I was unsure about what exactly I would do in Penang, on my own for the best part of 4 days apart from eating, so I decided to book a tour with Rasa Malaysia in order that I could have some guidance in what to do.
CK, my guide picked me up from the hotel at 9 am and after a brief chat confirming the itinerary he had already mapped out over email, we set off for the wet market at Jalan Besar in Pulau Tikus and the first of the days stops. Pulau Tikus is an upmarket area of Georgetown, named after the island of the same name (meaning Rat island, apparently Pulau Tikus is ridden with rats, although thankfully I didn’t see any!)and home to an outstanding wet market and several renowned hawker stalls.
The market was a real feast for the senses, Peranaken food stalls selling home made sambal as well as those selling Iddi appam, pickles, biscuits and sweets were on the street outside. Inside we discovered freshly grated coconut, fish stalls selling everything from shark to squid, fresh dim sum (being made by the lady as she worked the stall) and Yong Tau Foo.
Stall after stall of different fruits, vegetables and spices lined the indoor market and I was amazed by the lack of smell, showing exactly how fresh all the produce (especially the fish) really was. All this delicious food meant that my stomach soon began to rumble and after consultation with CK, I ordered the curry mee, essentially a more traditional Singapore style laksa. I wimped out on adding the pigs blood to it, it was still early and I hadn’t even had a Kopi yet! My Kopi choice was in fact to be something called a “Ying Yang” half kopi and tea with condensed milk to sweeten it which was a lot better than it sounds. The Curry mee were also excellent, far better than any laksa I have had in Singpaore (although admittedly I need to find more opportunities to try it as I’m sure there is better to be found here) and the spoonful of sambal when stirred in really gave it an extra kick. I also tried a pancake with sweetcorn and peanuts, again better than it sounds infact actually very good and a steal at 1 Ringitt.
From here we moved on to a soya sauce “factory” essentially a back yard, home made soya sauce operation. The owners daughter, Jenny walked me through the yard where they had soya sauce in different stages of fermentation and explained the process of how it is made. They start of by drying the soya beans in the sun with flour, then add salt water and leave to ferment for around 3 months when the sauce is ready for consumption.
We then headed down to the South of the island to see Durian and nutmeg farms which was really impressive. They have different ways of harvesting the durian when fresh, from hooking up nets to catch them when they fall to attaching strings to the unripe fruit which stops them from hitting the ground when they ripen and drop from the tree.
Then it was off to admire the view at Bukit Genting Hill, home to a Thai restaurant with one of the best unspoilt views of the island, and if you came in the evening for dinner I am sure the sunsets would be amazing.
We headed back to the car and moved on through Balik Pulau, a Hakka village where we saw a sambal belachan boutique operation where we watched them as they dried the small shrimps and processed them into the famous paste, so essential in Penang cuisine. My stomach was rumbling again so we decided to stop for lunch at Cafe Chuan Heong in Balik Pulau where I ordered the speciality of Nyonya Laksa, a combination of Assam and Coconut Laksa with plenty of fresh mackerel, potato and fresh mint which was really interesting to try (not to mention delicious!)
I had mentioned to CK that I was intrigued by the nutmeg syrup I had tried the night before and he went one better, ordering a nutmeg juice mixed with sour plum, and producing a fresh nutmeg for me to see. It is amazing that considering how familiar I am with the dried version, I had never seen nor even heard of the fresh version being used.
This is one of the things I love most about travelling and seeing different cultures! With the half day tour drawing to an end, we headed to the Kek Lok Si Temple on the way back to Georgetown. One of the most famous Buddhist temple on the island, indeed one of Penangs top tourist attractions (I was advised that it is INSANE at Chinese new Year with all the visiting “pilgrims” from across Asia)
Built over 100 years ago, and home to the pagoda of 10,000 Buddha’s, the largest in South East Asia. Set over several levels built into the hills, you can choose to walk all the way up, drive or catch a small train headed from the middle level to the very top for a minimal fee which I decided to do. Once at the top, I took the opportunity to purchase a Chinese lantern for new year, with all the money going towards the upkeep of the temple and also made a few donations so that I might make use of the “wishing tree” and hang some ribbons for my family and friends before heading home.
Rasa Malaysia can be found on twitter https://twitter.com/rasamalaysia and on the website in my previous post. If you should find yourself in Penang, their personalized tour service is simply unmissable and CK is a great host!