|Penang (Pulau Pinang) is an island off the northern part of the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It is also the name of the Malaysian state which is made up of Penang Island and the facing strip of territory on the mainland called Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley).
Penang is one of Malaysia's main tourist draws. Its beaches are a little lackluster when compared with those in some other Malaysian states, but this is more than compensated by the island's rich multicultural history which is full of colonial and Chinese influences. Penang is also well known for being the "food paradise" of Malaysia if not the whole of Asia.
Penang was part of the Malay state of Kedah until 1786, when Captain Francis Light built a fort at the site of present-day Georgetown and managed to get the island ceded to the British East India Company. Along with Malacca and Singapore. The island was one of the three British Straits Settlements.
The name Penang comes from the Malay word Pinang, means the betel nut. The name Pulau Pinang translated literally from Malay means "Betel Nut Island". The original name of Penang was Pulau Ka-satu or "First Island", it was renamed to Prince of Wales Island on 12 Aug 1786 to commemorate the birthday of the Prince of Wales, later, George IV. During the early and middle part last century, Penang Island was also known as "The Pearl of the Orient".
The capital Georgetown was named after King George III of Great Britain. Penang, especially Georgetown, remains as it was, today.
Penang Bridge was the fourth largest bridge in Asia and the tenth largest in the world. The bridge connects the island to the mainland (Seberang Perai) and offers unparalleled ocean views. The bridge opened to public in 1985 and is the national landmark for Malaysia.
- Georgetown - The capital of Penang, a favourite spot for tourists as it has lots of pre-war houses also one of the favourite spot for the locals as most of Penang's pubs are located there. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Leith Street. The winner of UNESCO's Asia-Pacific Heritage 2000 Award for Conservation, the building's eclectic character is a reflection of the times at the end of the 19th Century when the myths & magic of the Chinese Kingdom embraced the glory of the British Empire in a whirling pool of cross-cultural energies. The sprawling mansion has 38 huge rooms, 5 courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows!
- Batu Ferringhi - Located on the north coast, with white sandy beaches, luxurious hotels & restaurants... a favourite spot for both locals & tourist.
Food for Thought
Penang offers plenty of good, cheap Malaysian food, but is famed throughout the rest of the country for some specialities. As a matter of fact, Penang is an island of endless food stalls, thus the name "food paradise" known to many not only limited to Malaysians but all around Asia for its culinary originality and diversity.
However, Penangites find good food in many places usually unknown (and even odd) to tourists. A good way to finding good food is to ask around the locales for information. Don't be surprised that some stalls setup beside a busy road can be considered to serve very good food by the locales. Among the popular dishes you can get in Penang are:
Hokkien Mee - Noodles in prawn soup with slices of, prawns, hard boiled egg, vegetable, beans sprout and sprinkling of deep fried shallots. LHH recommends the stall at Gurney Drive Hawker Centre near the roundabout.
Assam Laksa - This noodle soup comes with sour broth flavoured with tamarind (assam) with pureed fish, fruits, veggies and a generous helping of chilli mixed in. Watch out, the combination is powerful and will have the uninitiated breathing fire! Famous assam laksa include Air Itam market, Gottlieb Road, Gurney Drive.
Penang Char Kway Teow - a local interpretation of the ubiquitous stir-fried flat rice noodles, tossed with bean sprouts, cockles, and anything else the chef has handy. Eggs are additional and cockles can be opt out if preferred by the customer; request when placing order. Some said the best Char Kway Teow can be found at Lorong Selamat. Another choice is Macalister Road Sister's Char Koay Teow.
Kaya (a type of jam) - which is a mixture of eggs and coconut milk to be spread over anything you want and according to some the best kaya is at a little coffee shop at the end of Madras Lane.
Cendol - a mixture of shredded ice with big mushy red beans with gula melaka thrown in. This will satisfy anyone even if it is raining. Cendol can be found anywhere but the best is at Penang Road.
Penang Sar Hor Fun - a local dish with kway teow (flat rice cakes) in a delicious broth of beaten eggs and seafood bits. Goes best with prickled green chillies.
As you might expect on an island seafood is abundant. Head for the fishing village of Teluk Bahang in the north, or go to Batu Maung / Teluk Kumbar in the south for fresh fare at local prices.
Among the places you can get good food with affordable price is:
1. Campbell Street near KOMTAR
2. Prangin Mall hawker center
3. Wawasan Mutiara Nasi Kandar near KOMTAR bus station
4. Buckingham Street near KOMTAR
5. Chulia Street near Kapitan Keling Mosque
6. Gurney Drive nearby the roundabouts, McDonald's restaurant and Gurney Plaza
7. New Lane near KOMTAR and Sunway Georgetown Hotel
8. Pearl Hill near Toy Museum and Copthrone Hotel
Penang is also well known for its Nasi Kandar, which actually a large helping of steamed rice which can be plain or mildly flavoured, and served with a variety of curries and side dishes. The rice for a nasi kandar dish is often placed in a wooden container about three feet high, giving it a distinctive aroma. The rice is accompanied by side dishes such as fried chicken, curried spleen, cubed beef, fish roe, fried prawns or fried squid. The vegetable dish would usually be brinjal (aubergine), okra (lady fingers or "bendi") or bitter gourd. A mixture of curry sauces is poured on the rice. This is called 'banjir' (flooding) and imparts a diverse taste to the rice.
Among the most well-known is a place called Line Clear, off Penang Road.