO sauce dished I had in the past. It was quite subtle and the menu said the sauce was made from a selection of fine quality dried scallops, anchovies, salted fish, shredded cuttlefish, chili oil and spices. The sauce was then dressed over a crispy fried homemade tofu and garnished with chopped spring onion. Goh Teo Kee is famous for their homemade tofu dishes. Cost MYR$9.
Thai Sauce Soft Shell Crab – soft shell crab blended with chef’s secret flour then deep fried and flavoured with sweet and spicy sauce. A beautiful dish. Cost MYR$14.
Assam Curry Fish Head – this is a sea bass fish head slow cooked with homemade chili spices with tamarind juice. Spicy hot and very sourish. Very delicious at MYR$30.