Eat Drink George Town, Penang

So much beauty in one location…….

No doubt George Town is reinventing itself and if those water-coloured walls could talk, they would easily tell the world some wonderful stories.  Although pockets of this ancient city have become mere shadows of its former self, for me, there will always be much charm found in the dilapidated and untended.  Perhaps those same story-tellers will also belie those delicate and intricate old tales with a sneer of indignation for all that has been (and continues to be) lost to gentrification, urban renewal and re-development.


Drink George Town…….

A lot of entertainment can be found from just wandering the streets and during my strolls I sipped water, drank cocktails and downed cold beer………anything to combat that heat.  I also had some pretty impressive coffee as believe it or not, Penang is fast becoming a coffee capital.  The love affair Malaysia is having with barista made coffee, which of course I intimately acquainted myself with, is to be saluted.  And the ice coffee you ask?  Well that was a ’nuff said’ experience 🙂


There is no other way to describe this iced coffee than to say it was as all great iced coffees’ should be – ‘black as hell, strong as death and as sweet as love’…….

Okay, I am about to show my age though my dislike for the many newly renovated areas of George Town where the latest bar (trendy as shit but indistinguishably dull in their lack of charm, ambiance and character) are cropping up.  These places are fast becoming the latest hang-outs for the chain smoking, fake retro wearing, self-absorbed, selfie snapping hipstercriticals of the travel world!   And you know who you are!!

Given that statement, it would be fair to say I do so much prefer the grime of the past and that which is well beyond its used by date and the Hong Kong Bar (and all other bars similar) are a perfect example.  Unmatched in grunginess with decaying memorabilia, dross and dust along with their tired and overly harangued bar staff these dive bars are worthy the indignity of oneself morphing into tommy tourist mode for an hour or two……….


Amazing who you will find while wandering the streets looking for dive bars…….


But dig a little deeper and you will discover some lovely old school and deco inspired cocktail bars, wine bars and lounges all lambent and charmingly quiet, which offer up the perfect Negroni.  Which by the way, should always be enjoyed with a perfectly beautiful George Town sunset.


I think this cocktail, appreciated after a ‘monkey moment encounter’ (in a later post and trust me, I needed a drink after that) was hard to top…….


Eat George Town…….

When I travel, food often becomes the central focus but its not just about the eating for sustenance or the enjoyment of the moment.  This is more about the interaction with the locals, the culture and the finding of life in its simplest of forms.  Somehow too, the world of food I find myself in is often noisy and almost volatile with the banging of those big simmering pots and pans, the almost brutal cleaving of meat and the din of place.


I am well aware of the general food travel rule (one of many travel ‘rules’ I tend to ignore) which goes along the lines of this – ‘if you can’t peel it, cook it or boil it then don’t eat it!’ .  I have quiet often thought that rule through when on the other side of the world only to realise I always end up enjoying a great meal which has come from a dodgy looking hawker stall yet been equally rewarded with a serious bout of food poisoning from a 5 star restaurant!  My tip:  It always pays to take risks……..


My top must try food when in George Town: 

ANY hawker, street cart or street stall.

DITTO on Little India and Chinatown.

When it comes to breakfast, George Town has it covered.  Congee, a milky rice porridge that can be eaten any time of day or Bak Kut Teh which is a rich pork and herb broth brewed for several hours and served with pork ribs.  But for me, there is no going past Roti Bakar or Roti Canai.  Find yourself a humble looking food stall swarming with locals (you will see the trishaws and motorbikes parked out the front) and share a table to enjoy a generous, piping hot serve of roti with either sunny-side-up runny yoked eggs or a liberal scoop of curry.  With a plastic tumbler filled with iced Milo, breakfast does not get any better than this.



Dim Sum is traditionally served for breakfast in old teahouses and heritage shop-houses in Chinatown.  Step back in time to find old cracked and tannin stained tea pots, no air-con and where quite grumpy elderly ladies brilliantly maneuver large metal trolleys around often-times 1950’s era laminex tables.   Amazing steam pork buns, dumplings, black mushrooms, bitter gourd, sticky rice noodle dishes, chickens feet and of course those wonderful sunshiny yellow egg tarts.



Char Koay Teow is possibly Penang’s most famous street food dish and it will never taste better than sitting on a kerb in a narrow back street right outside the hawker stall which made it.

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Asam Laksa is another icon of Penang with its thick rice-based noodle and aromatic broth.  This dish really is DIVINE and if you are serious about your food, you can also ask that the intestines and offal be added.

And for the not so faint of heart (and if you are a serious fan of the whole nose to tail experience), then there are crispy pork intestines, tongue and even pigs blood cakes to savor on your culinary journey…….




As much as I love anything gin laced, amber in colour and cold or those bitterly sweet strong coffees’, the very best companion for any meal in George Town is tea………xx


Ghosts, an Indian boatman and 101 lost kittens………

It’s the first week of winter and the cold has already begun to cling.   For quite some time my days have been filled with work so a day off, quite selfishly all to myself, has been wonderful and made even more so due the scarcity of them lately.  Rising early I grabbed a coffee and headed to the beach which was deserted, blustery and cold.  A massive swell hit our coastline bringing with it huge waves, chop and wash.  Somehow though, for all its bitter chill there was much warmth in this lovely day.

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Although other things in my life are sorely neglected at present, I am inordinately happy.  I baked last night toasting pecans, weighing butter and roughly chopping dark chocolate late into the evening.  Before I knew it I had whisked and folded into the early hours of the next day.  It was lovely though as my home was quietly dark and filled with the rich scent that only brown sugar when baking can bring.  The little cat content and I lost in thought while listening to the radio and watching for the oven temp to rise.  Finally to bed, I dreamt.  Haunting images often disturb my sleep and on this night my sometimes nebulous eidolon came beautifully clear to me.  I woke early feeling that way you feel when a harsh jetlag or far too much gin sees you somewhere between midnight and god knows where.

We all have our ghosts, real or imagined, which haunt us in different ways.  Though our loss, memories or unresolved issues are not physically present, they are still very much around us.   I have often tried to release a ghost only to become more haunted and I cannot but wonder why we carry these signifiers around for as much as we move on, these stubborn constellations of our past and of our future remain.  Perhaps there is much gratitude to be sought in the belief that time, in her most graceful of ways, heals all.  Little by little the passage of time will take away some of those ghosts, the hurt or a raging grief to bring you to a point where you begin to no longer mourn that which is lost to you……..even when you still dream about them.

The street art of George Town Penang…….

One of the things I love most about George Town are the strikingly beautiful street art murals.


These charming depictions of children and life and the detailed heritage nod to the urban allure of this city are works which cannot be constrained to any one gallery.  Breathing life into and capturing the winsome spirit so essentially George Town, they are pieces which need to live and exist upon the crumbling walls and in the winding streets and alleys of this ancient city.



Hailing for Lithuania, the brilliant artist Ernest Zacharevic, is possibly the reason the street art scene became so prevalent in Penang.  His wonderfully iconic and life-like images of children and heritage would bring joy to the harshest of art critics hearts.

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I am drawn to the thought of Artivism, (which is my belief in that lovely cross over between art/activism and advocacy), when I think of the works 101 lost kittens.  These thought provoking images are a collection of around twelve cat related works aimed to create awareness toward the strays of George Town.  How wonderful is that.



Not only are there painted and 3D images, but also wrought iron sculptures looking so very like a neat charcoal sketch imparting tiny snippets of the history of the area in which they are located.



These wondrous works are succumbing to the elements.  Over time, they have flaked and faded due to their exposure to the harshest of elements and of course human intervention is also a contributor.  You will find most of these works though by picking up a map and following it until your heart is content or hire a trishaw driver for a few hours as they know all of the places these works are located.


The Boatman of India…..



For me though, I just preferred to wander the streets and stumble upon these art works as there is far more joy for me in the anticipation of a discovery which is unplanned.  It was here too in the back streets where the small skittish cats roam that I began to really appreciate the serendipitous beauty of George Town as my moseying often took me through the more unique, interesting and oftentimes bleaker areas of the city.




During my hunt for the street art of George Town the city began to look so very different and I knew it could never appear the same again.  And ghosts or no ghosts, we all have that which haunts.  The saving grace however, is to find that which is wonderful and to cherish the small moments or to perhaps discover a little piece of art on a wall somewhere……..x



By George!

I’m in George Town, that wonderful UNESCO World Heritage listed city in Penang where the very traditional and contemporary collide.  This stunningly cosmopolitan and energetic city is one of extremes from the frenetic modern pace of hipsters, street art and stylish cocktail bars to the rickety old trishaws parked in front of crumbling yet ornately lovely clan houses.  This city really is all about grit and glam as its intentional beauty sits oh so effortlessly right alongside the raw and the rough.726


Now I love this city.  It is a maze of narrow alleyways, archways, lanes and streets that pulsate with colour, energy and community spirit.  There are grand town halls, mansions, antiquated merchant stores, clan jetties, colonial buildings of exceptional beauty (made even more lovely when floodlit) and unsurpassed history.





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The centuries old and wonderfully quaint clan jetties with their fish traps, old wood fishing boats, stilt houses and long winding planked wood walk-ways are the last of a once thriving Chinese settlement.   Do be respectful when visiting as these water communities are still home to many families who eat, pray and live there……...



Penang itself is beautifully multicultural with three prominent religions.  I visited serene mosques, shrines with their garlands of fragrant blooms left by dedicated worshipers and temples where saffron robed Buddhists light huge joss sticks.

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It does get very hot here so it’s best to sight-see first thing in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the stifling 95% plus humidity.  The good old foot falcon (just watch for the large open drains) is always my preferred mode of transport however do hire a trishaw for a couple of hours as it really is one of the best ways to truly appreciate this town.


I really do admire the strength and bravery of the trishaw men and their ability to maneuver about in the heaviest of traffic.  Though lean and seemingly fit as a fiddle, these men are by no means young.   Always nut out your price before you go, which is negotiable, and these guys will fill your afternoon with history and all the little hidden gems you won’t find on your own so kick off your shoes, sit back and enjoy………


Although I have bestowed much love upon George Town, it does, as anywhere in the world, have its flaws.  It has been said of George Town ‘she was once a pretty woman who just hasn’t washed her face in a while’ and perhaps there is some truth in that statement.  For me, the absolute charm of this lovely city lies in its grimy time-worn soul however that grim extends to her deep-water sea harbour and water-ways which are polluted, murky and an outlet for raw sewage.  What a elegantly ironic moment though, when I photographed a heart floating among the rubbish strewn waters of the Penang Strait.  Please love our oceans.  They really are some of the most importantly beautiful places on earth…….x


There are one hundred and one things to love about this graceful melting pot of a city and although the tourist numbers are growing, George Town holds firm its alluring and peaceful charm.  You can still take a leisurely stroll about the streets, wander past temples filled with faded paper lanterns, listen for the melodic call to prayer and explore lanes filled with water-marked terrace houses safely and without the intrusion of large tourist crowds.


Part II, the amazing street art of Georgetown, coming soon………xx